SustainAbility Newsletter

Conventional vs. Organic

Organic Food

The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

Organic or not? Check the label The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA certified as meeting these standards. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification.

If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it's produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food's ingredients are organically produced. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.

Some people say they can taste the difference between organic and nonorganic food. Others say they find no difference. Taste is a subjective and personal consideration, so decide for yourself. But whether you buy organic or not, finding the freshest foods available may have the biggest impact on taste.

Products that are completely organic — such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods — are labeled 100 percent organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal or the following wording on their package labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:

  • 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can't be used on these packages.

USDA OrganicFoods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can't use the organic seal or the word "organic" on their product label. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.

You may see other terms on food labels, such as "all-natural," "free-range" or "hormone-free." These descriptions may be important to you, but don't confuse them with the term "organic." Only those foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.

Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods. The difference lies in how the food is produced, processed and handled. You may find that organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster because they aren't treated with waxes or preservatives. Also, expect less-than-perfect appearances in some organic produce — odd shapes, varying colors and perhaps smaller sizes. In most cases, however, organic foods look identical to their conventional counterparts.

Most organic food costs more than conventional food products. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields. Because organic farmers don't use herbicides or pesticides, many management tools that control weeds and pests are labor intensive. For example, organic growers may hand weed vegetables to control weeds, and you may end up paying more for these vegetables.

Fast Facts:

  • Don't confuse natural foods with organic foods. Only those products with the "USDA Organic" label have met USDA standards.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season to ensure the highest quality. Also, try to buy your produce the day it's delivered to market to ensure that you're buying the freshest food possible. Ask your grocer what day new produce arrives.


References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon International

The International Sustainability Council

The US Environmental Protection Agency

Organic Farming Research Foundation

United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Natural Resources Defense Council

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Colorado Golf Carbon Project Gains Support

Golf Turf

As the initial stages of the Colorado Golf Carbon Project continue, the number of organizations supporting the initiative is growing. In recent letters of support the National Turfgrass Federation as well as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and The Environmental Institute for Golf (EIFG) show their appreciation of the project:

"This project is a logical extension of previous groundbreaking environmental projects completed in Colorado by Colorado State University, the USDA/ARS, and the Allied Golf Associations of Colorado. The National Turfgrass Federation and its allied associations believe that resources from a diverse group of stakeholders make the Colorado Golf Carbon Project an undertaking that will provide valuable environmental information. There is no doubt that the information generated by this project will have a lasting impact on the management of energy, water and other environmental issues encountered by the users of turfgrass and other businesses in Colorado, and throughout the United States," says the National Turfgrass Federation.

"The goals of the Colorado Golf Carbon Project align with the environmental efforts of GCSAA and the EIFG to work collaboratively with the golf course industry to advance the compatibility of the game of golf with the environment. GCSAA and the EIFG have identified three areas of focus for the golf course industry: water conservation; water quality protection; and energy conservation, and these areas of focus all influence the carbon footprint of a golf facility," says Mark J. Woodward, CGCS Chief Executive Officer at GCSAA.

The Colorado Golf Carbon Project is a first of its kind not only in the way that it presents a partnership between a diverse group of representatives within the golf industry and research entities, but also in what it is setting out to accomplish: 

  • To develop a carbon emission and carbon sequestration data collection system for golf courses of Colorado. Results documenting the total carbon effects of sequestration and emissions will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • To document the sequestered carbon at Colorado's golf facilities on an annual basis and create marketable offsets, thus creating a self sustaining funding mechanism for this and future projects aimed at improving conservation and environmental stewardship at golf facilities.

The Colorado Golf Carbon Project is a joint effort between Golfpreserves® and the Allied Golf Associations of Colorado, including the Colorado Golf Association, the Rocky Mountain Golf Course Superintendent's Association, the Colorado Section of the PGA, the Colorado Women's Golf Association, the Colorado Chapter of the Club Managers of America and the Colorado Chapter of the Golf Course Owners Association and is supported by the USGA Green Section, Audubon International, the International Sustainability Council, Sustainable Golf & Development and Audubon Lifestyles. Research partners participating in the development of the project include Colorado State University and the USDA/ARS.
"This project is supported by representatives from every section of golf, as well as the USDA/ARS, Colorado State University, Audubon International, the International Sustainability Council, Audubon Lifestyles and the turf grass industry. To have the National Turfgrass Federation as well as the GCSAA and EIFG joining us in our quest is not only a welcomed addition in support, but also solidifies our strong belief that the project will contribute to make the industry of golf even stronger for the future," says Noble Hendrix of Golfpreserves®.
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References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles
The International Sustainability Council 

General Motors


Fisker Automotive


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership

Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

University of Alaska Fairbanks 

Taylor Properties Group  

Urbana University 

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) 

American Society of Golf Course Architects

The United States Golf Association (USGA)

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Sponsors are a critically important part to the success of ISC-Audubon. As a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating sustainability, we offer all of our programs to our members free of charge, and are publicly available for download on our website.

ISC-Audubon is proud to extend the opportunity to select businesses and organizations to become sponsors of our sustainability education and advocacy programs. As a sponsor, your business or organization can realize significant value.

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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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