Dec 20, 2012 • By

A focus on health, and waste, at Net Impact

With the belief that doing good business is doing well socially, economically, and environmentally, 2,700 people from various sectors and stages of life recently gathered in Baltimore to celebrate Net Impact’s 20th Annual Conference.

This conference is unique in that attendees range in experience from college sophomores to C-Suite executives.

(Photo courtesy Net Impact)

The common thread is a passion to use innovative business strategy to accelerate a positive change in current social and environmental trends. Attendees can choose from seven unique formats encouraging discussion and collaboration: Competition, Debate, Networking Salons, Traditional Panels, Interactive Sessions, Solo TED-inspired talks and Workshops.

I have been fortunate to attend the conference every year since 2005 and have seen it transform from a small business school, 800-attendee “discussion” to a conference requiring a convention center for a few thousand people.

This is encouraging, as it simply illustrates how many more people and companies are finding this topic of sustainability and business increasingly more important.

My attendance at the conference this year was particularly rewarding as I was no longer just part of the discussion, but a leader in the discussion on behalf of General Mills.

Representing the company in the Panel “Eat Your Veggies America: Improving Access to Healthy Food,” I was able to have an engaging conversation with the audience.

I focused on the importance of General Mills’ ability to leverage our core business competency as a food manufacturer and our expertise in supply chain, innovation and marketing to make the greatest impact.

The discussion we had started with staying true to our mission of Nourishing Lives to help solve one of the greatest domestic and global challenges of today: Food security.

It then became easy for the audience to see how through the use of our business competency, values, and partnerships, we can get food waste (both throughout manufacturing and afterward) to food shelters and those in need.

The audience had no idea the extent to which we work with food shelters (such as Feeding America, Second Harvest Heartland, Hunger-Free Minnesota and the Global Food Banking Network) and the number of stages throughout the harvest, manufacturing, inventory, and consumer lifecycle where waste is created and can be rescued.

To be honest, I too learned quite a bit while collecting specific examples and data points in preparation for this panel and was proud to be on it, speaking about all the good General Mills is doing locally, domestically, and internationally. To date, many different brand and logistics teams have found creative and inspiring ways to prevent waste from hitting the landfills.

While at the conference, I also had the opportunity to attend a few sessions. With speakers such as Dave Aardsma (chief sales and marketing officer, Waste Management), Jonathan Hsu (CEO Recycle Bank), Beatriz Perez (chief sustainability officer, Coca Cola), and Seth Goldman (president and CEO, Honest Tea), I heard new ways to think about sustainability, partnerships, and collaboration.

This year, I heard a newly coined term: ‘Global Collaboratory.’

This idea of a global collaboration/laboratory is used by Coca Cola, DuPont, MasterCard, Honest Tea and others. It explains the importance businesses place to find a safe space to share ideas and innovate in order to create efficiencies and move industry, business, and environment forward at the same time.

Additionally, in a separate session titled “Earth at 7 Billion and Growing,” Jeff Seabright (vice president, Environment & Water Resources, Coca Cola) mentioned Coca Cola’s focus on “Hand Print,” “Foot Print,” and “Blue Print.”

I thought this was an interesting way of internally breaking down or communicating what sustainability really means through different business levers:

Hand Print

For Coca Cola, Hand Print is the way they change business as usual, or other words the way they look at their economic and operational model and better understand what changes can be made.

Foot Print

Foot Print, which is more commonly heard, is how they look at and measure the impact they leave on the environment.

Blue Print

And, Blue Print is what their overall social/CSR plan might look like when they include government and public policy partners. This topic of finding a way to “internally brand” or break down the complexity of sustainability itself, was a reoccurring theme throughout the conference and relevant to us at General Mills.

Change really can begin to be impactful when the sustainability mindset shift transfers from the minority to the majority. Soon this idea of Hand Print, Foot Print, and Blue Print will no longer be seen as a separate way to look at the business, but rather become part of the everyday business lens.

Overall, our second year of attendance at Net Impact proved to be valuable for General Mills. Those I met throughout the conference and during the panel were impressed with the work we were doing and were especially excited to see General Mills present and ready to have a candid conversation.

The Net Impact conference will be held in Minneapolis in 2014 and will be a great opportunity to continue these sustainability and business conversations while sharing all of the great work we are doing every day.