Business Leaders Share Their Favorite Sustainability Initiatives

When you are tasked with sustainability for an organization — whether you have an official CSR role or it is an unofficial part of your job — you quickly recognize that sustainability is a journey and not a singular task to be checked off a “to do” list. 

Those who manage sustainability know there is always something greater to be done and their wish list can be quite long. Many of the executives I have spoken with on my Business of Sustainability interview series admit they have some favorite sustainability initiatives they are most excited about. I wanted to share those proud moments as they may help inspire something new at your organization. 

1. Recycling Material To Create New Packaging Options. Altium Packaging’s Brian Hankin, SVP Strategy, Innovation, Marketing at Altium Packaging and Sarah Dwyer, Sustainability Associate: “As a consumer, hopefully if you recycle, you put the materials in a bin and it gets shipped off to a sorting facility where it is sorted, and we buy that material. Envision, our fully-owned subsidiary, is a mechanical recycler. We put the used plastic through a process, sort it again, create flakes, clean it thoroughly, and then extrude it into new resin pellets purely made better of recycled material. We are essentially taking this trash and turning it into material that is clean and can be used across a variety of applications including food applications. Our recycled material can make its way back into food packaging which is currently being legislated in states like California and Washington. We also have a product out of Envision called Ocean Bound. Ocean Bound is material that we collect close to the shores of developing areas of the world. We take that material, reclaim it, and put it through that same process, so we’re diverting material that might have ended up in the rivers and in the oceans. It is pretty exciting. The supply chain has a lot of pieces to it, the costs aren’t ideally where we’d like them to be, and it is more expensive to use this recycled material. But it’s pretty exciting that we are able to construct a system to enable our customers to build in this PCR (post-consumer resin), or recycled material into their products.”

2. Having A Social Impact With Your Business. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, CEO and Founder of Port of Mokha: “When you build a brand, you should always recognize it’s not just about the consumer, you think about your producers, you think about your employees, think about the people around you, and your company culture. It’s pretty important on the producer side that you build that strong connection with people there. And so, for us, our farmers, to see their lives being changed by being able to earn more. They can now afford school for their children or hospital bills, or whatever it is that they need in their lives that they have their needs taken care of and they have a way to connect to markets they never would have thought possible.”

3. Helping Customers Reevaluate Shipping Choices. Josh Raglin, Chief Sustainability Officer at Norfolk Southern Corporation: “Our largest environmental impact is locomotive diesel. This comprises over 90% of our emissions. Anything we can do to lower emissions is good for our bottom line. Lowering emissions is good for our customers because at the end of the day, our emissions are our customers emissions. And more of our customer base is looking at their supply chain emissions, they’re wanting to measure those, but they’re also wanting to understand how we can lower those emissions. A lot of our customers are just now starting their sustainability journey so we can assist them in that regard in helping to identify lanes for those conversions. Not every lane makes sense to go by rail, but there are a lot of opportunities out there. There are things moving right now that are in expedited fashion that maybe don’t need to be.”

4. Growing Vegetables With The Stadium’s Compost To Be Served Back At The Stadium. David Young, Chief Operating Officer at Seattle Seahawks: “We’ve got a tremendous partnership with Cedar Grove, who is our compost hauler. They have a farm, and we send our compost to them, they take it to the farm, and they use that compost across their whole farm, but there is one portion of that farm that is dedicated to Lumen Field and we get the vegetables back out of that piece which are consumed in salads and other items that we make for game days and other events so it’s really a closed loop composting cycle there. So, you can eat a hotdog, throw part of it away, it’s going to be used to create lettuce or carrots that you’re going to eat next year or in the next game in a salad. Every year we have a sustainability game and at that game — we plant potatoes early in the year in the cycle — and then when we get to that game, every potato — including potato chips, french fries, even potato salad — every potato that is served is organically and sustainably grown on the farm for that game.”

5. Recycling Shoes. Jess Bensley, Senior Product Line Manager at Teva, Deckers Brands: “You go on to teva.com, there’s a place where you can recycle your sandals, and it just takes you through a few easy steps to download a free shipping label. You get that shipping label, pack up your Tevas and send them off and then they actually go directly to TerraCycle’s facility which is handling the cleaning, the sorting, the breaking down and the separating of materials. This is where we can start the circular journey a bit more, if those materials are broken down to the bottoms. The bottoms of our shoes are made out of EBA and rubber, it’s very common in footwear and these can actually be recycled together so they’re ground up and then put into tracks and playgrounds and sport courts. So that’s how they’ll be having a new life. And then, the upper, not quite as cool. They’re going into the carpeting industry, but we all have carpets and rugs, so we’ll see those come back to life again. But as you talked about next steps, circularity is our ultimate goal. We want to create a backwards loop in our supply chain and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we want to make old Tevas into new Tevas and that is our ultimate goal.”

6. Formulating Recycled Cardboard Into Bottles To Reduce Plastic Usage. Julie Mishner, Product Manager at Jabil Packaging Solutions: “We just acquired a company called Ecologic Brands. The shell of this beverage bottle is made out of recycled cardboard and it can be separated and then the amount of plastic needed inside is greatly reduced. It enables you to use significantly less plastic because you don’t need to rely on it for the structure. You can separate the components and each product is completely recyclable offering huge plastic reductions.”

7. Prioritizing People-Focused Outcomes. Kimberley Sundy, Director, Corporate Sustainability at Kellogg Company: “We are really dedicated to people-focused outcomes and so the work we do with farmers — our commitment is to support a million farmers and workers — is really demonstrative of that. We are helping farmers do things like conserve natural resources, think about how they can meet science-based targets, etc. We responsibly source our ingredients and we collaborate with farmers to do that too. We are also doing really important work to help support farmers from a climate perspective and to improve climate resiliency. We work with real people throughout the value chain. Real farmers on real farms and a lot of real farm families to get that work done.”

8. Using Rainwater To Resurface The Ice Rink And Banning Single Use Plastics. Rob Johnson, VP of Sustainability and Transportation for Seattle Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena: “Two things that have really captured our fan’s attention are first, the fact that we’re collecting rainwater off of one quarter of our roof, holding it in a 15,000-gallon cistern and using that to resurface the ice on our game nights. We call that our Rain to Rink Solution. The second is the idea that we’re going to be banning the use of single use plastics. When you stand at the arena’s front door and you look to the west, you can see Puget Sound. We know collectively the impact those single use plastics are having on the health of Puget Sound, our native salmon and orca population, but also our human health. When you consider that an artist like Billie Eilish could just come into a building and say, ‘I’m going to play in your building, but one of the prerequisites, one of the riders is that you can’t have any single-use plastics while I’m in the building.’ That was inspirational to us and we thought, if she can ban it for one night, why couldn’t we ban it for 365 days a year? So, we’re not going to be able to ban everything on day one but we’re going to ban most things and then we are going to phase out everything, we hope by the 2024 timeline. The idea here for us to inspire fans to really reduce their plastic use and consumption is going to be a really, really great one.”

9. Improving Manufacturing And Sourcing Of Product At The Largest Retailer In The World. Zach Freeze, the Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives, Sustainability at Walmart: “We’re doing a lot of great work to improve the manufacturing and sourcing of our products, including things like working very hard to improve the recyclability of packaging. Walmart is challenging and working with our supplier partners on improving the ingredients, the way things are made and sourced, and even the store itself. For example, we have moved to extremely energy efficient lighting and this is an example of how we are constantly looking at how we can improve our business while keeping our customer in mind. We want them to trust that when they select Walmart as a retailer by either walking into a store or going online, they are getting a product and a service which keeps sustainability at the forefront.”

10. Removing Plastic From Product Packaging. Bryan Pape, CEO of Miir: “We’re working on reducing all of our plastic packaging so we’ve moved entirely from a plastic-based poly liner to one which is basically compostable to protect the product from being scratched during transit of the package. We do have compostable liners holding the product inside of the box and we are almost there to completely eliminate any sort of poly bag to protect that product. We are trying to think holistically about sustainability, not just the end product, but also what is on the product between transfer of the goods. It is an evolving journey for sure.”

11. Reducing Reliance On Fossil Fuels In Production. John Sadlier, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ardagh Group: “We are working on a project at the moment called The Furnace of the Future. Glass furnaces typically have been 80% fossil fueled and 20% by electricity. Rough numbers. We’re working on a project that will invert these stats and get you to a 20% fossil fuel, 80% electricity breakdown. And then driving that electricity toward being from a renewable source. Not only is it Ardagh Group, but we’re also working with a consortium of 20 glass container manufacturers in Europe through a project coordinated by FEBI, the European glass container manufacturer association and we’re currently applying for an EU innovation grant to help us with that. It’s a super exciting project. There is a huge amount of innovation involved. We’re all really excited about this project and it’s a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy to achieve, but it’s really important that we do it because if we’re serious about this agenda, we have to make progress and we have to get this transition away from fossil fuels.” 

12. Focusing On Sustainable Finance. Kelly Fisher, SVP/Head of Corporate Sustainability at HSBC: “We were the first bank to help two big insurance companies issue green bonds last year, which is huge for the insurance industry. If we could be known for this, I think that’s really exciting because at some point, I don’t even think it’s going to be a label — it is going to be a way we have to do business.”

13. Giving Back To Environmental Nonprofits. Wylie Robinson, Founder and CEO at Rumpl: “Participating with 1% for the Planet, so 1% of the revenue we generate from all of our products goes straight back to environmental nonprofits. All of these things really resonate with our customers, so we’re just continuing to build on that connection that we have with our customers through our sustainability activities.”

14. Achieving Climate Neutral. Jane Franch, Director, Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability at Numi Organic Tea: “We are now climate neutral. We’ve calculated all of our emissions from our farm level through our warehouse and those are being offset with reduction initiatives as well as investing in voluntary offsets in the Amazon. Additionally, our switch to plant-based packaging has enabled us to displace 13.3 metric tons of single use plastic from the material stream.”

Jennifer Wong
Jennifer is the Head of Sustainability at Convoy, helping transportation leaders make progress against their environmental and social impact goals.