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Unleashing Their Impact


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The Pet Sustainability Coalition’s (PSC) second annual Impact Unleashed event, which had 55 percent higher attendance compared to last year’s, served as a rallying cry for socially and sustainability-minded companies, and a call to action.

“We are an industry that is fueled by a love for people and their connection to pets, and this comes with a sense of obligation to ensure the long-term health of people and pets, intrinsically linked to the health of our planet and global communities,” said Caitlyn Bolton, executive director of the organization. 

PSC is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to advance business through profitable environmental and social practices, Bolton said. The organization assists members in measuring their sustainability performance, and helps them implement sustainability through their business practices, improving the health of their businesses. 

Impact Unleashed, the organization’s flagship event, provides an opportunity for business leaders to come together to hear innovative ideas and inspirational stories from leaders within and outside of the pet industry, and it offers a forum for networking as well as workshops designed to accelerate attendees’ sustainability programs.  

The event, held this year in Denver Sept. 20-21, set out to “inspire the next wave of innovation in the pet industry that adds value to people, pets and the planet,” Bolton said. “Innovation is driven by inspiration coupled with action.”

Impact Unleashed kicked off with a presentation from keynote speaker Margaret Morey-Reuner, director of strategic partnerships and business development at Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland, a manufacturer and retailer of outdoor clothing and footwear. She challenged attendees to cascade what they learned at the event through their organizations.

Morey-Reuner described how, a decade ago, with the goal of calling consumers’ attention to its global reforestation efforts, the company implemented a simple virtual forest app on Facebook whereby the company would plant a real tree for every full-grown virtual tree. But Morey-Reuner, who encouraged attendees to “think big,” said the company didn’t stop there. 

Since 2010, Timberland has helped build self-sustaining tree nurseries to support local farmers and communities, impacting more than 3,000 farms in Haiti and, in turn, helping to send 3,400 children to school. 

After that, Timberland set its sights on an even bigger goal to bring more positive impact to the country and its people—bringing cotton back to Haiti, where the crop hadn’t been grown in decades. The mills Timberland works with to make its products will purchase cotton from Haitian farmers, and other brands have signed letters of intent to buy their cotton.

Morey-Reuner emphasized the importance of collaboration as a force for good—even if it means working with the competition.

“The most important thing to do, in my mind, is you’ve got to take the long view,” she said. “This stuff can’t happen overnight, but it can happen more quickly if you collaborate with each other. That’s the critical piece.”

For attendees, there were lessons to be learned from hearing about the experiences of a large, successful company from outside of the pet industry.

“The lessons that you can get from [Timberland’s] experience [can be] sort of filtered down and sized right for your company,” said Sarah Stone, marketing director for Novato, Calif.-based Worldwise, a founding member of PSC. “They’re universal lessons about sticking with it and asking great questions, and they can be applied to really any business. The thing that I took away from it is how to tell your story and tell it well.”

Collaboration was a key theme of the event, where some attendees sat alongside direct competitors but were happy to talk shop and trade advice. 

Feedback from last year’s inaugural Impact Unleashed showed that “one of the most valuable parts of the event is the opportunity to engage in a more intimate setting with values-led leaders in the pet industry,” Bolton said.

As a result of this feedback, PSC expanded the event’s networking sessions.

Stone said collaboration is one of the greatest perks of being a member of the organization.

“[At events like Impact Unleashed,] I get to talk to other people in the industry outside of, say, a trade show floor—where everyone’s super busy—and really get to learn from other people’s experience and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have that issue too’ or ‘Here’s what we did about that.’”

She also cited support and resources from PSC as being important drivers in her company’s sustainability journey.

To further motivate PSC members, the event hosted a series of short, inspirational presentations from leaders in the pet industry’s sustainability movement. 

Stephanie Volo, vice president of marketing and sustainability for Earth Animal in Southport, Conn., spoke about how a devastating event for the company forced it to “call in the herd” and ask hard questions about its policies, procedures and supply chain. Ultimately, Earth Animal was changed for the better, and Volo said the company can stand by its integrity. 

Andy Downs, marketing specialist and sustainability lead at Only Natural Pet in Boulder, Colo., offered attendees a glimpse of lessons his company has learned while striving to become a B Corp. At first, Downs said he and his co-workers solely focused on meeting the requirements for certification, but they’ve since started asking deeper questions about sustainability and what is right for their company, taking ownership of their sustainability goals. 

Tina Nguyen, owner of Jax & Bones in Baldwin Park, Calif., spoke about sustaining passion in the workplace. She shared her journey of starting her toys, bedding and accessories company after suffering a career disappointment and moving back in with her mother. She urged listeners to keep feeding their passion by celebrating milestones, changing their thinking and reinventing the wheel. 

One challenge mentioned by attendees at the event was getting everyone at a company onboard with sustainability initiatives. Julia Giaquinto, office manager for Boston-based Polkadog Bakery, said Impact Unleashed has shown her how important it is to “infect other people with the mindset of caring—not just caring yourself but spreading it to other people. I think there’s more power in numbers, so if you’ve got everybody onboard or on the same page, it’s easier to get your goals accomplished.”

According to speaker Jennifer Briggs, who spoke about her past experience as vice president of human resources at Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing, everyone at a company must be oriented toward the business’s mission and accomplishing it. Briggs made the case for building a purpose-driven brand. She urged companies to “crush” their departments, turn employees into self-leaders, and organize their entire businesses around their purpose and values. 

In purpose-driven companies, employees are more engaged, Briggs said.

“It’s not just about making people happy; they’re happy because they’re contributing to something that is bigger than themselves,” she said.

A company’s purpose also resonates with pet owners. Consumers have many choices. When they look at a shelf, they’re not just picking a product—they’re picking a brand, she said.

“You build authentic brands by being purpose driven,” Briggs added.

One of the most important pieces of the puzzle for companies on a sustainability journey is having the tools needed to implement their plans. With this in mind, PSC devoted the second day of Impact Unleashed to workshops, featuring topics on designing sustainable packaging, integrating a company’s sustainability program into its brand storytelling, and developing a custom quick-action plan to address each company’s biggest area of opportunity. 

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