Sustainability Made Stronger

How companies are leveraging innovative partnerships to reduce their impact on the environment.
Dec 2, 2015 8:00 AM ET

James Rowe | UPS Longitudes

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place in Paris. During the conference, world leaders are negotiating legally binding agreements to reduce carbon emissions.

The endgame is capping Earth’s greenhouse effect temperature at no more than a 2 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.

More and more, companies around the world are taking substantive steps to avoid the planetary consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. As a clear stakeholder in accessing natural resources and ensuring stable markets for their products and services, the business community is increasingly designing effective solutions.

Several of them came to Atlanta last month to visit UPS to specifically talk about reducing their impact on the environment and how innovative approaches might help them do it.

Longitudes spoke with two of those organizations after the event: EJ Hullverson, Marketing Manager for Nestlé Purina and Jena Thompson-Meredith, Vice President of Business Partnerships at The Conservation Fund.

EJ works on the Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets brand team, while Jena partners with companies like UPS to help them achieve their carbon reduction goals in an innovative way.

James: Welcome and thank you for joining us on Longitudes.

You traveled long distances to come here today to discuss sustainability with UPS. Why did you come and what did you learn?

Jena: We came to share new ideas and approaches to sustainable practices – ways businesses and partner organizations can work together to keep our planet healthy. For example, we spoke with EarthWatch – a remarkable nonprofit focused on connecting everyday people with the world’s top scientists.

While touring woods surrounding the UPS corporate campus, we talked about the importance of forests and how their sustainable management not only offers climate benefits but also provides clean air, fresh water and economic benefits.

EJ:  We also met with other like-minded companies I think the visit helped me learn more about ways Nestlé Purina might be able to work with them to do something really innovative to make our planet healthier.

James: Did you find that partnerships like you’re describing are increasingly being made to unlock better results?

EJ: Clearly. That’s one of the main things I’m taking away from this event – the power of partnerships and the unique opportunity that they create for people in the business world and in the NGO world. Partners and suppliers working together to find solutions are just stronger.

James: Why do you think businesses like Nestlé Purina are becoming increasingly involved and aware of sustainable efforts to reduce their impact on the environment?

EJ: Consumer research shows that people want to buy products that align with their values.  They want to choose companies that not only produce good products, but also produce and deliver them the right way. At Nestlé Purina, we’re really driving ourselves, asking the question “what can we do to innovate, to be better?”

Jena: I think EJ’s really on to something regarding brand impact. There are studies that show that brands with purpose — those brands like Nestlé Purina and like UPS that are very transparent, that do more than the status quo — actually see more return over brands that aren’t as transparent. There’s a very real business case to be made for operating in a way that does good by the world.

James: What are some of the other factors driving interest?

EJ: I think it’s a business imperative. It’s about being transparent with customers. Working with companies like UPS and The Conservation Fund allows us to do this.

At Nestlé Purina, we want to be a valuable part of the communities where we work, play and sell our products. To do that, we’ve got to maintain a healthy environment from which to source our quality ingredients. That’s not only good for our four-legged friends, but their owners as well.

James: Jena, is the perception about sustainable practice and efforts changing?

Jena: I grew up thinking that if you worked for an environmental nonprofit that you were probably going to be a tree hugger. But what I found is that this is all about business. And it takes business to really drive change.

Without business at the table, I think that you have an incomplete environmental conservation solution. So, I get really fired up about making sustainability work for businesses.

James: Jena, tell us how The Conservation Fund helps businesses reduce impact in innovative ways.

Jena: Thirty years ago The Conservation Fund was founded on the premise – which seemed counterintuitive at the time—that you can have economic development and a healthy environment.  For example, we have pioneered a method for trapping and storing carbon dioxide to combat climate change and generate jobs within sustainably-managed forests that we own.

In this way, we advance the health of the environment and the local economy. With help from partners like UPS and Nestlé Purina, we’ve protected 75,000 acres of forestland and planted more than 10 million trees that trap CO2 emissions. That’s important because if we lose more forests to development, the risk of increased environmental impact rises.

James: Connect the conservation of trees to the reduction in pollution for us – and tell us how you’re seeing this method benefit companies you work with?

Jena: Businesses are looking at securing their supply chain; they’re looking at sourcing more responsibly; they’re looking at making sure that they reduce their emissions and give their customers an opportunity to be part of that story.

James: What other ways is Nestlé Purina partnering with other organizations to support its sustainability efforts?

EJ: There are several. Recently, we joinedField to Market to collaborate with other like-minded companies to improve agricultural efficiency and impact on the environment.

Additionally, we’re a member of the Material Recovery for the Future Consortium that’s working with the community-recycling infrastructure to try and improve the recyclability of flexible plastic packaging. And we’re also a member of the EPA’sSmartway Program that leads to energy improvements in rail and truck fleets.

The Conservation Fund is working with its business partners to find, purchase and manage forests in a manner that cleans our air, provides us wildlife habitat, and creates jobs. And while we’re coming at it from slightly different directions, we’re meeting each other at that intersection between economic development and environmental protection. That’s what is so unique about this solution.

James: That’s where The Conservation Fund, UPS and Nestlé Purina story connects. EJ, can you describe how you and UPS are working together to reduce impact for your customers?

EJ: We work with UPS to provide carbon-neutral shipping for all of our veterinary e-commerce and small package orders. We purchase carbon offsets for every package shipped and the fee we pay goes to support the initiatives that Jena just discussed. It’s a small step toward sustainability. We think it’s the right thing to do, and our customers tell us that this matters to them.

Jena: The Conservation Fund is one of several carbon-offset projects UPS invests in. We help UPS achieve its goals by protecting and restoring forests that absorb carbon dioxide. In turn, UPS provides us pooled amounts of revenue that enable us to protect those forests.

That’s a story they can offer their customers like Nestlé Purina. The effects are astounding: UPS and its customers have helped us trap approximately 160,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

EJ: It’s a great story to share, and it’s all because of partnerships. No one can tackle these issues alone – that’s the bigger story.

James: The focus has definitely changed. From the companies you’re working with today, Jena, is that what you’re seeing?

Jena: Increasingly, we’re seeing companies that are better citizens for the environment and the world have real economic returns. But it’s also about stepping up and doing the right thing.

Sixty years ago the environmental movement was certainly about the laws and regulations associated with not doing bad. Over the last 15 years we’ve seen sustainability turn around into an opportunity to do good.

How can we leave the world better than we found it and what is our responsibility to do that? That’s what I get excited about and look forward to. 

James Rowe is Managing Editor and Writer for UPS Longitudes. 

This article first appeared on Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.