Food and agriculture companies: a challenge from a millennial mom

As a working mother, I often have to multi-task. Recently, as I watched my toddler push his food around his plate, I caught up on last week’s news that Fortune had released its annual “Change the World” list of top companies using the profit motive to help the planet and tackle social problems.

About 10 percent of this list consists of corporate leaders who are thinking critically about the challenge to feed our world in a sustainable way without destroying our planet, including companies like Kroger (#6), Walmart (#16), Tyson Foods (#44), McDonald’s (#50) and PepsiCo (#57). These companies know that a thriving community requires a fed community.

While I’m thankful to Fortune for sharing best practices from these incredible, game-changing companies, I’m also painfully aware that the corporate sector at large has a lot more work to do: a recent survey by Bain & Company found that only four percent of companies feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47 percent feel that they’ve failed altogether.

Speaking as both a mother and a sustainable supply chain specialist, that’s simply not good enough. We are already facing the massive challenge of producing even more food with fewer inputs. We are already facing increasingly variable weather.  And in just a few decades, our planet will be home to 2 billion more people to feed.

What’s my point? Next year, food and agriculture companies, I want to see more of you on Fortune’s list. So to help you on this quest, I’m officially issuing you a two-part challenge:

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ROE (Return on Environment) is the new ROI: how sustainability drives business success

Comparing the themes of Climate Week 2016 versus 2017 provides a telling picture of the state of climate affairs. “America Means Business: US Leadership in a post-Paris World” was last year’s focus, while this year is all about three words: “Innovation. Jobs. Prosperity.”

It has been a remarkable year for climate action – in the absence of federal oversight and leadership, we’ve seen a major shift towards city, state and business leaders becoming the standard-bearers for the environment and the economy. With the release of Fortune’s Change the World list, it is obvious that the bar for corporate leadership has been raised even further. Companies that previously stayed mute on environmental and social issues now speak out; not as an anomaly but as a defining factor of their business.

The expectations of today’s stakeholders – investors, employees, consumers, communities – demand a higher, more visionary level of sustainability leadership. Corporate leaders who put their money, and actions, where their mouth is on environmental and social issues are driving innovation, creating jobs, and gaining a new competitive edge for their businesses. Read more

When NGOs and Business Work Together, They Can Change the World

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFFull disclosure:  I’ve been a big fan of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer since my days as a graduate business student.  Lots of hours on group projects working on five forces analysis, you get the idea.  So it was especially rewarding to read their recent Fortune article looking at the actions behind the Change the World list of leading companies who are doing well by doing good.

Porter’s and Kramer’s Creating Shared Value approach is “moving into the mainstream and growing exponentially. Companies that adopt shared-value thinking remain committed (as they should) to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. But they’re moving beyond often-fuzzy notions like sustainability and corporate citizenship, and instead making measurable social impact central to how they compete.”

Sustainability as a fuzzy notion for business strategy?

I’m going to push back on that.

As the environmental NGO that spearheaded a first of its kind partnership with McDonalds over 25 years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has partnered with hundreds of leading companies to address sustainability in specifically non-fuzzy ways. We do it by following the science and making sure that every EDF+Business project drives measurable environmental and business results. Read more

The Future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships: Insights from the Fortune 500

Last week, we hosted an intimate lunch at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel to get the perspective of Fortune 500 firms on the future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships.

Our Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Gwen Ruta, kicked off the lunchtime conversation with an interesting insight: “20 years ago [when we partnered with McDonald’s], it was heresy that an NGO would partner with a company.  Nowadays, nearly every large business has an NGO engagement strategy.  Could it be that tomorrow’s heresy is that companies share environmental innovations and best practices with each other to solve environmental problems?”

This probing question elicited some really astute ideas from the lunch attendees, and was too rich to include every detail here, but here’s a snapshot of some great comments that emerged on ways that Environmental Defense Fund might scale its impact:

  • “The key is to determine which areas of sustainability are truly competitive and which can be shared openly amongst companies.  For example, if key green technologies are expensive, it’s to the benefit of all companies to work together to bring down those costs.” Read more