Dave Stangis, Vice President of CSR and Sustainability at Campbell Soup Company, has long had success with corporate sustainability initiatives at a number of well-known companies. Now he is trying to reduce Campbell’s impact without sacrificing its scope.
“It’s always been my premise to build CSR and sustainability strategies that really work for the employees, really work for the executives and are translatable to the external world — that makes the company better,” Stangis reveals.
Now Stangis has built a CSR program that amplifies Campbell’s standing in the community and marketplace. Beyond simply nourishing customers, every Campbell’s employee has a role in implementing these conservation strategies as a part of their performance objectives.
John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have Dave Stangis on, who is the Vice President of CSR and Corporate Sustainability for Campbell’s Soup. Dave, welcome to Green is Good.
Dave Stangis: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
John: If I took the time to read your bio, we’d take half the show, and that’s not the purpose. But, Dave, you were doing this, you were green, and you were leading this movement way before it became cool to be green. You were at Intel for 12 years heading up their CSR program. Can you share a little bit about your history and how you got involved and why you got involved with the whole green and corporate responsibility movement?
Dave: Sure. There were very few people doing this back in the late nineties. My background is in the environmental health and safety arena, and that’s basically what I was hired to do at Intel Corporation. I worked in Arizona in a corporate group, and after about a year, I was asked to try to take a broader role, looking at external affairs in environmental health and safety. All of a sudden, the doors opened up. It was really clear to see what socially responsible investors were asking about, the issues that were in the press. The questions moved from green to diversity and ethics and just good corporate citizenship around the world. So, we took a couple years and really worked hard to create this function at that company. Intel has done great work since then, and we tried to build really a system to manage it. We started small there, and it’s grown over the years. I felt good when I was able to leave, knowing that it would continue. It was a great opportunity to come and start a similar program over here at Campbell’s.
John: That is so great. For our listeners out there, I want to also share with you one of the most important things from your bio, that you were named one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by Ethisphere magazine. In this day and age, in this post-Enron, post-economic collapse era that we live in, to have somebody like you pushing the movement forward, it’s an honor to have you here today. That’s a great award. I want to talk about something, though, that a lot of our listeners e-mail us and call us about. It’s the issue of being a capitalist and also a tree hugger, and how to merge these two movements together. You have a great quote here that we picked up online. “When I was hired at Campbell, at my first board meeting, I told them they didn’t hire a tree hugger. I wasn’t going to go out and plant trees and clean up the streets. They hired a capitalist, but I was going to go and try to help them become a better company and make money.” That’s what we do here at Green is Good. We share these great stories that those can go hand in hand, Dave. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, and talk about what your evolution has looked like at Campbell’s?
Dave: Sure, yeah. It’s a big point to make, that these aren’t exclusive properties. My point to the Campbell board, they didn’t know who I was. I was an unknown entity to them. The board is made up of a bunch of major shareowners’ family members that are very proud of the brand, and a bunch of ex-CEOs. I wanted to make sure they understood where I was coming from to create this strategy. I was asking for a lot in terms of their buy-in and trust, and it’s always been my premise to try to build CSR and sustainability strategies that really work for the employees, really work for the executives, are translatable to the external world, but that make the company better, that allow them to make quicker decisions, drive innovation, build employee engagement, and make a social impact in the community and lower the environmental footprint. I wanted them to know, and I think that worked with them. We continued to build trust and grow that program. The main thing is that it’s not one or the other. I’m the same person that’s out volunteering in the community and working to drive everything I can in the environment, but I try to do it for a business reason. I think the biggest shift you’ve seen in the last decade is instead of people like me trying to convince everybody to be sustainability professionals, we learn that our job is to make them better at what they do by using tools of sustainability and CSR, so that the supply chain can be better supply chain people and the HR human resources people can be better at what they do in terms of staffing and recruiting. We’re helping them with a whole other set of tools and making better decisions, and that’s really the goal for the company.
John: For our listeners out there that have their iPad or their laptop or some other type of internet device open right now, Campbell’s soup, and Mike, I think you have it open right now. You guys have an amazing site, campbellsoup.com, and there’s a whole section there, many sections, with regards to CSR and nourishing the planet, nourishing employees. Some of the statistics here, what you’re accomplishing over there, Dave, are amazing, such as I’m here on the nourishing the planet site. You’ve eliminated over the past year more than 3.5 million pounds of steel and 1 million pounds of fiber. You’ve recycled more than 84% of the waste that’s been generated. Talk a little bit about all these different segments and what sustainability and CSR looks like now than it did back when you started this whole movement over at Intel.
Dave: Yes, it’s gotten a lot more pointed, in terms of seeing numbers and results like this. Campbell is a company that’s been around for more than 140 years. It’s a great company. People know the brands, they know Pepperidge Farm and V8 and Prego, and they’ve always been doing good work, but they had difficulty envisioning what success looked like in terms of sustainability. So, what we did, and the CEO even challenged me on this, was to create a 10-year agenda. What is it we’re going to stand for? What is it we’re going to try to drive? And we came up with a lot of baseline work and metrics and some strategies around what we’re doing in the environment, what we’re doing in the community, what we’re doing in the marketplace, and what we’re doing in the workplace. We’ve built it into our compensation systems, into our performance reviews, into just the way we talk. The Campbell annual report just came out last week or the week before, the financial report, and it sounds a lot like my report. There’s an alignment, some integration in terms of the way we communicate. But the environmental targets are really ways so that people can come to work every day and know what they should be focused on. Our packaging engineers have actually stretched this goal. They’re willing to try to take on 100 million pounds of packaging over the next decade, and we’re trying to really take the whole environmental footprint of our entire product portfolio and cut it in half over the next decade, to use half as much water per whatever we manufacture, soup, crackers, biscuits, and same cut in terms of the emission of greenhouse gases.
John: When did you start at Campbell’s?
Dave: I’ve been here just a little over two years, so I haven’t been on the ground long at Campbell. I came in Labor Day 2008. I did my first full-blown strategic plan for the executives and the board of directors within the first couple months that I was there, so they put me to work right away. We’ve been running fast ever since I got there, but I have to say, we’re really still at the beginning of this journey. There’s a lot we need to do. There’s a lot of great things going on at other companies and other sectors that we’re learning from, and we’re trying to help our suppliers and some smaller companies and even some of our customers advance their strategies as we work on this.
Mike Brady: You know, Dave, just looking at your corporate mission statement, it gives our listeners a really good idea about how all-encompassing Campbell’s vision towards the future is. You just joined the company, as you mentioned, a couple years ago, but the mission statement, which is not much older with the companies than your employment there, “Together we will build the world’s most extraordinary food company by nourishing people’s lives everywhere, every day.”
Dave: And that word, that first word, together, is the thing we say is the most important inside of our company. It’s another reason we built the CSR strategy. The other thing I told the executives when I came is I’m not here to reinvent your mission or create a new set of strategies for the company. I’m here to build something that is integral to the way you’ve done business for years, that kind of amplifies your ability to do more, to be better in the community, to be better in the marketplace, and that’s why we framed this nourishing concept across these pillars. We built systems to bring every employee, the workplace destination goal, is that every single employee has a role in these strategies going forward. They don’t have to guess what their role is in terms of sustainability; they know what to do. It’s part of their performance objectives.
John: That is great. Now, it’s interesting what you just said. A couple themes that we’ve heard before, that this is really not an overnight type of situation; this is a process, and you’ve started implementing this 10-year process and you’re two years into it. Dave, one other thing you shared that you’re learning from others and others are learning from you. You have a unique position, the Vice President of CSR and Sustainability for Campbell’s Soup. Ten to 15 years ago, that wasn’t a typical position in corporate America. Are you working, and is there a working group among high-level leaders with that similar position across corporate America now, where you guys all share best practices?
Dave: It’s amazing what has transpired over the last 10 years. When I was putting together the case for Intel to try to convince Intel to move in this space, I think I found one other person, and he’s still in that job, a great guy named Bob Langer over at McDonald’s, but that was it. Over the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of people like me. Almost every Fortune 500 company not only has maybe one like me here at Campbell, maybe teams, maybe 10, maybe 20, maybe as small as three, but you can’t find a company with a strong brand reputation, a good consumer promise, without somebody like me working around. If you don’t, there’s people like me helping you, as another company, set it up. I don’t view these things as competitive. In certain areas, the real critical decisions that affect the marketplace, I may not share, but I’m always having conversations with other companies about how to set up strategies. We share information all the time. There’s more meetings than we can go to every day, where there are people like me sharing this information. I have to turn down, and it’s not just me, everybody in this space has to turn down probably more opportunities to engage than we have time to go to.
John: That’s wonderful. So, really, there is a best practice sharing among the folks that are running corporate America in the CSR space.
Dave: Yeah. I mean, every week I’m at meetings. A couple weeks ago, I was at a meeting in Wisconsin, and it was a cross-sector, not just in the food and beverage sector, where we’re sharing great ideas and we’re borrowing and sharing what we do best and other companies are picking up on it. I was at a meeting just last week with a bunch of executives like me in our sector, and we’re talking about what’s going on at the trade association, what’s going on internationally, what are we doing with our customers, how are we strengthening our supply chain. So, it’s intrasector, it’s outside of the sector, it’s across the whole business chain now.
John: So, now you’re into this for two years. I’m reading another great staff from your wonderful website, campbellsoup.com. For our listeners out there that want to go and read all the great things that Campbell’s is doing, and as Dave pointed out earlier, that also has to do with Pepperidge Farm, V8, Pace, Prego, and all their great legacy brands that are comfort food to all of us here across the United States. For instance, over the last year, you guys have invested more than $6 million in environmental sustainability projects. Now that you’re there two years and really are up to it in your armpits and beyond, what’s going on at the corporate board level? What does the board say now, and how has the buy-in been at the board level?
Dave: It’s been great. I’ve done two full-blown board presentations each year. We did a full strategy presentation last year. This past year I did one that was much more focused on issues and trends in the marketplace and how they’re driving behavior and performance in high-level business and then within our sector. So, what we’re doing is we’re really bringing them up the knowledge curve in terms of strategic corporate social responsibility and sustainability because, number one, they’re really proud of the company, so they want to understand this pride they have, why is it there, and what does it mean in terms of equity in the marketplace, and how can they leverage it to be better? And, they also want to understand how it’s being managed in their company because they’re looking at financial issues and human resource issues and expanding to emerging markets, and they want to see this fitting in. They don’t want to see it as some standalone process that’s off on the side that’s just looking to get credit. It’s about how do you make all of these other parts of the business better. We’ve done updates periodically with them, and we do these full-blown hour-long education sessions with them, and it’s been great. They’ve been a great board. Just like I said, a bunch of businesspeople on there and a bunch of people that are really proud of the company, and it makes a difference. You mentioned the investment that we’ve made in environmental sustainability projects. We’re going to continue to account for some of these numeric issues where we have direct financial inputs that we can show and communicate both to our board and to the external world.
John: Obviously, they have to be proud of you because here over the past year, it says Campbell’s Soup has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in Corporate Responsibility Magazine‘s 100 best corporate citizens list, so again, your efforts and their efforts and, as you said, together, you are making a difference and making really great strides towards your goals.
Dave: Yeah. We’re not doing this for the recognition, but the recognition is great to have. The two that you mentioned, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Best Corporate Citizens list, have really interesting methodologies behind them that companies like Campbell, I’ve used them for years over at Intel and now Campbell. It’s a way to drive improvement and to strengthen programs, but small-medium companies, any company on the planet, can use these tools to continue to look for ways to continue to drive continuous improvement. There is no endpoint. Whenever we see the finish line, it’s just a mirage. The bar keeps getting higher every year. We’re all running at it, and it’s a marathon. It’s kind of a sprint marathon, and we know it. The people that are in my role at other companies know we’re in this for the long haul, and we’ll be doing it as long as we’re working here.
John: You bring up a great point. So, go back, then, to the corporate board issue with regards to your amazing CSR expertise. Truly, you’re one of the founders of this whole movement on a corporate level. Is this going to be typical, and is this going to be much like the financial auditing Sarbanes-Oxley standards? Are boards going to look at these metrics as as important as financial and auditing standards that are out there now?
Dave: I think there are a couple dynamics. Several companies may not have formal presentations like I have with my board, and I have a very interactive relationship, but some companies actually have committees that are chartered to look at environmental sustainability as part of their accountability at the board. You’re going to see that more going forward. The other thing I think you’re going to see, now that we have accounting experts, we have financial experts on boards, I think you’re going to start to see corporate social responsibility or sustainability experts on boards that give advice to the board that challenge the in-house expertise and drive it even more. If a company may come out with a new product or is changing its financials, it will get challenged at the board to make better decisions and to try to justify what it’s doing. I think you’re going to see that in the corporate responsibility space as well. Boards are getting it. They’re getting more training, and companies are actually starting to figure out ways to build this into the board’s cycle.
John: Got it. From Campbell’s point of view, when you go back and look at the genesis of them getting involved here, how did they come and find you, and why did they do that? Was that at the board level? Were they hearing that from their consumers out there? What was the impetus for them to go create this position, when it didn’t exist before?
Dave: One of the reasons I came is they have an extraordinary leadership team. They’re a set of corporate officers that the CEO, the executive team that’s running the business, they were not toying around with, that’s the wrong term, but they were figuring out how does it work. They had done a bunch of external scanning. They had taken a look at other reports and other companies that they thought were highly reputable that they saw this trend coming. They tried to get their hands around it and figure out how can we organize it, how do we put the people and resources together? They spent a long time publishing their first report, which was before the one you’re looking at today. It was a printed version, a very good first report. It’s all about who they are as a company. But going through that process, justifying why they needed to put effort into this program, they had conversations at the board, at the CEO level. It was also clear to them that they didn’t have the competencies in-house to create a world-class program. They know they wanted it, they knew the pieces that they wanted to have in that program. They weren’t exactly sure where it would go in the organization, but the biggest thing, I think, is they didn’t know what success actually looked like for Campbell’s Soup. They didn’t just come to me. I’m sure they interviewed a bunch of people and tried to find the best they could and the best fit, but they wanted to find people that had experience taking a program from scratch and building it to world-class, and knew how to find success and point people in that direction. I think that was really what they were looking for. They realized that after going through probably two years of scoping and communicating and sharing best practices inside the company.
John: For our listeners that just joined us, we’re here on the line at Green is Good with Dave Stangis, who’s the Vice President of CSR and Sustainability at Campbell’s Soup, one of the greatest brands to ever be born here in the United States and that exists around the world right now. Dave, one of the things you just said, you’ve started now two programs from scratch, and that’s unbelievable. We get a lot of e-mails here from across the planet, but especially across the United States, and people want to know, what is the biggest obstacle to starting this at their company? Does it matter that the company, as large as Walmart or as small as an upstart, how do you go about starting this? How does this really work?
Dave: There’s tons of obstacles. There really are challenges every day. I think if you look at it, my suggestion when I talk to companies, is number one, really do an assessment of where they stand, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, internally and externally. Look at it as a business strategy. If you’re going to execute on going to a new market, launching a new product line, consider this the same thing. It’s not just a bunch of activities over on the side. Do a full situation assessment. Figure out what it is you’re going to stand for as a company. What are your communication plans? What are your metrics going to be? How are you going to get internal enlistment and buy-in? How are you going to develop a communication plan that everybody is going to understand both inside and outside? That sets up, basically, a domino effect in terms of resources and staffing. It’s still scary and it’s still daunting, but if you take a step-by-step approach at developing a strategy to help the business be better, not just translating what we’re doing today so it sounds good, that’s really the goal. Again, if you wait until it’s perfect before you take your first step and do your first report, you’ll never get there. It’s really just starting to take steps, realizing that you’re never at the end, and trying to drive improvements each year, annually, whatever it is. If your strategic planning cycle is annually or every three years, build it into the system. That’s really the goal, and the smallest company can do it.
John: That’s hopeful. For our listeners out there, you can go to campbellsoup.com and see all the amazing things Dave and his team is doing. One of the great pages here is called nourishing our consumers. Mike and I were looking at that earlier today, and Mike’s on the site right now. I actually printed it off. I just love how you guys have evolved your great brands I remember growing up with and I still eat. Over the past year, you offered 90 of your soups at healthy sodium levels, including your condensed tomato soup. You’ve joined the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation to help reduce obesity. I mean, really, like you said earlier, Dave, you’re underlining, and Campbell’s is underlining, the word “together.”
Dave: Yeah. People look for their food to do everything these days. We have one of the best portfolios from a health and wellness perspective, yet we had challenges in terms of communicating what that meant to the consumer. I want our consumer over the next 10 years to go in the store and know every product we make is the best that it can be for them. They don’t even have to read the back of the label. That’s kind of my goal, so that there’s a choice for people that are looking for something to feed their kids. There’s one for them, there’s one for the rest of their family, there’s maybe snacks, there’s great food all times of the day, juices. Getting the messaging and the facts and being authentic about what we have in terms of products for people in the marketplace today that are affordable, that close nutrition gaps, is really important. We still have a lot of work to do in this space. We’re working on it day in and day out, both in terms of innovation and research and development, as well as communication to the consumer and to our customers. There’s a lot of work to do here, but I really think it’s critical to our success in the 21st century, and I think that’s the conversation I had inside the company to try to continue to get the focus on it. They’ve been focused on it for years, too. It’s where do we take it?
John: Dave, we’re down to the last minute-and-a-half. A lot of times we get a lot of students from around the United States. After your show airs, there’s going to be a lot of people reaching out to us. What happens is the people out there want to know how to become the next Dave Stangis. How is that? What is the process? What’s the evolution, and where is this going? Because now so many universities have environmental health and safety programs, they have CSR programs. For the kids out there, for the youth of America that want to now become part of the green revolution and the solution, what advice do you have, and what last pearls of wisdom do you have for our listeners out there?
Dave: Sure. The main thing here is they actually have more opportunity today than we did 10 years ago. Not only do these single positions exist, Vice President of CSR and Sustainability, but the really innovative companies, the forward-thinking companies, are trying to build this into everything they’re doing. What I’m telling students and professors, because I don’t want a professor to train 1,000 students to go out and get that one job that isn’t there tomorrow, but to really think about what is they do best? Are they best at finance? Are they best at materials or packaging or optimizing logistics and supply chains? If you can take what you do best, take it to an organization or an agency, a federal environmental agency or a non-profit, there’s going to be more and more ways to bring sustainability into the workplace in every job. We have finance people working on it now. We have advertising people working in sustainability. We have packaging engineers that didn’t go to school for sustainability, but that’s what they’re doing today. There’s just a lot more. Everybody needs to change, I think, the way they think a little bit about it, and not look at just the one role to change a company, but if I don’t have that one role, how else can I play and make a difference every day at a company? That’s really what students want. They want to take their passion, now, and take it to work, and not just hide it in the desk drawer. They want to live it. That’s what leading companies are starting to figure out, is they’ve got to give everybody the outlet in a strategic way to help the company be better.
John: Well said. Mike and I just want to thank you for your time today, Dave. You really laid it out clearly, and we’re so lucky to have you running the CSR and sustainability program at Campbell’s, one of the great brands to ever be born here in this country. I just want to thank you again, and we’re going to have you come back again one day and tell us how the process is going at Campbell’s. You are really an inspirational leader and are truly living proof, Dave Stangis, that green is good.
Dave: Thank you, guys. It’s been great. A lot of fun.