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Features - 2022 // STATE OF THE INDUSTRY // Sustainability

Moon Valley Nurseries has always operated in a sustainable manner. However, it’s ESG program could take the company to new heights.

September 12, 2022

Photo courtesy of Moon Valley

Nursery and landscape professionals have an inherent interest in the environment and all things green. But what if there was a way to focus this interest into a program that not only strengthened your sustainability efforts, but also grew your operation, addressed business and labor challenges, and strengthened your company’s bottom line?

Moon Valley Nurseries initiated such a program in 2021 when it formed a cross-functional team of company reps and executive leaders charged with developing a corporate Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) program.

While ESG programs may be relatively new to green industry companies, others in the corporate world are no stranger to the concept. With its roots in the finance industry, ESG programs assessed for investors how an organization manages risks and opportunities related to environmental, social, and governance issues. Outside of the investment realm, though, ESG programs evolved to include the interests of a company’s customers, suppliers, employees, vendors and even the communities where they reside and operate in, all of whom are vested in an organization’s sustainability and long-term success.

Establishing an ESG program was no small task considering Moon Valley’s scope of operations. In a nutshell, the Arizona-based company, with 19 farms (around 2,000-plus acres) and 37 retail locations employs more than 2,200 workers across Arizona, Nevada, Texas, California and Florida. And after two years of unprecedented challenges (pandemic, supply chain issues and labor shortages, to name a few), Moon Valley CEO Brian Flood was proud of how his team tackled each challenge and allowed the company to excel despite adversity. ESG became the next phase of continuing Moon Valley’s incredible momentum and its commitment to enhancing its employee, community and environmental programs.

So, why is ESG important for a green industry company like Moon Valley?

“One, it’s the right thing to do,” says Joy Fichiera, Moon Valley’s senior manager of ESG, who the nursery brought on board in June to oversee and direct its ESG program. “Two, as investors look at businesses, they want to make sure the business is doing all of the things that are sustainable, which means it’s a company that can manage compliance issues and reputational or resource risks, and that the company has done everything they can to mitigate those risks.”

For Moon Valley, that meant conducting a materiality assessment, which allowed it to develop its three pillars – prioritizing people and communities, cultivating sustainable operations and conducting business responsibly. Within those three pillars Moon Valley identified 10 topics critical to its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, vendors, government agencies, the communities Moon Valley operates in. Those 10 topics and their connection with sustainability are diverse and include initiatives such as employee health and safety, water management, supply chain management, business ethics and even cybersecurity.

It came as no surprise to committee members that Moon Valley was already addressing most of these things. “We’re just highlighting the work that has always been important to us – such as water conservation and employee safety,” Fichiera says. “So, I don’t think there were a lot of surprises to Moon Valley as far as what was important to the stakeholders and what initiatives needed to be undertaken.”

Rather, this evaluation sought out to identify any gaps in its sustainability efforts and where to allocate resources to existing or new initiatives. “It took the sustainability lens and placed it on what Moon Valley was already doing,” Fichiera says. “For example, it added a level of importance to the recycling and composting that we’re already doing with our used boxes and green wastes. We were doing it because it was the right thing to do, it saved us money, and it cut down on what was being sent to the landfill and we didn’t have to pay landfill fees.”

“What is typical with any company that starts to get into the reporting aspect of ESG is how wide and far it impacts and touches the rest of the company … It really touches on everything,” she adds.

Photo courtesy of Moon Valley

And while Moon Valley’s leadership knows the company is doing the right things regarding sustainability, the next step includes tracking, monitoring and data collection to establish benchmarks and set goals. “It’s the data that starts to show us which initiatives will help us make the most impact,” Fichiera says. “And that’s where we’re at right now … collecting the data so we can start to move the needle on some of these efforts.”

And this process has been very revealing to Moon Valley.

“The social aspect is a huge piece of our ESG efforts,” Fichiera says. “It starts with our employee health and safety. One statistic we shared in the [inaugural ESG report] is that we improved our healthcare benefits such that we had a 30% increase in participation in 2021. We also have on-site health clinics where employees and their families can be seen.”

Moon Valley also seeks to improve and expand its training programs. “We shared our workforce demographics this year and set a baseline for both racial and gender diversity,” Fichiera says. “Putting that [information] out and being transparent is a first step for us — or any company— to begin looking at the social aspect [of sustainability].”

And within the communities it operates in, Moon Valley is creating partnerships with local groups and nonprofits to support their efforts. For example, Moon Valley seeks to engage with Arizona municipalities and non-profit groups to curb the heat-island effect through tree planting programs. “We have the trees, and we know municipalities are starting to set goals on the tree canopy they want to cover,” Fichiera says. “So, we want to partner and support those efforts.”

Once the data has been collected and analyzed, Moon Valley will begin setting time-bound goals for improvement. Moon Valley’s Vice President of Operations Sal Bracale says it’s a good bet water and fuel will be among those initial goals.

“Water is our No. 1 priority at the retail level and at the farm level,” he says. “The second thing we’re looking at is fleet management and route optimization, which helps us in the amount of fuel we’re using which is a benefit not only in cost but what it does for our environment, as well. So, those two things are big on our current agenda of what we want to get done. I’m not sure if we’ve identified a quantitative amount just yet, but we certainly want to get our retail stores on automated systems, for example, and is something we want to prioritize.”

And while few green industry companies are pursuing ESG programs on the magnitude Moon Valley has, Bracale expects others won’t be far behind. “So, [to do ESG on this scale and magnitude] it’s a big step for [Moon Valley], and I think we’re going to see a lot of other businesses follow suit,” he says. “We have a good name and brand and reputation already, and as [the industry] sees us taking this step and initiative, I believe a lot of other people will follow.”

For a deep dive into its ESG program, check out Moon Valley’s inaugural ESG Report (enter bit.ly/3Chk4aS into your browser), which expands on the company’s employee support programs, community relations strategies, sustainability programs and business operations summaries from 2021 and shares more details on its plans to improve corporate social responsibility-related programs.

Mike Zawacki is a Cleveland-based freelance writer with nearly 20 years covering various aspects of the green industry.