On November 1st, over 100 people gathered for the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series event, “Engage with the Game Changers”. Three top industry influencers, Paul Uys, VP Sustainable Seafood, Loblaw, Hadley Archer, VP Strategic Partnerships, WWF, and Tom Janes, Director, Sustainability, Janes Family Foods, explored the business opportunities and challenges of working with new and existing stakeholders (NGOs and suppliers) to create a more sustainable economy. While the panel’s focus was the story of how Loblaw and its stakeholders worked to source and deliver sustainable seafood to customers, the lessons learned are applicable to any business undergoing a sustainability journey.
Loblaw Companies Limited (Loblaw) has made a commitment to source all seafood sold in its retail locations from sustainable sources by the end of 2013. Paul Uys explained that partnerships with stakeholders like WWF Canada and Janes Family Foods were vital to launching a successful initiative to bring sustainable seafood to its customers and that ongoing partnerships with NGOs and suppliers are vital to growing the initiative to achieve their 2013 goal.
The panel members discussed multiple relationships that must be developed and managed simultaneously; ensuring shareholder profits means ensuring that all stakeholders are respected. In discussing the shift to sustainable seafood, the panellists addressed the importance of engaging stakeholders such as employees, suppliers and consumers. Loblaw knew that its initiative could not succeed without internal employee engagement, cooperation and compliance from suppliers, and education and communication with consumers.
The panel shared some of the challenges of engaging stakeholders who did not, at first, share their vision. For example, a long established seafood supplier either could not, or would not, meet the expectations of sustainable practices as defined by Janes Family Foods and as such was dropped as a supplier for the company. This left the supplier without a buyer of their product, and Janes scrambling to meet their supply needs. When this dropped supplier did eventually learn more about sustainable practices and chose to meet the requirements, they were able to re-establish themselves as a preferred supplier for the company. This was but one example where the panel made it clear that the sustainability journey is certainly a bumpy road, but one worth travelling.
Catalyzers – Making EVERY Voice heard:
Not-for-profit organizations like WWF Canada are ensuring that all stakeholder voices, including consumers and fishing communities, are heard by companies. Hadley Archer from WWF Canada cited research that shows 91 per cent of Canadians feel it is important that fish and other seafood on sale in Canada come from sustainable stocks that are not over fished. There was some interesting discussion amongst the audience about how while such research indicates consumers are asking for sustainable product choices, there is a significant need for effective ongoing education of consumers to help them translate their beliefs and intentions into decisions in the store.
Third Party Certification
Loblaw worked with WWF to assure its suppliers would comply with the guidelines of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an independent international certification system for responsibly sourced seafood. The mission of the non-profit MSC is to reverse the decline in global fish stocks. WWF’s Archer explained that the MSC initiative is a significant stakeholder engagement initiative of benefit to all. Consumers can trace certified fish through the entire supply chain. Protecting fish stocks through the certification of sustainable fishing practices helps protect the livelihoods of many people involved in bringing fish from boat to plate. Sustainable fishing helps to protect the marine ecosystem, 75% of which is currently being exploited or depleted according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Culture and Values:
Tom Janes is director of sustainability at Janes Family Foods, a family owned and operated Canadian company. Janes is deeply passionate about a long-term vision for the harmony and wellbeing of fisheries and communities. Tom explained the benefit of being family-owned: leadership commitment and corporate commitment are essentially synonymous when making business decisions such as the choice to source its catch only from sustainable fishing practices.
The panellists offered some perspective on the different challenges that are faced by a publicly traded company such as Loblaw as compared to a family-run company like Janes. When the decision is made to embrace sustainability, a larger company may face greater challenges in shaping a new corporate vision as influential sceptics within the company must be convinced of the business case.
Janes Family Foods guarantees the ethical catch and production of frozen retail seafood products by quality control, traceability and certification. Janes became the first branded seafood company (Feb 2011) in North America to have 100% of its retail seafood products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Leadership skills for Stakeholder Engagement:
Paul Uys, who is leading the implementation of Loblaw Sustainable Seafood Commitment, shared his experiences (including challenges and obstacles overcome) in exploring, creating and sustaining partnerships with not-for-profit organizations like Greenpeace and WWF Canada. As one of the veterans in Canadian sustainable food initiatives and diverse stakeholder management, he offered the following leadership tips when working to actively engage stakeholders:
- Think from a system perspective that considers big picture overall impact
- Don’t be afraid to make a decision that might initially appear to go against traditional business measures. Maintaining stakeholder relationships is vital to long term business sustainability
- There are 3 key ingredients for stakeholder engagement: Passion, Individual Responsibility and Courage
Key Message – Patience and Collaboration:
Engaging and connecting are vital for the success of any sustainability initiative. Companies can address large scale complex sustainability challenges systematically by collaborating with key stakeholders including NGOs, governments, suppliers, customers, and even competitors. The Loblaw Sustainable Seafood story shared by our panel serves as an excellent example of how Canadian organizations can be leaders in corporate sustainability by engaging and collaborating with stakeholders.
Brad Zarnett is founder and director of Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series. Venkat S. Somasundaram is an independent business and sustainability consultant and senior editor of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series.