California Giant Berry Farms Sustainability Case Study

Growing Sustainably Through TRUE Zero Waste Certification

For California Giant Berry Farms, sustainability is more than a column of checkboxes to be ticked upon completion. With a careful eye on sustainability, they continually identify, improve and build upon their sustainable measures in all areas of business. Their TRUE Zero Waste Certification initiative exhibits just that—dedication to making the world a better place for future generations.

UN Sustainability
Development Goals:
9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
13 – Climate Action
17 – Partnerships for the Goals

California Giant Berry Farms was formed in the early 1980s, but their story really began in 1970, when three friends had a simple mission in mind—provide the finest strawberries and give back to the Pajaro Valley community that raised them. They set up in a small trailer in the middle of a field in Watsonville, CA, where they began brokering berries. As the demand for their berries grew, they expanded their business by partnering with only the best growers throughout the state of California.

Forty plus years later, what started out with strawberries has grown into a global family of growers who are passionate in their goal to deliver the best year-round strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in the most sustainable way. They now ship over 30 million trays of berries annually. Though they are an international berry company, they remain true to the roots laid down by their founders, guided by their core values:

  1. Community—Supporting local and farming communities
  2. Quality—Supplying berries of the highest standards and quality year round
  3. Philanthropy—Making a difference through The California Giant Foundation’s philanthropic initiatives
  4. Fairness and Mutual Respect—Applying fairness and mutual respect in all aspects of their business

According to California Giant Berry Farms, sustainability is the foundation for a thriving business, and their commitment spans from their fields to headquarters and beyond. In 2019, the company introduced a plan to advance their commitment to sustainability by introducing their triple bottom line approach of people, planet, profit, which balances social, environmental and economic considerations for a holistic approach to true sustainability.

“Sustainability starts with a company’s value system and a principle-based approach to doing business,” says Kyla Oberman, California Giant Berry Farms Director of Marketing.

GIANT berries.jpg

The challenge: Facing the mirror

To support their sustainability goals, California Giant found themselves making some big asks of their grower partners with regard to increased sustainable practices across the board. Among the programs in which they asked their grower partners to consider participating are Sustainably Grown Certification from SCS Global Services, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), the Ethical Charter Implementation Process (ECIP) and the Bee Better Certified by Xerces Society, which requires growers to take extra steps to protect the habitats of pollinators in their fields.

California Giant found themselves having conversations with their partners around implementation of these initiatives that would require a lot of work and a huge team effort for their growing operations to achieve their sustainability goals. They easily identified sustainable practices at the farm level and the growing operations, specifically, but during the process they discovered a problem. While they were asking their growers to be more sustainable, they realized they had to turn the sustainability mirror on California Giant as a company. With 65% of their total in-house waste going to the landfill, California Giant Berry Farms knew they could do better.

The solution: Bringing sustainability home

Everyone bears the responsibility of responding to the challenges of sustainability and, for their part, California Giant Berry Farms is doing just that. They not only expect sustainable practices from their grower partners but have extended those practices to their in-house operations.

Within their goal to increase the company's sustainability measures (both at farm level and at all their facilities, including coolers and headquarters), they identified Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI) and their TRUE Zero Waste Certification, along with tools and guidance from sustainability consultants, Measure to Improve (MTI), as an initiative they could implement to show their growing partners that California Giant was also willing to walk the talk.

TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) is a whole-systems approach aimed at changing how materials flow through society, resulting in no waste. TRUE encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The certification promotes processes that consider the entire lifecycle of products used within a facility, and companies can then demonstrate to the world what they are doing to minimize their waste output.

GBCI was a valuable resource in the implementation of TRUE Certification, providing holistic, step-by-step instructions and a catalogue of resources with all the information California Giant needed to succeed. “Achieving the Zero Waste certification is something that is attainable but requires diligent work and dedication” says Oberman. “The adage, it takes a village rings true here, as success is dependent upon on many moving pieces.”

The TRUE Certification Rating system is based on a point system to which are assigned certification levels (Certified [31–37], Silver [38–45], Gold [46–63], Platinum [64–81]).

Overview of categories & points

Category Points
Redesign 4
Reduce 7
Reuse 7
Compost (Re-Earth) 7
Recycle 3
Leadership 6
Training 8
Zero Waste Analysis 5
Upstream Management 4
Hazardous Waste Prevention 5
Zero Waste Reporting 4
Diversion (Min 90%) 5
Zero Waste Purchasing 9
Closed Loop System 4
Innovation 3

California Giant used MTI’s Sustainability Dashboard to track all materials by volume and commodity stream, which determined their baseline of 35% diversion of waste away from the landfill. Their goal in going zero waste was to increase that percentage to 90+% of diverting their overall waste to more sustainable outlets.

Within each of their building areas they began asking, “How do we not just look at one trash can and the trash that goes into it,” but also “how can we improve our recycling? How can we add a food waste program, where excess food could be composted properly through our local municipality? How could we look at our buying practices and buy more sustainably? Are there areas that can be consolidated which, in the end, would reduce contribution to the waste stream at the end of the product’s life?”


With these questions in mind, California Giant assigned a single-source purchaser for the company and conducted outreach to major office suppliers to ensure that they were buying from not only sustainable companies but that the items themselves were sustainable. In their outreach, California Giant shared their zero waste goals and asked the companies to share their own zero waste/waste management initiatives and acted as support to answer questions, find existing alternatives and develop new solutions.

They committed to sustainable purchasing, working with MTI to create an Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP) Policy, which advises under General Purchasing Guidelines that priority should be given to materials that are sourced from suppliers with a proven commitment to zero waste. The policy outlines their purchasing goals, guidelines, and eco-labels that help identify and track environmentally preferred purchases and trained purchasing staff on how to align supply purchases with their zero waste goals, including the purchase of a minimum 30% post-consumer recycled paper content in office paper as well as an office supply reuse program.

California Giant added a Zero Waste Training Guide to their employee handbook, to which every employee has access. Additionally, they perform yearly training with all employees, and engage staff via their volunteer group, The Green Team. In addition to the standard orientation agenda that all new employees review with the Human Resources team, they also review the Zero Waste Training Guide and are educated on California Giant’s Zero Waste Program goals.

The company also developed an official Zero Waste Policy as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that communicates their policies and practices. The Zero Waste SOP states their goal of maintaining its TRUE Zero Waste Certification as well as additional zero waste commitments such as reducing hazardous materials/chemicals, reducing packaging and committing to increased diversion each year.

Under the Continued Improvement Goal section, the Zero Waste SOP outlines, California Giant set a goal to reach zero waste certification by the end of 2020, after which they committed to improving upon the program by increasing baseline diversion 0.1% each year thereafter. In its first year, California Giant successfully diverted 91.24% of its office waste away from landfills and was awarded the Gold TRUE Zero Waste certification program. California Giant has set a goal to reach Zero Waste Platinum certification status by the end of 2022 then continually improve upon the program by increasing baseline diversion by .1% each year thereafter.

California Giant generates e-waste, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, and may on occasion generate paint and non-empty aerosol cans. To prevent hazardous waste, these items are collected either in a vault or other storage area, depending on the material type. Key staff are responsible for collecting and disposing of each Universal Waste material streams, which are all noted on the Hazardous and Universal Waste Processes Checklist. Most universal waste material streams are disposed of at the City of Watsonville Waste and Recycling Drop-Off, with the only exception being light bulbs, which are disposed of at a local hardware store.

Part of the annual re-certification conducted by California Giant is a zero waste analysis (physical waste audit) of their landfill and recycling streams. In 2021, they audited two days’ worth of materials with three volunteers from their office and three volunteers from MTI. Additional staff attended the audit to photograph and observe the process and attended a second audit. They created a commodity matrix to document all recycling vendors and end destinations for materials. Validation letters were submitted by each material vendor validating disposal of material and end destinations.

Container surveys were performed on their frontload hauling containers to observe generation and capacity use. The program launched to all employees, and weekly hauling container observations were implemented. Adjustments were made as needed, and the landfill container was reduced from majority 6 cubic yards to 1 cubic yards, while the recycling has 3 cubic yards/. Locks were also placed on both the recycling and landfill containers, which reduced the landfill container from 3 cubic yards to 2 cubic yards. In this way they were able to lower the solid waste removal fees by right sizing the containers and lessening the amount of waste that was being removed from their building.

California Giant's landfill is estimated based on hauling container sizes, and modifications are limited and decreasing landfill is difficult to quantify. However, California Giant plans to increase diversion by identifying additional opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle items in the office.

Using the MTI Sustainability Dashboard, California Giant was able to aggregate monthly and yearly data to validate diversion rates. The dashboard also tracks all program costs, revenues (if earned) and avoided costs. The dashboard is also used by management for high-level analysis and trend spotting. Diversion rates were calculated using monthly data and aggregated in the Diversion Log. Diversion rates were then calculated using calculated fields and pivot tables. Invoices are collected monthly and, because hauling containers are not weighed, reputable conversion factors (CalRecycle, EPA, etc.) were used to estimate weights. The conversion factors were also available in the Sustainability Dashboard.

The takeaway: Full-circle sustainability

For their “reduce and reuse” initiative, California Giant hired consultant, Curtis Process Consulting to assist with converting their paper-intensive systems to paperless in their Accounting, Sales and Pool Payment departments. This resulted in a reduction of paper use by over 100,000 pieces along with the banker boxes in which it was stored.

In their office break rooms, California Giant transitioned from single-use plates and utensils to reusable alternatives. Using past purchasing records, they estimated that at least 14.29 lbs. and $22.82 of disposable plates, cups, and cutlery were saved each month. In addition to their trash and recycle receptacles, they added a compost bin where staff could dispose of appropriate leftover food items in an environmentally beneficial way, supporting their composting and re-earthing efforts.

By following the steps provided by GBCI (e.g., dividing waste in terms of food waste/recycling, plastic versus aluminum, recycling paper and, when all other options have been exhausted, the landfill) and sustainable purchasing practices, California Giant saw a remarkable difference. They went from their baseline of 35% diversion away from the landfill to 80% in the first month and are now close to 94% on average.

California Giant is currently Gold certified and are in the process to achieve Platinum certification by 2022, and continue to achieve credits in myriad ways, such as hosting multiple fundraisers throughout the year where they have the opportunity to educate attendees on source separation and zero waste.

One example is their Holiday Gift Wrapping event where high school students volunteered to wrap presents and all proceeds were donated to California Giant's Santa's Workshop, which benefited local families in need. All volunteers were trained on California Giant's program, general source separation practices and how to properly dispose of key materials generated that day, such as gift wrap, tape and ribbons.

The company also received certification points for one spring cleaning event. They asked staff to clean out their closets at home and bring in any items that were ready to be donated that they would traditionally take to the Salvation Army. The items were collected, then disposed of or donated properly. Similarly, they hosted a shoe drive, collecting old tennis shoes that would either be donated if they were good quality or recycled for use in playgrounds or used for flooring.

With these events California Giant was able to challenge themselves to go above their already extensive efforts and accumulate even more credits toward their Zero Waste recertification.

They are the only business in the city of Watsonville that holds the TRUE Zero Waste Certificate and were recognized by the mayor for those achievements. “It’s a lot of work, but with an engaged staff, it’s manageable. The work, in contrast to the overall impact of the certification is small. The overall impact of sustainably—economically and environmentally—are so huge,” says Oberman.

For California Giant Berry Farms, it is important to them to carry on the legacy and tradition of being stewards of the land and improve and build upon the sustainable measures that their growers have done for generations. “And the efforts don’t stop with the growers,” adds Oberman. “The way that our world is changing, it's imperative that everyone everywhere does their part. It's important for us to know that we have done everything that we can and will continue to be sustainable stewards of the land.”

Related Resources