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Supplement industry can decide to be cause or solution to climate concerns – podcast

Brands committing to reverse climate change ensure business growth, consumer loyalty and the sustained health of our planet.

Consumer and environmental demands mean supplement and functional brands must address how their practices affect the environment. But the “how” of implementing these regenerative agriculture, processing and packaging procedures can intimate companies. Fear not, says Erin Callahan, director, Climate Collaborative; brands don’t have to save the entire world today, but they do need to take the first step. In this podcast with Sandy Almendarez, content director, Informa Markets, Callahan covers:

  • Several ways brands can approach sustainable packaging
  • Strategies to exploring ingredients and suppliers that follow regenerative agriculture practices
  • How brands can join the Climate Collaborative (for free!), make specific commitment and receive resources to help achieve climate-related objectives.

Callahan will be speaking at SupplySide East presentation theatre on “Integrating climate action into your business: How the health and nutrition industry is coming together to tackle sustainable supply chains” on Tuesday, April 21 at 1:00 p.m.

 

Podcast transcript

Sandy Almendarez, content director, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition: Hi, I'm Sandy and welcome to a healthy insider podcast. On the phone, I have Erin Callahan, who is the director of the Climate Collaborative. Hi, Erin.

Erin Callahan, director, Climate Collaborative: Hi, Sandy, how are you?

Almendarez: Great, thank you so much for joining me today. Erin will be speaking at SupplySide East presentation theatre on “Integrating climate action into your business: How the health and nutrition industry is coming together to tackle sustainable supply chains.”  In this podcast, we're going to preview a bit of her presentation, which will be on Tuesday, April 21st at 1 p.m.

As director of the Climate Collaborative, Erin is responsible for management and execution of the Collaborative’s work, including all of its programming, communications and outreach. She previously managed corporate engagement force CDP, which is a global disclosure system for companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. She's also worked in public relations and international development.

Erin, my first question is why is it important for supplement brands to consider the climate when they're formulating their products?

Callahan: It's a great question, and I think that where I would start with that question is really that every company should be considering climate, especially consumer-facing companies, and there are a number of reasons for that. But just to kind of tease out a few at the highest level: One, consumers care more than ever. In fact, 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for products that are produced sustainably, and they're taking this into account when they make purchasing decisions. And when you look at younger generations that only becomes more true. So, what we can tell on the consumer side is that we have an increasingly aware customer base who wants to be buying from companies that are sustainably sourcing their products or producing them in sustainable ways that have a minimal impact on the environment and then thinking about this actively. I think it is clear that this is the way that business is going to be trending. And those that take action now are going to be ahead of the curve, and there's a real competitive advantage to that, and so I always like to point to that first of all. It isn't just about improving the planet. We all want to do that I think at a core level, but this also is a business decision.

So I always like to point to that and then secondly, when you look at the impacts of any company that has an agricultural supply chain. But when you're looking at the supplement industry, the herb industry. These all have an agricultural footprint. This has been a year when we've seen so clearly. The extent to which agriculture can both contribute to the climate problem and be a solution to it. It's got this really unique place as a cause and solution if we just start just shift our practices and supplements companies can really be at the forefront of that. You see that through companies like MegaFood and Gaia. We work with a number of these companies that are really trying to change the way that they are producing their products to improve the planet so those are just a few things I would point to. I think that you know, we've seen changing letter weather patterns this year, and I would I would challenge any company to be able to say that their business had been no way affected by the hurricanes, the wildfires; distribution being affected by extreme weather patterns this winter. I think we've all we've all seen that, and in some cases, the companies we work with have even had their homes burned down or their communities out it risks. It's more present and harder to ignore than ever before. I'm really excited. I was at SupplySide West this year for the first time, and I was really excited to see that this part of the industry is taking up these issues in such a serious way. I talked to so many companies that are getting invested in regenerative agriculture and looking for ways to reduce their packaging, getting involved and really having open transparent relationships with their suppliers. There’s a lot of interest, and this is an exciting trend to see any industry.

 

Almendarez: So of course, throughout the supply chain, as you just mentioned, brands need to consider the climate. But you also mention packaging, which from the consumer standpoint, is one of the most noticeable parts of were companies can measure up or fall short of their desires. So just focus on packing for a moment, how can changing packaging from plastic to more sustainable options help brands improved their business and improve the planet?
 

Callahan: Gosh packaging is the single biggest challenge area for most of the companies we work with. We do a survey each year to ask companies where there struggling, and packaging is always a serious struggle because it's such a complex issue. Consumers are so awakened to this part of the overall kind of climate approach that businesses are taking, and it's just the most visible impact that companies can have in terms of you have to pick this package up at the store and you open it and use it every day. Companies can see the footprint in real time, even if it's not always the biggest contributor to companies emissions. It's the most visible, and so we see a lot of companies looking toward alternative packaging.

There's a number of different ways you can approach it. Because packaging is such a complex issue, and you're always having to balance: shelf life design, making it attractive to consumers holding the product, and the quantities needed with the material, the toxicity level, the sustainability. There's just a lot to balance, and so we work with companies on a couple of different ways of tackling packaging and a lot of it does have to look at what happens if you switch to glass packaging? How does that affect your transportation footprint? When you have a conversation about packaging, it's always a conversation about tradeoffs and getting toward the best product you can across those tradeoffs. A few things we see: companies lightweighting, ensuring that they are sourcing plastics that are recycled and paper products that are recycled. They are using products that are already recycled or sustainably sourced or they're switching to a new product. We work with one company Grove Collaborative, who has a line of paper towels that they've switched to instead of using paper, they're using eucalyptus and bamboo and really renewable fibers, so sometimes it's saying “Can we switch to something that's not in danger and is a highly renewable resource?”

In other cases, we work really closely with OSC2 here in the Bay Area, and they work with a set of companies on flexible compostable packaging. Can we work toward creating compostable packaging infrastructure? That infrastructure question is really key on compostable packaging because most of the U.S. doesn’t have access to commercial composting. There's a lot that companies can do. I would say that companies generally take the route of conducting a packaging life cycle assessment, which means looking at the entire landscape of emissions relative to packaging from creation of the packaging down to end of use and disposal. What does the consumer do with it at home? And seeing where along that chain their emissions are most concentrated, and what they can do to minimize it. Sometimes, that's just lightweighting the plastic they use, sometimes it's switching to post-consumer recycled materials, sometimes it switching to glass or other packaging entirely so, that's one approach.

The other approach companies are really starting to look toward plant-based packaging, compostable packaging and packaging that isn't fossil fuel based in the first place so they're not using plastic, or they're moving away from that. Finally, other companies are looking toward reusable packaging. So, situations like Strauss milk here in the Bay Area where they sell their milk in bottles that can be returned to store for a credit, so there's a lot of different approaches companies are taking, and there's definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach with packaging, but it's a journey that's so many companies are on and wanting to share and learn from each other, which is promising to see.

Almendarez: Great. So, let's look at the other end of the supply chain. Where can a supplement brand start if it wants to start exploring ingredients and suppliers that follow regenerative agriculture practices?

Callahan: They should start by joining a Rooted Community, which is a virtual working group that we have on regenerative agriculture. This landscape has become so full and crowded within such a short span of time. It's been wild and heartening to see how quickly regenerative agriculture has a caught fire and become an interesting topic for companies in the industry, even since I joined the climate collaborative two and a half years ago.

There are so many companies working on this. There's a lot of companies doing their own thing and really exciting ways, including, as I mentioned Gaia and MegaFood before, they both have really exciting practices that they want to be talking to companies about, but then across the industry—Dr. Bronner's, Stonyfield—a lot of companies are trying to develop open source tools. They're trying to figure out solutions to the problems that they see, and implementing and scaling regenerative practices. They are figuring out new models that they actively are trying to get other companies to learn from, which is really exciting. But through our regenerative agriculture working group, we have a number of open source resources that can help companies that are just getting started.

When I see companies starting to look at regenerative ag practices, there are a few things they generally want to sort through as they get started on that path. One is what are the kind of quantification standards that are available, and we've done a few trainings on those, and who are the different groups you can work with once you decide you want to start quantifying how much carbon you’re sequestering in the soil of your supply chain, so that's one thing.

Two, is how do we build a consumer base for this? What are those stories, and how do we build a demand market for regeneratively grown products, and we're also trying to work on that, but we've been great pilots from General Mills and Annie’s through their Soil Matters campaign. Dr. Bronner's has done their Heal Earth campaign. And then a lot of retailers and grocers across the U.S. also have been trying to build a demand among consumers for these products. Then, there's farmers incentive programs and pilot training programs, and this crucial gap between brand-level by in and how we start to affect change at the farm level. This is an area we're really going to be digging into this year.

For any company that wants to get started down the path, try and get on the farm where they're using regenerative practices, and try to get your CEO on a farm seeing these practices at the farm level. It can do a lot toward cementing the value in your own head by seeing their effectiveness. I was at a farmer training visit in May, and it was a very emotional experience for the ranchers and the financers who were there trying to have conversations around how we build a broader set of regenerative practices across the U.S., but seeing the way that these farmers on this Paicines Ranch in California have been able to bring back native grass and create great bird sanctuaries and create huge biodiversity on the farm was just gorgeous to see. Get on a farm and then come to our sessions to hear about some of the ways that companies are piloting farmer trainings.

Lastly, its financing, and how do we finance these transitions? We're trying to answer all of those questions. It can be daunting to get started on and start talking to other brands. Don't be afraid of that. Try to get on a farm and then come watch. We just had—a couple of weeks ago—a webinar on mapping the regenerative landscape. There are increasingly a wide number of certification standards out there. Don't be daunted by that; go watch our webinar on a few of the different certification standards to see which one is going to fit the work that you're trying to do best, and go from there.

Almendarez: You just mentioned several resources that the Climate Collaborative offers. But if we could take a step back and just give an overview of the climate collaborative and how brands can get involved.

Callahan: Absolutely I'd be happy to. We launched almost three years ago. We launched it at Climate Day 2017. I can't believe we’re already coming up on our third year, but we came about because there is a big gap in the industry. Where there were a lot of companies who wanted to be doing more to address waste, packaging, sourcing, transportation and other key aspects of their emissions, and they wanted to be doing something on climate and understood that was important, but there was no convening place in the industry for them to do so. We had companies reinventing the wheel and operating in silos, and no real way to share information and knowledge in a systematic way. We launched to try to address that.

We created this road map of nine commitment areas that represent the key emissions drivers from most companies that have a food or agricultural supply chain. We're looking at regenerative agriculture deforestation, packaging, renewable energy, energy-efficiency, policy. It's a little bit of a choose-your-own-adventure. We invite companies to make one commitment, nine commitments or anything in between. It's setting a stake in the ground, saying “Hey, we're taking this seriously. These are the focus areas we want the rest of the industry to know, and we also want to be part of this growing industry movement on climate.” Once they make those commitments, they then get access to our resources, events, webinars and communities of practice that I mentioned like our Rooted Community on regenerative agriculture. And Then it's off to the races.

A couple of other things worth mentioning: it's free to join, which we're really lucky to be able to do that. It's really because this is an industry-led project, and when we started, it was with the backing and direct support of Dr. Bronner's, Stonyfield, Lotus Foods, REBBL and about 30 other brands at the time, which now became about 50 brands who say, “We want to help support this.” National Co+Op Grocers and INFRA were also among our first supporters, saying, “We're willing to fund it. We want to support the industry moving forward.” That enables us to keep it free for every company to join.

The second thing is that we're very non-prescriptive and focused on inclusivity. So, we want any company to be able to come to the table and learn an get on a password constant and continuous improvement, regardless of where they start. The last thing we is the tendency the complexity of the climate to scare people away from getting started down the path, and there's a real sense that in the industry that, “We don't have time for that,” and we don't have time to not work together. The problems we face are too urgent. They're becoming more and more real each year. Within the supply chains of so many of the companies that were working with, and so we don't have time to not work together and maintain a rigorous approach that's really inclusive. So that's what we do; we want every company to be able to come to the table and learn from each other and do what they need to do to get toward a better version of practices that is more sustainable and reduces their footprint. That's the real goal that we have, and it's been incredible to see the progress that we've made.

We launched three years ago, and this has been our busiest year yet. Something has happened this year where companies understand and are awake to the climate as a bigger issue, and maybe it's the election coming up and how high up on the agenda climate is. It's been a horrible summer with wildfires in Australia and earlier the Amazon fire. It's just been very sad and alarming. A lot of it's been a big wakeup call of a year and so I think that. With the youth strike for climate, our hearts are touched, and we're worried.

It's been incredible to see on our website now—depending on when this goes live—on our website, now you'll see around 470 companies committed. We wanted to bring in over 500 by Climate Day. We want to do a big announcement on Climate Day that we'd reached 500 companies, and so we sent a call out to companies if you haven't committed yet, step up and make it a public commitment. And what gives me hope is that we thought we may have a dozen companies come in, and we had over 80. This makes clear is that the industry is taking up these issues like never before. Climate can be an easy thing to lose hope about, and it is very heartening to see the industry so committed to working together and that includes the supplement part of the industry. We're at SupplySide last October, and then do the follow-up webinar, and the participation in the interest was huge. I'm really hopeful on that front.

Almendarez: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. It's clear we can see the passion that you have behind this, and it's really heartening to hear that so many brands are coming together and tackling sustainable supply chains and their packaging, and really trying to make a difference because we are in a position to make a difference. I'm really glad that you're organizing and getting us all together and moving in the right direction, so thank you for that.

Callahan: Thank you, and I'm looking forward to continuing this conversation at SupplySide East.

 Almendarez: Absolutely. Again, SupplySide East in Secaucus, New Jersey, Erin will be speaking on Tuesday, April, 21 at 1 p.m. covering “Integrating Climate Action into Your Business.” Thanks again., Erin. Talk soon. Bye

Callahan: Thanks. Bye.

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