Talking sustainability, soup and stout with Campbell’s Dave Stangis

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the fourth in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Dave Stangis has dedicated over three decades of his career to steering sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts at two iconic American companies, Intel and Campbell Soup Company. As Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell, Dave has built the company’s reputation for setting a high bar on sustainability and corporate responsibility in the food industry. Case in point: Campbell was recognized as a top corporate citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine for the eighth consecutive year.

Campbell set an ambitious goal to cut the environmental footprint of its product portfolio in half by 2020, which entails reducing energy use by 35 percent, recycling 95 percent of its global waste stream, and sourcing 40 percent of the company’s electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.

I recently spoke with Dave to learn about his approach to setting big sustainability goals, the role of technology and innovation in building a more sustainable food system, and which kind of beer goes best with a bowl of soup. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

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Securing Safer Chemicals in Food

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer products in the marketplaceIt seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and  flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.

What’s driving all this change?

It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.

According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 23% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.

woman reading labelAnother survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher  than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.

There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.

EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food.  We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food.  Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.

Campbell’s Soup Expands Fertilizer Optimization Programs

There’s a new reason to celebrate your favorite sugar cookie. The Campbell's Soup Company has committed to fertilizer optimization in its sourcing areas in Ohio and Nebraska – which provide wheat for Campbell’s subsidiary, Pepperidge Farm – and the company will enroll an additional 70,000 acres into its fertilizer optimization programs by 2020.

220px-Campbell_Soup_Company_logo.svg_Campbell's will work with EDF to create additional fertilizer optimization and soil conservation programs for farmers, and will deploy United Suppliers’ SUSTAIN platform in these sourcing areas to help ensure for farmers that changing their practices will not only reduce nitrogen runoff, but also protect yields and farm income.

With this announcement, the momentum for sustainable agriculture is higher than ever. Campbell’s is the latest company to participate in EDF’s Sustainable Sourcing Initiative, joining Walmart, Smithfield Foods, General Mills, and United Suppliers to make fertilizer efficiency and soil health the norm in U.S. grain production. Read more