Sustainable Agriculture

As a major purchaser of fruit and vegetables, Sysco can play a significant role in improving agricultural standards among our many growers, processors and distributors. Because maintaining a safe food supply is a priority, we encourage the prudent use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, energy and water.

Sysco's Sustainable/Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program promotes the responsible use of these agricultural inputs by growers of Sysco Brand canned and frozen fruits, vegetables and potatoes.

Suppliers typically apply Sysco-required IPM practices throughout their operations, not just on acres devoted to Sysco product. This elevates standards and practices across the industry, yielding valuable data about suppliers' total IPM acreage and inputs.

Pesticides and Fertilizers

Sysco's IPM program has helped participating farmers protect environmentally sensitive growing areas, soils and water resources since 2004; encouraging the responsible use of fertilizers and pesticides as well as cover crop, crop rotation and natural pest control practices.

The program covers the full range of basic and specialty crops we purchase. By the end of the 2013 growing season, this included 50 crops for 74 Sysco Brand suppliers of canned and frozen fruit, vegetables and potatoes. The results are exponentially effective, involving 180 food factories and nearly 900,000 acres under cultivation.

Participating suppliers must track their pesticide use, with the goal of reducing the product's quantity or toxicity. However, pesticide use can fluctuate considerably from year to year, driven by weather, pest populations and other factors.

In the 2013 growing season, our suppliers reported avoiding 4.6 million pounds of pesticides by utilizing IPM principles. They also reported that they avoided using more than 18.8 million pounds of chemical fertilizer, decreasing risks of nutrient loss and surface- and ground-water impact. Sysco's IPM program improves water quality by reducing negative impacts on the health of local water sources.

Our Integrated Pest Management Program has created new standards that encourage suppliers to protect the bee pollination process. Specifically, in 2014, we created new standards under our IPM program that encourage Sysco Brand suppliers to protect and create habitat and forage sources on the farm for pollinators.


During the 2013 growing season, the program avoided 25,118 pounds of pesticides by utilizing practices that disrupt pheromone mating of non-beneficial organism; and avoided 4,651 pounds of pesticides that affect beneficial organisms in general.

Water Conservation

We ask growers and processors to measure all water used in irrigating and processing fruits and vegetables. Suppliers reported conserving 15 billion gallons in field production in the 2013 growing season by:

  • Installing drip nozzles on overhead irrigation
  • Replacing furrow/flood irrigation with drips
  • Laser leveling flood-irrigated fields
  • Using shutoff devices triggered by rainfall
  • Improving irrigation water use efficiency
  • Employing soil and plant moisture technologies such as soil probes and evapotranspiration monitoring

Suppliers in manufacturing facilities reported conserving 256 million gallons of water by:

  • Changing processing strategies
  • Upgrading processing equipment
  • Practicing water reuse and recycling
  • Installing low-flow nozzles

Agricultural Waste

We encourage participants in the IPM program to report how much vegetative waste they reuse, whether they're returning it to fields, composting it, feeding cattle with it or have other methods of removing it from the waste stream of landfills and wastewater treatment plants. In the 2013 growing season, participants reported reusing more than 3 million tons of vegetative resources.

​Participating suppliers and growers have also reported significant improvements in their other waste reduction, measurement and reporting programs. In the 2013 growing season they reported recycling more than 72,000 tons of metal, glass, paper, plastics and oils -- an increase over last year of more than 4,500 tons.


Our participating suppliers also report fuel conservation from in-field and processing operations. For the 2013 growing year, they reported estimated savings of more than 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity (more than 4 times what they saved the previous year) and almost 343,000 gallons of fuel.

Fueling Supplier Success

Participants in Sysco's IPM plan reported a wide range of success stories from the 2013 growing year. Among their methods:

  • Increasing the use of compost fertilizer as a replacement for nitrogen-based fertilizers;
  • Improving production facilities and opening a state-of-the-art cold storage facility that requires less electricity;
  • Changing proprietary plant processing methodology to significantly increase throughput, indirectly reducing electricity, water and people demands per unit of end product;
  • Developing ecological controls to reduce use of high-toxicity products by 20%;
  • Creating more habitat for beneficial organisms and reducing fuel costs with alternate row mowing of cover crops;
  • Pruning only when necessary, based on production, and mulching prunings back into the soil;
  • Testing soil and using split application timing to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use;
  • Implementing a heated water defrost system to decrease water consumption by 75% during defrost.

Sharing Science and Ideas

Topics at our 2014 Sustainable Agriculture/IPM conference included performance metrics, trends, opportunities to align with other sustainability initiatives and ways to improve our internal reporting. We appreciate the continued efforts of our Sysco Brand processed fruit and vegetable suppliers to implement and improve our program. After the conference, 96 percent of participants responded that they would recommend the conference to others in the industry.

Sourcing Sustainabile Palm Oil

Please note: The text below was updated in April, 2016. This text replaced disclosure from the original 2014 Sustainability Report.

As the world's largest foodservice marketer and distributor, we have a vision to become our customers' most valued and trusted business partner. Achieving our vision requires an unwavering commitment to conduct business responsibly and sustainably.

Sysco recognizes the importance of contributing to the promotion of a sustainable supply of palm oil and are committed to partnering with our suppliers to increase over time the use of responsibly-sourced palm oil in the Sysco Brand supply chain.

Sysco had previously committed that, by the end of 2020, 100 percent of the palm oil in Sysco Brand products will be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Acknowledging, however, that RSPO certification does not currently address certain other unsustainable practices, we have developed a palm oil sourcing policy to reflect our concern about current palm oil industry practices and our commitment to engage in an appropriate manner to influence meaningful, long-term change in this area. Accordingly, this current policy supersedes our previous RSPO-based commitment.

Sysco will work with its suppliers to ensure that the palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil derivatives used in our Sysco Brand products comes from sources that adhere to the following principles:

1. RSPO-Certification
Sysco will pursue RSPO membership. In addition, all palm oil, palm kernel oil, and any palm oil derivatives used in our Sysco Brand products will be RSPO-certified (mass balance). Sourcing RSPO-certified palm ingredients is in an important first step in our efforts and we are encouraged that many of our suppliers already have begun to source sustainable palm products.

However, current RSPO Principles and Criteria do not fully address important issues relating to deforestation, development on peat lands or exploitation of people in palm oil production. As a result, this policy lays out the criteria, above and beyond RSPO-certification, that we believe are important for palm oil to be considered sustainable in the marketplace today.

In February, 2016, the RSPO established a voluntary standard, RSPO Next, which calls for many of the elements of this policy. Supply chain participants can support RSPO Next by purchasing certificates representing the volume of palm ingredient used, however certain conditions must first be met. Currently, there is uncertainty regarding when there may be sufficient supply of palm oil meeting the RSPO Next standard. In addition, while many support the RSPO's efforts to develop the RSPO Next program, there is a meaningful amount of criticism by industry and NGOs that it does not go far enough. As a result, it is unclear today whether RSPO Next will remain the standard that best represents the elements of this policy, whether it will remain voluntary, or whether the Principles and Criteria required by RSPO will be changed to incorporate the more stringent RSPO Next criteria.

2. No deforestation
Our policy prohibits new oil palm development on areas of both High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) .

In addition, in accordance with RSPO Principle 5.5, our policy prohibits burning for land clearing, replanting, or other developments.

3. No development on peatlands, regardless of depth
Our policy prohibits the conversion of peatlands, regardless of their depth. In addition, in accordance with RSPO Principle 4.3, existing plantations on peat should follow Best Management Practices .

4. No exploitation
Our policy also requires adherence to the following principles aimed at eliminating exploitation and human rights abuses in the palm oil supply chain:

  • Comply with all applicable laws and regulations;
  • Respect human rights;
  • Never use child labor, or forced and/or bonded labor;
  • Respect workers' rights to freedom of association and to collective bargaining;
  • Compensate workers in accordance with all applicable local laws and regulations—including those pertaining to minimum wage, overtime and hours worked;
  • Do not discriminate in employment-related decisions;
  • Provide a safe and healthy work environment, including clean and safe housing where relevant;
  • Establish and uphold a no retaliation policy;
  • Utilize ethical recruitment practices, in which the process is documented and transparent, and any costs charged to the workers are transparent, justified and legal. Employment contracts should be provided to all workers in a language that can be easily understood by the workers.

In addition, when stakeholders in Sysco's palm oil supply chain are involved in land acquisition, lease, or utilization, producers must respect land tenure rights and the rights of indigenous and local communities to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to operations on lands to which they hold legal, communal or customary rights . In instances of new or existing conflicts surrounding these issues, suppliers involved will negotiate remediation through a legitimate process .

Recognizing the importance of smallholders in the global palm oil supply chain and the unique challenges they face, Sysco encourages suppliers to demonstrate a commitment to facilitating the inclusion of smallholders in the supply chain.

In the event that a supplier is found to be non-compliant with these principles, Sysco will work with its supply chain partners to require the non-compliant supplier to take remedial action to address the issue. The non-compliant supplier will be expected to create a corrective action plan, with reasonable time commitments to meet our requirements, or risk termination of our supplier relationship.

The Executive Vice President, Merchandising at Sysco is responsible for ensuring the implementation of this policy. The policy is effective immediately and Sysco will engage with its suppliers to assess its supply chain. We will report our progress toward implementation of this policy annually in our Sustainability Report published on

Our priorities and timelines:

1) We will work with our suppliers to source Sysco Brand products that include palm and palm kernel oil that are RSPO-certified (Mass Balance) by December 31, 2018.

2) We will establish a separate timeline for sourcing sustainable derivatives of palm and palm kernel oil by December 31, 2017.

3) We will continue to assess the availability of supply of sustainable palm oil ingredients as well the evolution of RSPO certification and will annually evaluate and report on our ability to establish a timeline to source all palm oil ingredients in compliance with all the elements of this policy.

1 With a preference that HCV be defined by the HCV network:
2 With a preference that HCS be defined at by the HCS Steering Group.
3 Best Management Practices as laid out by the “RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for existing oil palm cultivation on peat.”
4 Following the definitions and guidance as laid out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the UN FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure.
5 Suppliers should follow the guidance regarding grievance mechanisms from the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.