Getting broad internal buy-in on sustainability is a challenge most companies face. Whether the impetus for sustainable business comes from the top, bottom or middle — there are good examples of each — pushing it out to the entire organization can be a significant barrier to success.
Earlier this year, Cargill, the giant food and ag company and the largest private corporation in the United States, held a sustainability summit to begin to address that challenge — successfully, it seems.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of those involved with the summit to understand how it worked, what took place and how it is raising the profile of sustainability within the company. The summit represents a good case study for building engagement on sustainability for employees at every level, and what happens when you invite others to weigh in.
Cargill Protein Group — a recently created business unit that rolled up the company’s North American meat, poultry, egg and related businesses — is the result of a reorganization the sprawling, 152-year-old company has been undergoing over the past year or so. The goal of the reorg was to group independently operating business units focusing on related value chains under one roof. In addition to farming, ranching, processing and foodservice operations, the new protein unit also includes lines of fresh, frozen and cooked meats, sauces, soups and other packaged goods.
The organizational shuffle led the company to look at its sustainability strategy, given the growing interest by its customers — restaurants, supermarkets, packaged goods manufacturers and individual consumers — in food origins, ingredients, packaging and other matters. Prior to the reorg, some of Cargill’s individual businesses had sustainability leaders and goals, but not all.
For Cargill Protein, based in Wichita, Kansas, it was time to build sustainability’s profile within the organization and to its suppliers and customers. To do that, “We needed to develop a strategy,” said Jill Kolling, Cargill Protein’s sustainability leader. And that strategy would benefit from getting early input and buy-in from across the organization.