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Impact Unleashed Conference Brings Together Sustainability-Minded Companies


The Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC)’s Impact Unleashed conference, which took place in Boulder, Colo., Oct. 10 and 11, provided an opportunity for leaders in the pet industry to discuss sustainability practices and how businesses can have a positive impact on the environment and society. 

This was the third iteration of the conference, and PSC executive director Caitlyn Dudas said that PSC has expanded the scope of the event since its inception.

“The original vision for Impact Unleashed was to bring inspiring ideas that would drive sustainable innovation in the pet industry,” she said. “Over the last three years, we have expanded our event goal not just to inspire, but to also equip attendees to transform inspiring ideas into action through workshops and action-planning sessions that specifically outline a clear roadmap for implementation.”

Another improvement included expanded networking sessions, and Dudas said she has placed an emphasis on encouraging all speakers to share the challenges and failures of their sustainability programs.

The event kicked off with a keynote by Rob Michalak, social mission director of special projects for Ben & Jerry’s. He spoke about how the South Burlington, Vt.-based company, which celebrated it 41st birthday this year, has prospered with a values-driven business model. The ice cream maker’s social mission embraces the values of human rights and dignity, social and economic justice, and environmental protection, restoration and regeneration.

When asked what he hoped attendees could take away from the Ben & Jerry’s story, Michalak suggested they identify what is critical and relevant to their businesses.

“The way we did it was we’re an agro business, and dairy was one of the key components, so we started working on the dairy, and then, after that, the rest of the ingredients: sugar, cocoa, vanilla ... ” he said, referring to the company’s Caring Dairy initiative, a regenerative dairy model that financially incentivizes the farmers the company works with to use sustainable agricultural practices on their farms. 

“So work on what might be the biggest material aspect of your business,” he added. “Now if you have a service, it could be the way you deploy that service in the community, but again, pick something that’s a big part of your business and find a way that you can create sustainability. And when we look at sustainability, we look at the holistic sense of it: social, economic and environmental.”

Like with Ben & Jerry’s, for many PSC members, having a positive social impact is a top priority. Rebecca Rose, president of Boulder, Colo.-based InClover, spoke about her experience of being laid off from the corporate world and not being able to find work. When she started her pet supplement company, she knew she wanted to help other people in a meaningful way, and she felt that people who wanted to work should be able to. The answer she settled on was hiring intellectually and developmentally disabled adults.

“It has created a generous and gracious environment that has made its way into the company’s DNA,” she said.

Also addressing the subject of employment, speaker Heather Paulsen, owner of Heather Paulsen Consulting in Fort Bragg, Calif., demonstrated how having engaged employees is not only good for workers—it’s good for business. 

Paulsen, who helps companies through the B Corp certification process, made the business case for performance improvement in key areas, including employee contentment. She examined three questions in PSC’s Quick Impact Assessment, a third-party assessment built in partnership with B Lab, the nonprofit behind the B Corp certification. Topics covered included employee engagement and satisfaction, diversity and inclusion, and supply chain accountability. Melissa Bauer, PSC’s member sustainability manager, then shared with attendees the PSC tools available to drive improvement in these areas.

Shannon Anderson, brand manager for Kashi, a natural plant-based foods company in Solana Beach, Calif., gave the keynote for the second day of Impact Unleashed. She described how Kashi approached the problem of less than 1 percent of farmland in the U.S. being certified organic. Those at the company asked themselves: What are we going to do about it?

The answer was a message that surprised some consumers: “This cereal is NOT organic—but that’s the point.”

Kashi launched Certified Transitional, a kind of organics-in-training program for farmers. It supports farmers during their three-year journey to become U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic.

But Anderson recognized something that the PSC and its members have long championed: It takes more than one sustainability-minded company to drive a movement forward. She invited everyone in the room to commit to supporting organic ingredients.

Dudas noted that the scope of the Kashi program was inspiring.

“Instead of just creating a Kashi-only program, they created a whole system that all brands and industries can participate in,” she said. “This is a true example of systems-based thinking that drives real scalable impact.” 

Kerissa Kelly-Slatten, brand manager for Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., a founding member of PSC, agreed that collaboration within the industry is crucial to driving sustainability.

“Given the numerous challenges we face, it is imperative that businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes come together to share best practices and collaborate on solutions,” she said. “Some of the most valuable sessions [at Impact Unleashed] were the workshops and speaker sessions where organizations shared their own company challenges with others.”  

The event also gave attendees an opportunity to hear from speakers about and discuss sustainable packaging as well as the challenges and complexities of recycling, and they participated in a workshop on supplier engagement techniques with case studies of what real companies are doing to engage their suppliers.

The topics were especially on point for Cardinal Pet Care and its sustainability goals.

“[An] idea we are very excited about is the recycling initiatives that focus on sustainable packaging and consumer education,” Kelly-Slatten said. “Teaching consumers how and what to recycle in addition to better labeling on packages is a challenging concept. Many partners will be needed to handle the complexity.”  

Impact Unleashed was an inspiration to first-time attendee David Yaskulka, CEO of Lincoln, Neb.-based Nature’s Logic. The company became a PSC member earlier this year and is working on several sustainability initiatives.

“We can’t wait to unveil our Better Food, Better Energy program in 2020—100 percent natural food with no synthetics, and working towards 100 percent natural energy without fossil fuels,” Yaskulka said. “We’ve already converted our Lincoln, Neb., headquarters to 100 percent renewable electricity, and we’ve done the same for our kibble and kibble bag manufacturing. Much more to come!”

This year’s Impact Unleashed saw a lot of people like Yaskulka—70 percent of attendees were first timers.

PSC recently surpassed the 100-member mark, and the organization’s growth coupled with the undeniable energy seen at Impact Unleashed seem to be positive signs of where the pet industry and sustainable practices are headed.

“The Pet Sustainability Coalition’s Impact Unleashed event felt like the way pet industry visionaries discussed animal rescue a decade ago,” Yaskulka said. “It wasn’t yet popular, and was even controversial, regarding puppy sales, etc. But now it’s completely mainstream. I predict the same thing is happening now with sustainability, and Nature’s Logic and others at PSC are taking the lead, in partnership with our retailers. It’s critical, and it’s exhilarating.”

Dudas said that in addition to feeling supported by PSC, she hopes attendees left with “a sense of hope, inspiration and capability.”

“The state of the world can feel dark and gloomy, and I hope that everyone leaves Impact Unleashed feeling hopeful because they have a personal experience of the enormous potential for the business community to improve the world.”

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