Laura Palmeiro (@laurapalmeiro), Sustainability Integration Director at Danone, sits down with us to share her thoughts on the importance of numbers to back up a good story, the value in advising a tech startup and sharing high tea with the Prince of Wales.
Though fairly new to the SB Corporate Member Network, Laura has dived right in. She also recently joined SB’s Advisory Board. Read more to learn about the value she derives from participating in these communities.
What project are you most excited about right now?
LP: Lately, I have been focusing on various initiatives related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we can embed them in our work. We’re involved in a working group to set KPIs to show progress toward the SDGs. The idea is to come up with the actual indicators that should be considered when reporting on SDGs progress.
While the brand story is still very nice and the way you tell it is important, now companies have to back the story up with numbers. Companies must prove to consumers that they’re serious about corporate sustainability initiatives. This work has been very exciting. Once you start to put numbers around what people are doing, that means intrinsically that the work is getting serious.
Another project I’m very excited about is around obtaining B Corp certification. We’ve already been doing a lot of work related to B Corp certification for over a decade through our Danone Way program, which addresses sustainable development throughout the company. Gaining certification will clearly communicate Danone’s commitment to sustainability to our customers.
Those are the two main projects that I'm working on today that excite me the most. Another company project, which I’m not working on personally, but am following because it's very important, is the Dannon Pledge for Sustainable Agriculture, More Natural Ingredients and Greater Transparency, launched last year in the US. This work directly responds to a need of our consumers.
The commitment focuses on sustainable agricultural practices and natural ingredients. This has already resulted in fewer ingredients and an increase in natural, non-GMO ingredients. We are also committing to collaborate with Danone farmers to make sure the cows that supply the milk of our three main brands, which account for roughly 50 percent of Danone US, will be fed with non-GMO feed by the end of 2018, which is quite early! It is creating a bit of a revolution around the GMO discussion in the US.
The third pillar of this pledge commits us to greater transparency for our consumers. By December 2017, the presence of any GMO ingredients will be clearly labeled in the US. This is not something we are obliged to do, but we want to advocate for companies to be more transparent with what we deliver to our consumers. This is a significant financial investment, but we expect that by doing this, it will pay off in terms of the top line and attract consumers that really need to have this kind of engagement from the brand.
A lot of this work is closely related to the recent announcement of our new tagline, One Planet. One Health. It is a new tagline, but exemplifies what we have already been doing and what we have been working on for many years. The tagline makes this more obvious for others outside of Danone to recognize.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
LP: My background is in finance and investor relations. I am a certified public accountant, and received my certification in Argentina. Then, I joined PwC, where I worked for four years in external financial audits. I met the people from Danone during this time and joined the company in July 1997. In a few days, I will have been at Danone for 20 years.
When I first started at Danone, I was in controlling and finance. Then, I moved to investor relations and worked closely with our CFO. He knew I was very interested in the connection between nutrition and health. When there was a need for someone to work on finance, metrics and sustainability issues, I was offered the opportunity.
I joined the environmental department in 2009. Before we could make any progress on our sustainability initiatives, we had to establish a baseline and develop new metrics. One of my first projects in this role was to put in place, basically from scratch, the CO2 accounting for Danone.
After that, I didn't want to go back to finance, because I thought there were so many other things to do in sustainability. Today, I head the sustainability integration for Danone, coordinating external reporting, Danone Way, B Corp projects and all of the people within Danone that are working on sustainability topics.
I'm so happy that now Danone has acquired WhiteWave because their portfolio gives us more leverage on nutritional options that we were previously lacking, such as plant-based, vegan and vegetarian food items. With more people becoming vegetarian and vegan recently, we now have an exciting opportunity to address health through these new nutritional options.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
LP: Sometime ago, I shared tea with the Prince of Wales, which I would have never done if it weren’t for my work in sustainability. The Prince is very engaged with sustainability and respects gardens and the environment. I had the opportunity to meet him during an event for his project, Accounting for Sustainability, which inspires action by finance leaders to promote a sustainable economy. It was quite an honor to be invited and represent Danone!
If you had unlimited time and resources, on what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members?
LP: There are so many things! Right now, I would love to have more time to understand all of the work going on in corporate sustainability and try to connect it all to what Danone is doing.
At SB’17 Detroit, I met Bob Willard and am intrigued by his work around the ROI of sustainability. A pressing issue right now is determining the proper metrics to measure how companies advance along the path of sustainability.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
LP: SB creates a community where you can discuss your challenges and solutions with peers. Having recently joined the SB Advisory Board, too, there will be even more opportunity to connect with this community.
I enjoy meeting with people working toward a similar goal, getting inspired by their work and learning what is going on in the market. I also share what I learn back with my colleagues, engaging company leaders and brand marketers. I’m also able to help marketers make the connection between the brands that they are in charge of and the sustainability topics. This brings a lot of value to the company.
What do you work on in your free time?
LP: First and foremost, I try to move around and work out. Sitting long hours in the office and in planes really takes a toll on health.
Apart from that, I participate on the advisory board of NEVA Aerospace, a startup for heavy-duty commercial drones. I enjoy working with this startup because I love learning about different industries, reflecting on how to launch a new product and considering how this new product could even be used in the commercial food industry.
I also enjoy making connections between people, which happens naturally on advisory boards. I get to meet other people that work in sustainability at other companies. I’ve been working for 20 years with yogurt and mineral water, so it’s fun to think about something else.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
LP: One thing that is not directly related to business, but interests me a lot, is the evolution of human consciousness. It might be a bit esoteric, but I think that what lies beneath the surface, what drives humans, is important to understand.
For instance, I’m interested in the evolution of how people are living, how they are redefining the good life. Today, it is not so much about having more money and more material things, but about having more time, more quality of life. These underlying changes are important to consider because they also impact business.