Activist CEOs: A new reality for corporate America

The days when business leaders could dodge social or political issues are coming to an end. CEO engagement on issues such as health care, sexual harassment, gun control and immigration have been steadily on the rise.

In a U.S. House committee meeting just last week, lawmakers “grilled [bank] executives more on social issues than business fundamentals,” according to Reuters, and probed them about fossil fuel investments. 

And as a recent Axios Trends piece suggests, pressure on CEOs to address social issues is increasing ahead of the 2020 political campaigns. In particular, demands that they act on climate change are heating up.

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How Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is furnishing a better planet

Pottery Barn Kids / west elm Greenguard certified and Fair Trade crib

Furnishing a new home is a big job. I know because I recently went through the process myself. You need to purchase the big ticket items, maybe a new bed from Pottery Barn, down to the nitty-gritty items, possibly a nice west elm throw for the couch. It’s taxing work – for you and the planet.

Danielle Jezienicki, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. works across the company’s eight brands, including Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn Kids and PBTeen, west elm, Rejuvenation and Mark & Graham, to ensure that products are made with the environment in mind.

I recently spoke with Danielle, an EDF Climate Corps and Presidio Graduate School alumna, to learn how Williams-Sonoma, Inc. works with stakeholders – from customers, employees and vendors – to engrain sustainability into its values.

Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

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Bevi CEO explains how an idea for a product grew into a sustainable startup

Reducing impact on the planet isn’t an afterthought at Bevi – it’s the startup’s core business.

Co-founder and CEO of Bevi, Sean Grundy, wanted to work for a company where sustainability was woven into the business model from the start, and shareholder and environmental values were one in the same. So, Sean chose to start fresh and build that very company.

Today, Bevi’s smart water dispensers, which provide customizable flavors using filtered tap water and natural ingredients, have saved the waste generated by over 65 million plastic bottles.

I recently chatted with Sean to learn about how he wound up co-founding Bevi, and how the startup has created an efficient, customizable and environmentally friendly alternative to canned and bottled beverages. Sean was also an EDF Climate Corps fellow with Hilex Poly back in 2012.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

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2020 commodity sourcing goals? These tools can help with supply chain traceability

Amidst rising deforestation rates, many companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from key commodity supply chains. As of June 2018, 473 companies globally committed to curbing deforestation in supply chains linked to palm oil, soy, timber and pulp, and cattle.

Many of these companies have set 2020 goals, and are doubling down efforts to meet these goals as the deadline fast approaches. Companies now find themselves in a position in which they know where they want to go, but do not always know how to get there.

Identifying deforestation risks in supply chains by using monitoring and traceability tools is one key step to achieving corporate goals related to fighting deforestation. Being able to monitor full supply chains, from the production of raw materials to retail or consumption, will enable companies to locate and address deforestation risks. Read more

Super Bowl ad shows Anheuser-Busch InBev’s global leadership on renewable energy

While Tom Brady was chasing his 6th Super Bowl Victory, something big happened during the game. Budweiser aired an ad celebrating the link between business and sustainability – a message that reached at least an average of 100 million viewers.

The 45 second video combined Budweiser’s brand icons, Dalmatians and Clydesdales, with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, to tout the company’s renewable energy commitments, particularly around wind generation.

For someone who tries to follow sports, but remains “passive” as my husband would put it, this ad won my attention for the night. It was a mixing pot of nature, technology and business that shared a singular, important message – companies are proudly investing in our planet’s future.

The truth is, this ad shared only part of the work Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, is doing to make its global operations more sustainable. I know this because I recently chatted with Jess Newman, Director of U.S. Agronomy at Anheuser-Busch – one of many employees working to meet the company’s sustainability goals.

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Circularity has finally hit the mainstream as Nestle, Mars, Danone and Clorox join Loop to test reusable packaging

Credit: SABIC

Having lived and traveled in Southeast Asia for a number of years, I have seen and experienced the negative impacts of plastic pollution firsthand. I can’t count the number of times I’ve visited some of the world’s most breathtaking remote locations and couldn’t stop staring at the plastic everywhere.

Last week, I finally felt that we turned a corner on plastics. At the World Economic Forum several of the largest consumer goods companies announced Loop, a pilot system to test reusable packaging for everyday products like mouthwash, deodorant, household cleaners and certain food products.

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Hershey aims to cut the carbon footprint of its chocolate with new Science-Based Target commitment

Photo credit: Wendy Palmer

One of the world’s top chocolate companies shared new plans for reducing its impact on the planet – including committing to set Science-Based Targets. But what sets Hershey apart from its peers is not this commitment. It’s the journey behind how it got here.

Leading up to today’s announcement, a lot happened behind the scenes – data was collected, numbers were crunched and methodologies chosen. It required time, human capital and expertise.

But Hershey didn’t do it alone. The company hired a graduate student to help with the heavy-lifting that comes before a target can be set.

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3 inspirational examples of sustainability leadership to ring in the New Year

A lot happened in 2018. The U.S. made some notable progress with the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress, and and SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket. (I also became a first-time dad! And remember Yanny vs. Laurel?). And we experienced some major lows, with hundreds of innocent lives lost to multiple mass shootings and families torn apart due to the current administration’s troubling immigration policies. Now, with 2018 coming to a close, attention is being redirected to the year ahead.

But before I begin anticipating what’s to come in 2019, I want to step back and celebrate a few big corporate sustainability accomplishments from 2018 that I’m particularly encouraged by.

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Why TD executives are banking on sustainability

Nicole Vadori remembers being in grade school and watching the news about a fire at a tire warehouse with big plumes of black smoke that would inevitably cause environmental damage and thinking at that moment, “how can adults let this happen?”

Today Nicole is associate vice president and head of environment at TD Bank Group, where she spends her days finding ways to help reduce the bank’s carbon footprint, mitigating climate risk in its investment activities, and helping to drive business initiatives that can create positive environmental and social impacts.

I recently caught up with Nicole to talk about what TD is doing to help support the transition to a low-carbon economy, how the company analyzes climate risk, and to hear about her favorite Toronto restaurants.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Is Your Fortune 100 Company One of the Nearly 40 Percent that Lack a Climate Target? If so, Read This. Then Call Me.

Taken on Nov. 19, 2018 from my San Francisco apartment rooftop

I have helped Walmart, Starbucks and other companies get started with sustainability. I can help you too, using all the lessons I’ve learned from them.

I don’t want to sound like just another environmentalist waving my hands, jumping up and down that we need to act to reverse climate change NOW. The truth is simply this: I know it can be done, sustainability targets create business value and companies stand to lose big financially if they don’t act.

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