Sustainability can truly become harmonious with a business when it is an integral pillar of a company’s DNA versus being an afterthought. When sustainability is literally baked into the brand, then how a company operates, everything it produces, its policies and procedures, interactions with suppliers and vendors, etc. are all viewed through a sustainability lens and there is never a choice between people, planet, and profit.
For sustainability to take hold in an organization, it needs to be a shared goal of every department as well as by the end-user consumer. A sustainable company needs consumers who want to live their values, who want the products they buy to do the same, and who will ultimately vote with their wallets.
To learn more about operating a company where sustainability is truly a part of the DNA, we spoke to Danielle Jezienicki, Director of Sustainability, at Grove Collaborative. Danielle and Grove Collaborative are on a mission to change the cleaning and household products industry, reduce plastic usage, and reimagine the circular flow of a business.
Danielle’s insights show us how sustainability leaders can get buy-in from other departments, why it’s important to work closely with your vendors to show them your vision, and how as businesses, we can play a role in positive environmental regeneration versus the negative impacts many industries currently have. Our conversation centered upon these key questions:
- Can you tell me about your role and responsibilities as the Director of Sustainability at Grove Collaborative?
- How does Grove see the value of sustainability? What impact or results does it drive for the business?
- How do you measure success against helping people live their values?
- How is your business or team structured to be able to meet your sustainability goals?
- Grove Collaborative already makes buying eco-friendly household cleaning supplies convenient. Where do you go from there?! What is your top priority for the next 6 months?
- What do you think it’s going to take for more companies to make larger investments in sustainability?
Danielle gave us examples of how her sustainability department interacts with others within the company, why robust measurement systems are put into place to ensure a company can validate its sustainability efforts, avenues consumers have to encourage more businesses to adopt a sustainable mindset, and much more.
Watch the video or read the transcription below.
Jennifer: I would love to hear about your role and responsibility [2:00] as the director of sustainability for the company. What does that entail today?
Danielle: I started with Grove this past November. I was actually a customer for about 5 years before I worked at Grove. So, I’ve been a big fan of the brand before I came to work at Grove. So, I am the Director of Sustainability, as you mentioned, I manage all of our sustainability. That includes product, third party brands, brand sustainability. I also manage our advocacy and engagement and our corporate giving.
Jennifer: And how does Grove value sustainability? How does it fit into the financial business model?
Danielle: That’s a great question. That’s really what led me to come to Grove is the opportunity to work for a brand where sustainability isn’t an add on, but its really built into the DNA from inception. Like, Grove doesn’t sell products that don’t have a sustainability offering. Everything that you see on the site, whether it’s a Grove-made product from one of our own brands or one of our third-party brand partners, it has sustainability baked into the offering. So, whether it’s clean beauty or something made by Seventh Generation for example, their new Classic Free line. Grove products, which as you showed through the best advertisement, are really designed with waste reduction in mind to be plastic free. You know, or to kind of help you reduce your carbon footprint at home. Sustainability is baked into the value preposition of the brand where helping their customers reduce their footprint at home, use safer products for their families and just kind of generally, you know, live their values. You know, I always say this, consumers wanted, you know, clean hair or clean counters, we didn’t want single use plastic clogging up the oceans. We didn’t ask for that.
Jennifer: How do you measure success against helping people live their values?
Danielle: Yeah. That’s a really good question. So, I mean, I think you have to think about it, and here’s the pillars of what those values are, how they show up for people. So, for us really one of those pillars would be safety. [4:00] Safe products. So, we make sure, you know, we have a very strict standards list. Things that none of our products, whether the stuff that we make or that we carry from other brands, like the absolutely no ingredients list, and that’s very rigorous. We have formulation experts and advisors that make sure that we’re up to date on that. We’re active on advocacy sites to help other companies, kind of, raise legislation so that consumers are more protected. So that’s pretty clear. And then, you know, raising the bar there, we strive to get our products certified by recognized third parties such as EWGE, Environmental Working Group. Yeah, so kind of meeting the certifications there, you know, kind of always raising the bar for ourselves. And then something like plastic, we are measuring literally every single ounce of plastic that we use and sell to customers, and offsetting that through our partnership with Plastic Bank to make our products plastic neutral. We’re actually the first retailer to do that plastic mutual program and we set a goal to be plastic free by 2025. So, when I think about values of safety and sustainability of human and environmental health its thinking about how those actually show up from a materiality stand point whether that’s in ingredients or in output, you know, the plastic that we’re sending out, the carbon that we emit, that we purchase offsets to make sure its neutral. You know, kind of taking the ins and outs of our business and making sure that we’re managing those.
Jennifer: What does your business or team structure look like to be able to help make progress against these, very diverse, but key areas?
Danielle: So, I have one person on my team who is thankfully phenomenal at, you know, just being super organized. Measuring, managing data, so she, with her support, we’ve been able to get things running really quickly and build out best measurements and kind of just make sure that our sustainability program has a robust way to validate all the claims that we’re making. But I think for any sustainability practice you’re always going to hear the same thing. Small team, [6:00] big responsibilities. That’s not unique to Grove. The way it works is you have to have allies within the company. You have to base sustainability into the teams that you work with so that you’re goals are their goals and you’re working towards the same thing and that everyone is accountable to sustainability and has it integrated into their roles and responsibilities.
Jennifer: I see. That’s great. And so, Grove, we’ve talked about some of the products that you already make available to consumers today and you already do make eco-friendly products pretty accessible. And that’s a great place to start. When you’re already achieving so much, what’s next? Where do you go from there? What is your priority for the next 6 months?
Danielle: Well, I think the priority for the next 6 months is continuing to reduce plastic within our third-party brands, helping our third-party brands really get a grip on what it means to be plastic free. Whether changing packaging or changing foreign factors in entirety. So, I would say that’s our short-term focus. When I think long term, I know we are doing a lot, but there is so much more we can be doing of course.
Danielle: But I just think about, you know, kind of long term, what does circularity mean for our business from both a Grove ingredient standpoint and just like, I don’t want us to be sending out boxes that go into recycle bins over the long term. And packaging, even if it is recyclable, its just, you know, how do we kind of think about what circularity means for our business. Yeah, and kind of truly reimagine how household products can really be a force for positive impact. I think our paper products are a really good example there. Like, traditional paper products, like, you know, the stuff you see in the store, like Charmin or whatever. Those are made from virgin trees, these directly contribute to deforestation of most valuable forest that are not only protecting, you know, our climate but also wildlife and so on. Our paper products are a really good example of this so when you see brands in the store like Charmin, or otherwise, those brands are made with virgin paper that directly distributes to deforestation. So, cutting down some of the world’s most valuable forest from climate perspective and also, you know, from an eco and wildlife services perspective. So, we rethought [8:00] paper products. Why would we cut down our most valuable forest and literally flush them down the toilet? So the way we think about paper is to use a regenerative resource to make it out of bamboo, its shipped without any plastic at all in the packaging, And then, you know, kind of bigger picture, instead of contributing to deforestation, we have a goal to plant a million trees through Arbor Day so every purchase of seedling supports that goal to plant a million trees. So, I think that is a good example of how, you know, we can rethink, like, again, the service is having paper products in the home. You know, no consumer asked for deforestation in that offering. So just kind of, you know, category by category thinking about how we can play a role as a business, you know, really considering regeneration, rather than, you know, the negative impacts that we unfortunately make as an industry.
Jennifer: What do you think its going to take for more companies to really invest in sustainability?
Danielle: Yeah. It’s a good question. I, of course, struggle with the same thing. I think consumers are, you know, of course the biggest part of that equation. Just, people asking for it and demonstrating through purchasing that sustainable products are where they’re interest are and that they’re not going to go backwards. Yeah, so I think consumers just voting with their dollars and using their voice. Like, if you see, like, keep writing into the brands that you, you know, that your not happy with their product…Like if you get something that has too much packaging, write to the company. Like, those emails, believe me, more often than not make it to the CEO. So, like really, really use your voice as a consumer. Its powerful. But more importantly, I think consumers need to, you know, look into brands, practices, support the brands. Like Grove for example, is plastic neutral and carbon neutral in our shipments. That’s very different than, you know, the household retailer that shall not be named, that like, you see those boxes piling up and you know that they’re not, you know, kind of making those same investments. [10:00] So my hope is that consumers and companies like Grove kind of leading the way can show industries…like we really do hope that in 2025 its not that Grove customers are plastic free, but its that we’ve shown our industry that its possible and that all of these brands are kind of rushing to do the same thing. So, my hope is that, you know, we’ll really start to see that change in momentum of consumer expectations and showing brands what’s possible. There’s just not an alternative that works for everyone on this planet.
Jennifer: Sure. Well thank you so much. It was really great chatting with you today.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me.