Establishing Purpose-Driven Priorities with Jeannie Renné-Malone of VF Corporation

February 15, 2024

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Jeannie Renné-Malone leads global sustainability at VF Corporation, overseeing all aspects of VF’s sustainability strategy across its brands, operations, supply chain, materials, and products. Renné-Malone has extensive experience in the development and implementation of sustainability goals and strategies, stakeholder engagement, and tracking and reporting of sustainability/ESG results. At VF, she has led various strategic initiatives, including the development of VF’s Science-Based Targets roadmap and its Green Bond Framework, which resulted in the first green bond issuance in the apparel and footwear industry. Under her leadership, VF has integrated circular design, sustainable materials and innovation across its portfolio of brands from farm to cradle, reducing energy, waste, carbon emissions and water usage, encouraging regenerative farming practices and embedding renewable energy and sustainability priorities across its operations and supply chain.

John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a Rockstar Impact Podcast guest? Go to impactpodcast.com and just click, be a guest, to recommend someone today. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Close Loop Partners. Close Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Close Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Close Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have you with us today Jeannie Renné-Malone. She’s the Vice President of Global Sustainability for VF Corporation. Welcome Jeannie to the Impact Podcast.

Jeannie Renné-Malone: Hey, John. It’s great to be here.

John: You are today sitting in Denver, Colorado?

Jeannie: That’s right.

John: I’m in Fresno. We’re doing this little interview here and Jeannie, you represent an array of brands that… we’re going to get into in a little bit at VF Corporation, but before we do that, can you share a little bit about the Jeannie Renné-Malone story? Where did you grow up and what got you on this fantastic and important journey that you are on at VF Corporation?

Jeannie: Well, great. Yeah, I love to start with my personal story and how it really contributes to my professional purpose, I like to say. It really started with my parents and I’m really lucky to have had the influence of two very influential people in my life. My mom was a bilingual kindergarten teacher and she really taught me the importance of identifying the needs of the people around us, really looking at that social responsibility aspect, and using that lens as I created my career and went through my profession.

My dad has been a world-renowned solar resource assessment expert his entire life and he’s taught me the power of technology, innovation, and policy to really transform complex problems into solutions. Between the two of them, so the technical environmental side and the social responsibility side have really been that interconnection for me of the need to look at everything from that people and planet perspective.

John: That’s fantastic. Which part of the country did you grow up in?

Jeannie: We grew up in a combination of Puerto Rico, Washington State, and Colorado.

John: Wow, that’s a fantastic mix of different areas and geographies and cultures, huh?

Jeannie: Yeah, absolutely.

John: Your dad was onto solar before it was hip or cool or exciting to be onto solar.

Jeannie: Yeah, and he’s still going at it. He’s almost 80 years old and he’s still he’s in India right now working on solar projects.

John: [inaudible].

Jeannie: Yeah. He really was one of the early pioneers in solar energy and I think that was quite inspirational and influential for me to really see how technology can be used to solve problems such as improving air quality and creating access to energy in rural communities that don’t have it. It’s really been a tremendous influence on my life.

John: That’s fantastic. I just love that. You are the vice president of global sustainability at VF Corporation. Before we get going and talking about all the cool things you’re working on with your colleagues at VF Corporation, share with our listeners and viewers who VF Corporation is so they understand all the different brands that roll up underneath VF Corporation.

Jeannie: Sure. We are VF Corporation is one of the world’s largest apparel and footwear companies in the world, and we are the umbrella parent company to 12 iconic brands. Hopefully, you have a couple of them in your closet or on right now. Those brands include the North Face, Smartwool, Vans, Dickies, Timberland, Icebreaker and more. We have a deep purpose to commitment to sustainability that I’ll talk about in just a moment. That’s what ties the brands together.

John: I love it. It’s like a holding company with all these great brands that roll into it.

Jeannie: Absolutely. A number of outdoor active brands that really have a shared vision for the betterment of people on the planet is quite.

John: I mean, these these brands are amazing. Jansport, Eastpak, Timberland, North Face. For our listeners and viewers that want to find Jeannie and your colleagues, they can go to vfc.com or vfc.com/responsibility. Both will be in our show notes and we’re going to get into the responsibility side first. The global sustainability for all the different companies that come on the show and leaders like you who sit in your chair can mean a lot of things.

There’s an alphabet soup now of acronyms ESG and this whole shift from the linear to the circular economy and planet positivity. What does it actually mean? I see the great statement up above, for me, your [inaudible] right shoulder, but it’s my left shoulder that I’m looking at power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. I love it. Talk a little bit about how you put that mission and that statement into action at VF Corporation.

Jeannie: Yeah. That’s a great question. Maybe I’ll just go back to what this purpose statement translates into. As the parent company of outdoor active wear brands, we feel we have a responsibility to protect the environment for so our consumers can enjoy the outdoors in our products for generations to come. It truly is that commitment to minimizing our impact, caring about the people who work across our operations across the globe, and really that ongoing and continued focus on people on the planet.

John: Got it. There’s a lot to do when you’re representing a lot. First of all, you represent a lot of brands, but you can choose to focus on where the impacts are and what you’re going to tackle first. When you took this role, how did you look at approaching what has become it could be as wide as this or as narrow as that in terms of ESG, in terms of decarbonization, in terms of zero waste. I mean, where do you start on this journey and how do you continue to drive a harmonize? Because I can assume with all these fantastic brands that you are representing, harmonization across these brands is also a very important element of what you do.

Jeannie: Yeah. I think it’s there’s kind of two parts to that question. One is how we harmonize some of our strategic actions so that we can drive scale across the board, across all of our brands, but also we have to allow our brands to maintain their individuality while aligning them with our purpose-driven priorities at the VF level. With that, it’s good to take a step back and think about some of our public facing goals that really bring us all together.

A number of years ago, we set science based targets. We set those back in 2019. We have a goal to reduce our scope one and two emissions, by 55% by 2030 and our scope three emissions, by 30% by 2030, both from a 2017 baseline. That kind of gives us a foundation from which to work. We have a number of other public facing goals around materials, zero waste distribution centers, powering our direct operations with renewable energy by 2025. But it truly is those science based targets that gives us that collective vision and pathway to to work toward across all the brands.

But at the end of the day, the brands can communicate their progress and their initiatives to consumers, their own individual way and each I should also mention that each of our brands have some of their own sustainability initiatives and goals as well. I can give you a few examples of how the brands communicate some of these individual initiatives. For example, Vans has a VR3 product line and labeling, which signifies that regenerative, responsible resource, renewable, or recycled materials make up at least 30% of that product. That’s how they communicate to consumers, knowing that materials and material substitution is one of the key pathways that ladders up to our science based targets. Now, another material example.

The North Face has been partnering with Indigo Ag here in the in the US over the past couple of years and is now incorporating regeneratively grown cotton into their products by working with growers who have transitioned to farming practices that draw down carbon from the atmosphere and restore soil health. That’s another example of how the North Face is working on an initiative that helps VF as a whole reduce our impacts. But it’s an individual brand initiative that is connecting with their consumers.

Then finally, I’ll just mention our Merino brands. Smartwool and Icebreaker have collaborated to work with the New Zealand Merino company with over 160 sheep growers to create the world’s first regenerative world platform. That represents over two million acres in New Zealand. You can find examples of all these initiatives on the VFC dot com website, on the individual brand, the websites, social media and through numerous awards that our brands have won.

John: Okay. But help me out here. This is fascinating. But what you’re really saying is all these brands operate on their own, really, in terms of they have their own sustainability people and things that they roll up to you or how do you navigate those somewhat tricky waters? Because in one aspect, I could see this wonderful organizational view where you get to create a team that shares best practices of all these sustainability leaders for all these different brands. On the other hand, they are also a team of rivals. How does that work in terms of being collaborative, but also a little bit competitive as well?

Jeannie: Yeah. Competition is good. We like that. It’s a good point. I think some of these sustainability initiatives actually allow us to work more closely together. Then individually, the brands can then communicate out what that particular sustainability initiative means to them. For example, a couple of years ago, we started a project in Thailand.

This was a project funded by VF. We brought in Vans, Timberland and the North Face to work collectively to create the first regenerative regenerative rubber supply chain in the world for our industry. Each brand is part of this coalition. But now, they’re sourcing the material and using them in their products. They can communicate out in their own way. There’s a bit of competition when it gets to that point. But really, the initial initiative and how we scaled it to be able to source regenerative rubber from Thailand has really brought us all together.

John: Got it. When you hit gold like that, you create something really special like that, all the brands will benefit.

Jeannie: Absolutely.

John: That’s wonderful. Recently, VF was recognized for winning a pretty important impact award. Can you share a little bit about what that project and that award meant and explain why that was important to what what what you’re doing and the work you’re doing with all the great brands?

Jeannie: Sure. I just alluded to it. I’ll provide a bit more detail. Thank you for mentioning that. We’re super proud of this award. It’s for really pioneering that regenerative rubber alliance initiative in Thailand, which resulted in building the first regenerative rubber supply chain [inaudible].

John: Okay. Yeah. I see. Got it. [inaudible].

Jeannie: That’s the one. I can go into detail if you like.

John: Well, give me a couple of other examples because you broke the code on rubber, is there such thing now as fully circular apparel and shoes in terms of, “Can I buy now running shoes or outdoor shoes that are fully circular made from all recycled material?” Or is that day coming in the future?

Jeannie: You can buy a number of our products that are made with multiple regenerative materials. It’s pretty exciting. If you go to some of our brand websites, you can see, for example, the regenerative rubber that I just mentioned is included in the Van Circle V and some of our North Face products in Timberland’s Green Stride Motion Six Hiker, which also includes some other sustainable materials. Just in thinking about circularity as a whole, we really approach circularity with that holistic approach, incorporating the the main principles of circular design, which is recyclability, design for durability, design for disassembly.

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You’ll see a lot of products come out on the market from our various brands that have those different components of durability, recyclability, disassembly. With that, we can think about our product, the beginning of its life and all the way to the very end. When we’re considering what a consumer is going to do with their product, the end of life, they know that it’ll be more easily recycled and turned into a new product. It can be disassembled and then reused or it’s durable. We can just repair it and get it back out on one of our re-commerce platforms. Someone else can enjoy that product in the future.

John: I’m going to ask an obvious question, but I still need to ask it. The young generation coming up every you’re young and the generation below you is obviously of a whole different generation. Now that I’m almost 61, they care about these issues. They care about buying products that are more circular and from a brand that actually cares about the environment. They’re voting with their pocketbooks. Is that a true statement? Yes or no.

Jeannie: We’d like to believe that’s true. We hear a lot of anecdotes. It’s hard data to confirm, but we hear all the time that consumers, especially the emerging purchasing generation, really want to make purchasing decisions based on their values. We’re seeing anecdotes and some consumer insights that show that consumers are going to more re-commerce websites or thrift stores to buy products. We do have some data from our TNF Renewed, which is our North Face Renewed platform where you can go and buy gently used products that have been repaired.

There is a way to look at new consumer acquisition from that website because we know that those consumers aren’t shopping on northface.com. They’re actually going to TNF Renewed and signing up as a new TNF loyalty member. It’s an exciting time to see how consumers are spending their time both online and in stores looking for products that, and then again, using their values to make those purchasing decisions.

John: Given that basically, you’re a holding company and a great holding company with a really great purpose that has brands that are iconic, that are considered OEMs, is there now that new sector of OEM behavior called designs for sustainability? Do all the companies that represent have a design for sustainability elements as part of their leadership teams?

Jeannie: I would say it’s incorporated throughout the organization. It’s a really important part of the design and so, and having the appropriate team members in place. Yes, absolutely. In some places within the org structure.

John: Given now, remember I’m in the electronics recycling industry, so I get to work with the OEMs from in the electronics world and they believe the same thing you just said that anecdotally that the next generation that is voting with their pocketbooks, that are now making an income and post their schooling efforts are voting with their pocketbooks to buy more circular goods and services now that people from organizations that care about the environment.

Is the circularity important or is less important than more of the material? For instance, I recently was in a debate about Close Loop issues. Does it matter to really close a loop or is open loop recycling just as legitimate and credible and the consumers really aren’t worried about if it’s closed or open, but if it’s just circular and it’s coming back into the system and not going into a landfill or filling, going into an ocean or a lake, then it’s just good as that stands.

Jeannie: I think, today where we stand, closed loop is a bit of a challenge for our industry. I think it’s the ideal state, of course, we’d love to be able to source materials from our own products over and over. But I think the reality is that we’re challenged by infrastructure challenges and just all sorts of policy incentives that need to be put in place. We’re seeing a change with regulation coming out of Europe and parts of the U.S. that I think will encourage us to get toward that closed loop system in the future. But today, I do think an open loop system is appropriate and it’s working.

Many times when we’re able to take back our products and then recycle them and send them off to other industries to either be used ground and used in the ground of playground floors or ground up into building insulation. There are a lot of exciting new products that can be developed. I have to tell you one story about Smartwool because I love this story. We did this amazing take-back program started a couple of years ago where we asked consumers to go into their closets, go into their drawers, find those socks that don’t have a pair, or maybe the dog ate one of them for us. Then we send them to our partner on the East Coast who then shreds up those socks and then turns them into filler for dog beds.

Now, we have a whole new product on our Smartwool website. The other thing we’re doing now is they’re able to sort out the non-SmartWall socks and then with just using the Smartwool socks because we know where our Merino wool came from, we want to keep it very pure. We can then shred those Smartwool socks, and turn them into yarn, and then now we’ve created a whole new circular hiking sock that you can buy on the Smartwool website. We’re starting to see more and more innovations that come out from our brands and it’s a super exciting time to be in this area.

John: For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Jeannie Renné-Malone with us. She’s the vice president of global sustainability for the VF Corporation. To find Jeannie and the brands that she represents and all the great work they’re doing in sustainability and impact. Please go to vfc.com or vfc.com/responsibility.

All that information will also be in the show notes. Jeannie, given that you are truly right from the get-go, right from your DNA, a sustainability OG, given your father’s and mother’s information on the world and how they informed you and you grew up, talk a little bit about where we are in the sustainability journey. When I’ve got the opportunity and blessing to travel the world because of my company and what I do, I’ve seen now that Europe truly has been ahead of us culturally and from a DNA perspective on circular economy behavior and sustainability, maybe going back one or two generations. Same thing with South Korea and Japan.

North America was a little slower in the uptake, but it seems as though we truly are on fire for all this great stuff now in ESG and sustainability and decarbonization with the Investment Recovery Act and everything good that’s going on. Where do you see us on that journey? Where do you see the VF Corporation and what gets you super excited about the months and years ahead that you have at VF Corporation?

Jeannie: Well, I’m super excited about the momentum, I have to say. I’ve been in this field for my entire career, essentially, and just to see the increase in the use of renewable energy and the materials innovation, the focus on circularity and really providing deep insight and perspective that we’re seeing about what is needed to get to that circular economy, I think the momentum is exciting and VF is right there. We’re looking at partnerships, not only within our own industry but outside our industry across agriculture.

Some of the materials that we’re sourcing that we’re helping farmers, ranchers, and growers convert land to regenerative agriculture. Some of that land is used for not only rubber, but also for us, for rubber in our boots, and for the tire industry. Then some of the areas, we’re seeing resource leather, there’s a lot of food companies that might be working in the same farms. There’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration and a lot of momentum right now. I think a deeper understanding of the situation we’re in as a planet. We need to be working on these things. There’s an urgency for action, and there’s an urgency for collective action so that collaboration and partnerships are going to drive progress.

John: Jeannie, now you produce an impact report every year that has all the best information from all the brands that you represent?

Jeannie: Yes. That will be our next one, will be published later this month. Stay tuned.

John: It comes out annually and it lives on the vfc.com website and vfc/responsibility.

Jeannie: Absolutely.

John: Got it. What do you do every year? Do you have all the summit or some version of a summit with all the great people and all the great brands that you represent and they all come together to actually meet and share all the best practices and also all the cool things they’re up to?

Jeannie: It’s an ongoing collection of data, stories, and anecdotes that really come together to create this report every year. I would say we don’t together as a summit, but we do come together for a celebration once we publish the report, because it’s a lot of work that goes into it and a lot of reasons to celebrate.

John: Nice. Sitting where you sit, how do you benchmark? Because it’s not just one brand that you really represent, even though, yes, you represent VF Corporation as a brand, but all the iconic brands that roll into VF Corporation, how do you benchmark how they are doing so you can continue to encourage and inspire and gently nudge them to keep doing better, so we are making the world a better place and we are making progress all the time. Where do you find your inspiration from outside of VF Corporation and those brands that you’re involved with?

Jeannie: There are so many places to find good information. I’d say our industry as a whole is doing a lot of exciting work. We have each of our brands has its own competitive mix that we look at. But I think importantly, we benchmark against ourselves. We have public-facing goals. We put a lot of effort into collecting data, and then measuring progress against our goals on a year-over-year basis. That’s important to know what our progress is.

Then as we see this increase in regulatory pressure to disclose ESG data in a more formal way within our financial statements, I think that’s when we’ll start to see more of a comparison across other companies and what they’re doing. Right now, it’s all voluntary, but we can see the stories that are coming out from our competitors and our peers. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes along the way across our industry as well.

John: Your title says global sustainability. Talk a little bit about that since your brands are coming into the EU, obviously the SEC, and I assume that’s also going to be spreading to Asia as well. How do you see the future of regulation when it doesn’t seem like they’re cohesive right now? It’s almost a little bit of a patchwork quilt. How do we get that to be more harmonized to make it a better journey for all brands around the world and to make things more consistent and more predictable?

Jeannie: A couple of parts to your question there. First, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly talented team in all parts of the world where we work. I have a team in Europe, a team in Asia, and a team here in the US. With emerging legislation and policies coming out globally, we partner very closely with our global government affairs team to monitor what these emerging policies look like. Then we use our advocacy arm.

We’re out there on the hill talking with policymakers, talking with elected officials about how different parts of different pieces of legislation will either help be a catalyst to helping us meet our goals, or if there’s different pieces of it that look very different from what we’re seeing in another part of the world, we’ll encourage and advocate for harmonization across the EU member states, across the US states, and then across the globe. There are a lot of conversations that happen on the hill, that let’s look at what’s happening in Europe and let’s align here so that we’re not doing two different types of reporting.

John: Got you. Part of what you do is a fine line balancing act of environmental impact and then social impact. ESG can be very narrow, as we discussed earlier, it could be very wide. How do you constantly rebalance and understand where to put emphasis, where to lay off emphasis, and things of that in terms of social impact versus environmental impact and all the wide array of things that you could be working on in any given day?

Jeannie: I love this question. Thank you. Balancing environmental impact with social impact is crucial to our sustainability strategy. We recognize that the well-being of people on the planet is incredibly connected. It goes back to the personal story I told you at the very beginning. My mom really helped me understand the social needs of people around us and that deep focus on social responsibility and my father helped me understand environmental stewardship and how those two plays together to create that interconnected story of people on the planet. The regenerative rubber supply chain initiative I mentioned earlier really exemplifies this balance.

While it focuses on environmental sustainability through responsible sourcing and regenerative practices, it also has positive social impacts. For example, many of the rubber farmers who previously depended on selling only rubber are now able to diversify their incomes by selling fruit, honey from bees, and a variety of other products. I feel so fortunate I’ve had the opportunity to visit these farms and engage directly with the farmers to hear firsthand how these regenerative practices converting their land are really resulting in environmental, social, and economic benefits. It’s always important to look at our projects through the lens of both that environmental and social impact perspective.

John: I love it. As you point out with that example, it truly is interrelated. There are so many ways to interrelate positive environmental impact with positive social impact as well. I love it. Mom and Dad, how proud are they now of you and all this great work that you’re doing?

Jeannie: It’s so fun. I mean, I think my dad and I have had the chance to work at the same organization. I think it was truly a turning point when I was leading a project in Mexico. This was back years ago when I worked at the National Renewable Energy Lab. I was in a different department, but we went to Mexico together. All my associates that I was working with in Mexico were so excited to learn who my dad was. It just made him so proud to see like, here’s my community. Here’s my project. Then he got to see the benefits of it from both being a dad and also being a co-worker and really kind of going in following his footsteps on the great work that he’s been doing throughout the world.

John: I love it. Just for our listeners and viewers to truly understand not only all the great brands that you represent, Jeannie, but how big is VF Corporation in terms of employees and footprint around the world?

Jeannie: Yeah. We have about 35,000 employees. We operate in 135 countries today. That’s correct. If you think about the development of our product, so, and just from a carbon perspective, which is where sometimes what I think about 70% of our impacts come from raw material extraction, processing, and production. Then there’s the product assembly, there’s a logistics piece, there’s so many parts of the product development that it’s important to think about. There’s millions of people that touch our product throughout its creation. I encourage you to go to our vfc.com website and look at our traceability maps. It’s really exciting to see the journey of a product through sourcing the material all the way through in the different factories. I can learn a lot about what we do and the people who make our products along the way.

John: Well, Jeannie, it’s been an absolute delight and joy to have you on today. It’s just great what you’re doing with all the important brands that you represent. I mean, I grew up with some of these brands, as did most of our listeners and viewers, the North Face brands, Timberland, Eastpak, Jansport, there’s so many of these that that is just part of our lives, and as you said, a part of our closets. You’re always welcome back to come on the Impact Podcast. I’d love you to come back one time and bring some of the brands with you and do like a little bit of a showcase of all the great brands that have four or five of your favorite brands that come on with you.

Regardless, for our listeners and viewers to find Jeannie and all the great work that she and her colleagues are doing in impact and sustainability, please go to www.vfc.com or www.vfc.com/responsibility. Jeannie Renné-Malone, you made your mom and dad proud. We’re so honored that you came on the show today and shared part of the journey and all the great work you’re doing at the VF Corporation. Thank you specifically for making the world a better place.

Jeannie: Thanks so much, John. This has been a great conversation.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.