“I don’t see roadblocks … just lots of untapped opportunity!” — Shauna Sadowski, Annie’s Homegrown
This is one of a series of interviews by students and alumni from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) with practitioners from the Sustainable Brands community, on a variety of ways organizations can, and are, Redesigning the Good Life.
As Sustainability Lead at Annie’s Homegrown — an organic and natural foods company that was acquired by General Mills in 2014 — Shauna Sadowski leads the company’s efforts to integrate sustainability into the product design and supply chain, with a particular emphasis on food and farming programs, partnering with industry on best practices, engaging and educating employees, and developing robust measurement tools to track and report progress.
She dove into her work at SB’18 Vancouver, in a panel discussion on “Improving the Value of Supply Chains with Climate-Friendly, Transformative Farming” — we caught up with her afterwards to learn more.
As the Sustainability Lead at Annie’s, what steps do you take to ensure the company is maintaining its social and environmental responsibility?
I work to develop a holistic, science-based approach to create measurable positive impact in the food system. Our comprehensive Farm-to-Yum framework guides sustainability decisions in our own supply chain — in external contexts — and at home in our Berkeley office. Focusing on strategy setting and assessment, we transparently track our progress over time by monitoring key metrics and developing annual sustainability reports. We also collaborate with senior leadership and cross-functional teams to embed sustainability throughout the business and to empower teams to be sustainability champions. Part of my role also involves representing Annie’s externally, though avenues like public speaking engagements and published media pieces, which enable us to share our approach and work collaboratively with partners.
In what ways does Annie’s further its mission to become a truly sustainable brand, and how does the company track these practices?
The continued consumer paradigm shift to plant-based diets
Hear the latest on shifting consumer preferences toward more plant-based, planet-friendly foods from Daniel Vennard, Director of the World Resource Institute's Better Buying Lab — at SB'20 Long Beach.
Through our Farm-to-Yum framework, we focus our efforts across three key pillars: The Design Better Food pillar speaks to the fact that our biggest opportunity to make a difference is through the products we make. We strive to source from sustainable ingredient, packaging, and manufacturing partners who align with our values. Through the Inspire Change and Educate pillar, we aspire to be a force for good, learning from and collaborating with others to achieve positive change in the food system. Lastly, we Lead by Example by creating a workplace that reflects our company values and allows us to walk the talk at home.
Since 2009, we have reported annually on our performance in 11 sustainability categories through the Sustainable Food Trade Association. We also communicate our progress by publicly reporting our performance and sharing frequent updates on our website. This past year, as part of our efforts to address climate change, we made Climate Collaborative commitments in seven different areas: agriculture, packaging, forests, food waste, policy, short-lived climate pollutants and transportation.
If you were asked to give a TED talk, what would you say?
Our food choices matter. While our modern food system is highly productive, it has generated negative consequences, ranging from biodiversity loss to soil erosion. The food industry has been a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change, with up to 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the food system and 80 percent of those emissions coming from agriculture.
The good news is that the food industry has a profound opportunity to both feed the world and regenerate natural resources. To sustain our planet, we must change the way we farm and manage natural resources. By protecting and intentionally enhancing natural resources and farming communities, regenerative agriculture offers an opportunity to not just sustain our natural resources, but to restore them for generations to come. It goes beyond reducing harm to creating positive impact.
Regenerative agricultural practices work with nature to pull carbon from the air and store it in the soil, where it nourishes a network of life. In this way, regenerative agriculture offers a hopeful solution for reducing greenhouse gases and addressing climate change.
Food connects us to each other and to the land. Companies and eaters alike have an opportunity to generate positive impact by advancing agricultural practices that restore ecosystems and communities.
How does Annie’s help enable the “Good Life” for employees and the surrounding community?
We believe in giving back to our local community and we ensure that our suppliers also consider their business impacts on their communities. Employees across many departments in our Berkeley office serve on the ALOHAS team (Annie’s Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability), which organizes employee wellbeing and community engagement activities. Our HR team leads a sustainability incentive program, through which employees receive benefits for using alternative transportation, and financial incentives for purchasing bicycles and fuel-efficient cars, as well as home retrofits that reduce the environmental impact of their personal lifestyle. We also organize several volunteer opportunities and sustainability education events to empower our employees to live and breathe our mission.
Has Annie’s ever partnered with local businesses in support of sustainability and education?
We regularly participate in volunteer events and partner with local organizations. Just down the road from us, we volunteer with and support the work of our neighbors at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm to make nutritious and environmentally responsible food accessible to diverse communities.
This past year, we also demonstrated an ongoing commitment to helping our neighbors in the North Bay as they recover from the recent wildfires. We donated food, money and time at the Redwood Empire Food Bank and partnered with other established organizations in the area.
We were recently able to provide grants to the St. Francis Center of Redwood City and the Berkeley Unified School District through General Mills Hometown Grants program.
As a member of the Alameda County Green Business Program, we recognize and celebrate other local businesses that also have a commitment to sustainability.
Are there any roadblocks in the foreseeable future that might complicate Annie’s sustainability mission?
I don’t see roadblocks … just lots of untapped opportunity!
What are some of the company’s biggest challenges pertaining to sustainability?
Our sustainability team has a strong focus on using scientific rigor to prioritize programs and assess their impact. It can be a challenge to succinctly communicate complex topics in a way that is holistic and science-based, but also digestible, repeatable and memorable.
With an ever-increasing commitment to sustainability and regenerative agriculture from Annie’s and General Mills, it can be difficult to grow our impact with lean resources. While our Annie’s team of four is comparably large for the size of our brand, we set our sights high and we always seem to have an endless list of projects we wish we could tackle.
As a leader in Sustainability, what advice would you offer to new businesses dedicated to becoming a sustainable brand?
Embed purpose: Pick one purpose-driven sustainability program to integrate from the get-go — and then grow it and expand from there.