Investors: Here’s What a Sustainability Leader Looks Like

I spend my days thinking about how companies can use their market power to improve our environment and health. Companies are motivated to lead on sustainability for a number of reasons including cost savings, risk management and improved reputation. Additionally, the stakeholders companies most want to impress are their customers and shareholders, which studies show care deeply when it comes to sustainability. In fact, in a 2017 Morgan Stanley survey, 75 percent of investors said they are interested in sustainable investing and 71 percent believe companies with leading sustainability practices may be better long-term investments. Given this, companies are increasingly talking about their sustainability efforts.

An example of such a company is Walmart, who recently hosted its annual shareholder meetings in the form of a formal business meeting and an event for associates and shareholders. As a sustainability professional, I was pleased to see both meetings highlight sustainability as a key strategy for Walmart moving forward.

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How an Indonesian coconut plantation inspired Mars’ “aha moment” on sustainability

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 seventh 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.

You likely know Mars as the company behind leading brands like M&M’s®, PEDIGREE® pet food, and UNCLE BEN’S® rice. For those of us in the field of corporate social responsibility, Mars is also well-known for its environmental leadership.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation plan lays out the company’s commitment to procure 100 percent renewable energy, reduce 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its direct operations by 2040, and reduce indirect emissions throughout the value chain by one-third by 2030 – and two-thirds by 2050.

As Mars’ chairman Stephen Badger wrote in a Washington Post editorial last year, the company’s carbon footprint is the size of a small country. The company’s goals are therefore nothing short of ambitious.

But if anyone can help the company meet those targets, it is chief procurement and sustainability officer Barry Parkin, who believes that big goals drive big innovation.

I recently spoke with Barry about how Mars plans to tackle its climate goals, how being a family-owned business shapes its approach to sustainability, and how his time on the British Olympic sailing team influences his day-to-day job. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Walmart: What’s Next for Project Gigaton

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

What can happen when the CEO of the world’s largest retailer says publicly that making the world better is more important than sales? The answer: a gigaton.

I was able to attend Walmart’s annual Sustainability Milestone Summit for the first time last month in Arkansas, and as EDF+Business’ new lead on climate change and energy issues in the supply chain, I have to say it was an incredible experience. At work was a tangible display of EDF+Business’ supply chain theory of change – that some companies have the power to move markets, and if they choose to, can use that power to accelerate progress on climate change.

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Cummins CEO says innovation, sustainability, and regulations are good for business

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 sixth 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.

I’ve worked with many business leaders over the course of my career, and there are few more forward-thinking on sustainability and environmental innovation than Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO of Cummins, Inc.

As head of the largest independent maker of diesel engines and related products in the world, Tom has set lofty environmental goals for Cummins, including cutting energy intensity from company facilities by a third by 2020.

Under Tom’s leadership, sustainability and community engagement have become core parts of company culture – including efforts to establish technical education programs around the world to lift youth out of poverty and publicly favoring tough, science-based and enforceable environmental regulations.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Tom and learn more about the formation of Cummins’ sustainability goals and the importance of long-term protective standards in the trucking industry.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Amazon’s big opportunity: Transparency in sustainability

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 fifth 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.

Over the past few years, Amazon’s sustainability team has been busy setting ambitious goals on renewable energy, making their voice heard on smart environmental policies, and leveraging their expertise in technology to drive innovation that can benefit the planet – and boost profits.

I recently chatted with Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon and former CEO of The Sustainability Consortium, about how innovation and environmental goals intersect at Amazon, the launch of the new Amazon Sustainability Question Bank, and how sustainability issues could play a role in deciding the next Amazon headquarters (HQ2).

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Not investing in energy efficiency is a foolish thing to do, says Mahindra CSO  

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; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the third 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.

Anirban Ghosh has been at Mahindra since 1999, and in that time worked across the business, including sales, marketing, strategy, and new business development. He played a key role in Mahindra’s expansion into the agriculture business, led the implementation of award-winning shared value projects like watershed development, and applied a strategic approach to the company’s social investments.

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Why 2017 was the worst and best year of my entire sustainability career

Of my 20 years in the corporate sustainability world, I’ve never seen a year like 2017.

Like many of you, I watched in shock as we inaugurated a reality TV personality as our 45th President. Since then this Administration has rolled back critical environmental and health protections and ceded U.S. government leadership on climate change and clean energy. Issues that I am passionate about and have devoted my career to advancing. Issues that affect kids like my son, who turned 6 this week, and the over 6 million other children across the country that suffer from asthma.

At the same time, our family members, friends, and colleagues from coast to coast have been impacted by heart-wrenching extreme weather events – made stronger by climate change. In the past 12 months alone, we experienced the country’s most devastating hurricane season (with damage estimates ranging to $475 billion), record breaking temperatures that grounded airlines to a halt, freezing temperatures in the Southeast that caused over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires that continue to blaze across the state of California.

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Why the world's largest pork producer is breaking new sustainability barriers

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; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the second 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.

As head of the Smithfield Foods’ sustainability program, Stewart Leeth focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development.

EDF has been collaborating with Smithfield for several years now to help farmers optimize fertilizer applications to grow grain for animal feed – and I’m inspired to see the progress that has been made in this arena. But I think this past year was likely the busiest ever for Stewart and his team at Smithfield after they made an industry-leading commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Carlyle Sheds Light on How Sustainability Creates Value in 2015

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


On the eve of The Carlyle Group releasing its 2015 Corporate Citizenship Report, I had the chance to catch up with Jackie Roberts, Chief Sustainability Officer at Carlyle and former EDF colleague who was one of the founders of EDF’s Corporate Partnership Program. Here are highlights from our conversation:

Jackie RobertsWhat attracted you to your current role at Carlyle?

Rather than being in an arm’s-length advisory role, I now get into more of the details of implementation. I work directly to support sustainability leads in a broad range of companies, helping them prioritize among business goals, crystallize sustainability strategies and, most importantly, execute on a lot of different ideas. Also, as Carlyle is an owner of companies in many countries and industries, I have the opportunity to understand how aspects of sustainability play out differently across the globe. In short, it is a tremendous platform for influencing corporate sustainability.

What are you and Carlyle particularly proud of in this year’s report?

This is the first year that we have designed the report to align with the types of value creation we typically see, such as customer satisfaction, brand equity, operational efficiency and workplace strength. This year’s report moves beyond operational efficiencies into these other key drivers for companies.

What does Carlyle see as the value of ESG management for its business? How do you quantify that value? What form is that taking, both for Carlyle and its portfolio companies?

We have examples across these four ways that ESG management connects to value creation (customer satisfaction, brand equity, operational efficiency and workplace strength). A great example related to both customer satisfaction and brand equity comes from a portfolio company that quantified its sales increase for greener products. Their primary customers, mainly hotels, were requesting green products, so the company invested in this area, which paid off in increased sales – a clear win-win. Read more

Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart shopper

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more