By Brian Frederick
Lara Dickinson is the Co-Founding Director of One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community (OSC2) and Cofounder of the Climate Collaborative. She applies over 20 years of consumer packaged goods marketing, sales, and management experience to helping healthy product innovations grow in natural and mass markets.
The goal of the Climate Collaborative is to bring together the natural products industry—from manufacturers to suppliers, distributors, brokers, and retailers—to inspire and facilitate action on climate change. It launched in 2017 at Natural Products Expo West as a project of OSC2 and the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA). On December 20, 2017, nine months after launching, the Climate Collaborative celebrated its 150th member, No Evil Foods, which committed to taking climate action in agriculture, deforestation, packaging, and transportation.
Dickinson earned a B.S. in Business from the University of Southern California and studied European international relations at the University of Oxford. Returning to the United States, she finished her M.B.A at Cornell University in 1994 and started out working in consumer products marketing. Dickinson served as the Vice President of marketing at several companies, including Numi Organic Tea and Balance Bar, and the CEO at LightFull Foods. In 2012, she helped create OSC2 to drive positive change in the natural products industry, provide sustainable leadership, and build a collaborative platform.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Lara Dickinson about the Climate Collaborative and what role the natural products industry can play in mitigating climate change and reducing food waste.
Food Tank (FT): What incentives are there for the natural products industry to mitigate climate change?
Lara Dickinson (LD): Well, the first incentive is that if we don’t actually reverse global warming, our industry will be forced to face some dramatic challenges. But there is a much more hopeful answer. Food and agriculture together represent the number one cause and also most hopeful solution area for climate change. We have made the journey more straightforward for companies. In our initial survey of the industry, nearly every natural product business leader we spoke with agreed that they, and the industry, can and must do more. But the majority also shared that they were not clear on the most important thing to do. So we have identified the nine priority commitment areas where companies can have the most impact. We provide tools, resources, webinars, and case studies to help them on their path. The industry is a leader in so much—organics, animal welfare, non-GMO—and climate is now a focus. Retailers, such as NCG and INFRA, and distributors, such as KEHe, are a part of this network of companies working together and recognizing best practices among the brands engaged. In terms of incentives, there are solutions that actually have long-term cost savings benefits such as increased use of solar power and reduction of food waste.
FT: Your organization just accepted its 150th member. How are these companies working together through the Climate Collaborative?
LD: You can find our 150 CC announcement here.
We are encouraging companies to commit to action in one of the nine areas we have identified as the most effective pathways for the industry to mitigate climate change, including improving the energy efficiency of their operations, increasing their use of renewable energy, reducing the climate impacts of the agricultural practices used in their supply chains, reducing food waste, and supporting policies that will help mitigate climate change at a local, state, and federal level.
We host monthly webinars on our commitment areas that bring in partners and experts to provide practical guidance for companies on implementing their commitments. We also direct companies to tools, training sessions, and communities of practice where it’s possible to educate them on steps they can take in their operations, and to foster deeper, wider-reaching collaboration across the industry.
In addition to the technical webinars and email newsletter we provide each month, we’ve recently launched our first ‘action group’ for companies working on carbon farming. We call it Rooted Community and we’re offering it in partnership with the Sustainable Food Lab. The goal is to help a smaller group of companies work together to share knowledge, find new ways to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change, and make it part of the climate solution rather than part of the problem.
FT: One of your focuses is food waste. Given that households are the top generators, how large of an impact can businesses have on this issue and what are some of their solutions?
LD: Food waste is one of our nine commitment areas. Both retailers and manufacturers can radically influence food waste and in turn influence consumers. Date coding, cold chain management, and the embracing of ugly produce are just a few things we address with our climate engaged companies.
FT: How do you think agriculture can be harnessed to mitigate climate change?
LD: Agriculture accounts for about 13 percent of climate change-causing emissions globally so it’s critical that the sector be part of the solution to the climate challenge. To really tackle climate change as an industry, we need every part of the industry represented, and it starts at the farm. We need farmers working with their buyers and vice-versa to set common goals and join forces to reach them.
Produce companies are key to this approach because they touch the wholesale, retail, and direct markets and can influence the entire food industry. Taking action on climate change is a natural leadership position for the produce sector, so we are inviting them to join the Climate Collaborative so they can work alongside others in the industry to really drive forward meaningful solutions.
LD: What role do you think businesses, the government, and individuals should play in effectively mitigating climate change?
We all have a role. And with shifts at the national level, business and individual voices are louder and stronger. Climate Collaborative helps amplify those voices. One way is through our policy commitment. We can harness hundreds of companies at once to help influence and support important climate-related policy.
FT: What do you think is the future of our food system?
LD: That is just it… a System. We have a lot more systems thinkers coming together to create food companies. Companies that are launching more than novel brands, but radical solutions that change the way we eat in delicious and convenient ways that we feel good about. And not all of these new foods are more expensive. Everything from plant-based foods that are delicious and thoughtfully sourced, like Miyoko’s Kitchen and REBBL, to disruptive dairy and meat products from Organic Valley, Straus, Emmer & Co, to food/technology solutions like Sunbasket, to Thrive Market, to Imperfect Produce. These and so many other companies are offering systems-based solutions to improving our food system. We believe that mission-based foods will become the cost of entry for mainstream food producers over time. Our industry and thinking are moving in that direction as this next generation of college grads’ purchasing power increases. Like with many food trends, the movement starts with the natural products industry and then goes mainstream. To think that nutrition bars, greek yogurt, almond milk, specialty coffee, and organic chocolate hardly existed two decades ago and are now topping the charts among how we snack and eat.
FT: The Climate Collaborative will be putting on Climate Day at the Natural Products Expo West in March. What are your plans for this event?
LD: We launched the Climate Collaborative at Expo West 2017 to a packed audience of natural products leaders. We could hardly believe the turnout. We expect an even greater number this year and have expanded to accommodate this. We will share best practices and keynotes on solutions from an array of business leaders, policy experts, and solutions providers on everything from making a business case, to addressing packaging, to carbon sequestration and agriculture. We will also give out the first Climate Collaborative NCG awards to best in class brands and retailers in our industry.
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