Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Our Pets with Joanne Dwyer of PetSmart

June 11, 2024

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Joanne Dwyer oversees all corporate social responsibility, sustainability and communications initiatives at PetSmart. Joining the team in 2022 as PetSmart’s first vice president of CSR and sustainability, she developed the company’s CSR platform, A World Through Their Eyes, working to create a world as pets see it – more compassionate, inclusive, sincere, nature-loving and community-centric.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast, I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with us today, Joanne Dwyer. She’s the vice president of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at PetSmart. Welcome Joanne, to the Impact Podcast.

Joanne Dwyer: Hi, John. Thank you so much for having me.

John: Oh, it’s absolutely an honor. You have a great background in sustainability starting over at CVS. But I don’t want to talk about it through my own readings and my own homework. I want you to share a little bit about your journey, where you grew up and how you got on this very important journey that you’re on.

Joanne: Well I feel really fortunate because I grew up in Canada, in Montreal Canada. That’s where I was born and raised but I was born to Egyptian parents, who immigrated and moved to Canada the day after they got married. So I think that, number one, growing up in Canada I sort of had this embedded nature-loving, more importantly, maybe respecting nature. I can’t remember being in school and not having classes on ecology and environment. So I think my love and respect for nature came at a very young age. Also, my parents both work for the UN, and because they were Egyptian, we were so lucky that we got to travel quite a bit. So, this idea of seeing the world through a very diverse lens and appreciating diversity and culture, but also diversity of thought and thinking about how that impacts people. So, I think that from a very young age, these were areas that I was really interested and passionate about.

John: No kidding. Yeah. It’s so interesting. I grew up in New York City Joanne and you grew up in New York and you think, “Every cities like New York City”, until you take your first trip and you end up in Columbus, Ohio you will say, “Maybe the whole world is not like New York City?”. I mean, it gives you a great perspective when you travel, especially young.

Joanne: I agree, and you know what? I also had a very young love of New York City as a young person. I got my undergraduate degree in theater, and so I always had this aspiration that I would move to New York and I did eventually do that. I got my masters in Communications which was a better, potentially approach than theater to try to, you know. I was Canadian, so I had to get somebody to hire me for real. So I started out, after I got my Masters in Communications from Syracuse, I started out my career in New York City at a very large PR firm called Edelman. So…

John: Edelman.

Joanne: So, yeah. I totally agree with you, not every place is New York City.

John: Not every place is New York, that’s for sure. So talk about after Edelman, which is still one of the great name brands in public relations. How did you evolve into the work that you do today?

Joanne: Yes. I think it’s interesting because, I went from agency world. So I was at Edelman and then I was at another agency in Rhode Island. My husband who I’ve now been, with not married, but been with for 25 years is from Rhode Island. So that’s what brought me to the smallest state, the ocean state. I was working at an agency there and then had the opportunity to go and work at CVS Health. I was there for about 15 years and I started there on the corporate Communications Team, but that team sat under, at the time, it was corporate Communications and Community Relations.

John: Oh.

Joanne: So, I sort of was very young and always raising my hand to like, “Hey, I should do this” and I said, “Who does all the PR around these amazing grants were making and all of the social impact work that CBS is doing?” and the answer was, nobody really. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. So, I raised my hand to do PR for that work. Over time as the company grew there became this need to have, at the time, a corporate social responsibility report and the communications team was tasked with that. Since I had been doing so much of the PR for the social side of the business, I was really lucky that I had an opportunity to really start working on that report from the first report and over the 15 years that I was there, grew into getting this really great opportunity where the company made a decision, at the same time that they stop selling tobacco products, that the board said, you can’t just have corporate social responsibility sitting in the communications team. They decided to split it up and I had an opportunity to go and grow with that team, so I was very fortunate to do that.

John: That’s wonderful. Then, how did you end up at PetSmart?

Joanne: You know when you think about it, I think it’s interesting because you think about 2020 and the pandemic.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: I would say the covid-19 pandemic, as well as the murder of George Floyd, really changed the way that both consumers but also employees thought about social responsibility and I think expectations began to change. So a lot of companies, to be very honest with you, were starting to look at, “Oh, if we don’t have a dedicated function within this space”, or “We don’t have enough resources dedicated to thinking about our environmental, and our social commitments, and how they’re being governed, and how we’re talking about them internally and externally. We should really be thinking about this”. Just, with everything that was going on in the world at that time and also the political environment at the time in the US. So, there were a lot of companies that were really looking for talent and for many of us, there wasn’t a lot of talent out there. So I started to notice that a lot more people were asking questions, “Do you know people?”, “Are you interested?”. I was really excited when I got the call and somebody brought to my attention the opportunity, to join PetSmart and to formalize the work that was being done from a corporate social responsibility standpoint. So, I have been here since May of 2022 and I’ve been really… so many partners across this company. I can’t say that at PetSmart, the work wasn’t being done, the work was being done. I mean, you know you think about it, animal welfare is paramount to everything that gets done here. Our associates are very pet passionate, they love animals. That’s a real unifying factor for everybody that works here, everybody that shops here, all of our business partners, and it makes the culture really special. Then of course, when you think about it from an environmental sustainability standpoint, we’re a retailer. So we have to think about energy use and other things, just like everybody else does. So, the work had been had been done but I don’t think they were ever. It’s not a publicly traded company and so, they never had shareholders who said, “Oh, you need to do this.”. So…

John: Right.

Joanne: …they just really felt that it was the right time to begin to be, a little bit more formal about the approach, and certainly more deliberate about the way that we were talking about the work that was being done.

John: Before we get into all the great work you and your colleagues are doing a PetSmart, I have to ask. Did you grow up with pets? Will you are a pet lover to from from a very young age?

Joanne: So, it’s really interesting. If we get to talk a little bit about the “esque”[?], we should talk about the demographics of pet ownership.

John: Sure.

Joanne: I grow up, I already told you, in an ethnic household.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: We had dogs when I was very little.

John: Okay.

Joanne: One of which went to live on a farm, which my brother and insist is not where the dog went, but I’m still really helpful to the dog business. So we had dogs but not that I remember. I was really little when we had those dogs. Then as I grew older, we had birds in our house. We had a canary in a budgie. As an adult or once I moved out on my own, I have had dogs. I’m a dog lover and have a dog named Murphy now, who I adore, he’s a big part of our family. I also have eight-year-old twins but mentioned my dog before them. So I always feel bad when that happens. I have to [inaudible] them in there as well.

John: Oh, my God.

Joanne: How about you John, do you have any pets?

John: You know what? I grew up in the race horse industry and I grew up on the farms in New Jersey. We had tons of dogs and cats actually. We had all sorts of pets, we had a cat in my household. But nowadays, I don’t have any pets now. My granddaughter is asking for a pet, so they might be. I have a [crosstalk] feeling…

Joanne: [inaudible]

John: …there’s one in the offing, but I [crosstalk] still…

Joanne: We can help you with that. We can [crosstalk] help you with that.

John: Okay. But…

Joanne: You want to adopt a cat or a dog, or you want to buy a small animal? We’re here for you.

John: I love it. I just love it. As you said, PetSmart is not a publicly traded company. So can you share what’s allowable to share, in terms of size and scope? I want our listeners and viewers, to get just a macro feeling of size and scope of the amount of stores you have and employees you have, things of that such.

Joanne: Absolutely. PetSmart is the largest omni-channel pet retailer across North America. We have stores here in the US and Puerto Rico, as well as in Canada. We have the broadest offering of products and services and solutions really, for the lifetime of your pets needs.

John: Right.

Joanne: We have more than 50,000 pet passionate associates and we have [crosstalk] about…

John: Wow.

Joanne: …1670 stores.

John: Wow.

Joanne: Since we’re talking about environmental sustainability, our footprint also includes 7 distribution centers.

John: Wow.

Joanne: Then within those 1670 stores, we have somewhere in the range of about 200 pets’ hotels and day care centers, where we offer daycare and that kind of thing. Then in our stores we also have salons, grooming salons, as well as training offerings. So really, the full spectrum of…

John: A whole eco-system.

Joanne: Right. In your neighborhood, we’re on your street corner. But we’re also in the palm of your hand when you need things digitally. We know that convenience means something different to everybody nowadays and so we really pride ourselves on not just having that broad assortment but also, having all of the different touch points and channels that our customers can reach us through.

John: Well because I’m so old now Joanne, I’ve been doing this show for 17 years. It’s so interesting to interview folks like you who have stepped out of a very successful career that you were having at CVS, and now into a sort of a day one career at PetSmart in terms of, you have that proverbial blank page in front of you. You’re the first to codify and as you said, give some organizational structure to sustainability and to CSR, and to ESG, and all these very important topics that are now trending and going to trend for a long time to come. How was that? Was it unbelievably daunting or was it really exciting? Or was it a combination there of both?

Joanne: Well I think, I will just say personally…

John: Yeah.

Joanne: …I think that, and you probably heard this from a lot of people that you speak with John, that are in my role. I feel very personally passionate about advancing this work.

John: Right.

Joanne: We did so much great work when I was at CVS, and they really got to a place where they didn’t need a lot of rolling up the sleeves in getting there because they’re such a successful team. The real beauty of being able to do something like this at PetSmart is, to be able to grow and show advancement for another really large retailer, but also to think about consumer behavior change and how we can change the behavior of consumers, especially in the pet industry. I know we’ll get into talking about that a little bit.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Joanne: Then also just thinking about, personally, how I could learn a new industry and how [crosstalk] I could drive…

John: Right.

Joanne: …and impact change across things like, regenerative agriculture or water use in fish tanks or salon. So personally it was something that I was really excited about and then professionally, it was such an opportunity to help make true impact across the work that a lot of companies have been doing for a long time. I always say, “What’s good about something is what’s bad about something”. Like, it’s great to be able to build something from the ground up and to be able to use input across all of these wonderful resources in our company, who really know how our company operates and say, “This is the best way to do it” and build it right from the beginning, which is wonderful. At the same time, it’s tough sometimes when you don’t have a lot of resources to throw at something,

John: Right.

Joanne: But, one of the best things about PetSmart which I think is really different from a lot of other companies is, it has been the work across whether it’s the environmental sustainability or the social commitments that the company makes, they’re really embedded across the company. So in the absence of having somebody who sat in my seat necessarily saying, “Oh, reporting frameworks are asking you to do this” or “A shareholder is telling you you need to do it that way”, this was really grown out of, “what was right for the business? What was right for the associates? What was right for the pets and for their pet parents?”. So it’s really embedded across our business which, when you are in my role, is very valuable, very valuable.

John: If you just joined us now, we’ve got Joanne Dwyer with us. She’s the vice president of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at PetSmart. To find Joanne and her colleagues at PetSmart, please go to Joanne, so as you and I know, vice president’s a very big role. Corporate Communications can be read narrowly or widely. Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainability itself, circular economy, ESG, can be very broad topics, very narrow topics. How do you go in and have that blank page and decide then, what you want to start working on first, as you start this great journey that you’re on at PetSmart?

Joanne: Mm-hmmm. So I have an amazing team, I will just say. From a corporate communication standpoint, our team is responsible for external communications and corporate reputation. Internal communications and all of the visual communications and company meetings and events that we do. Then I also have oversight of diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging. As well as corporate social responsibility. That’s the purview of the team.

John: Wow.

Joanne: I think that, any good corporate social responsibility strategy, if we’re going in that direction. What I’ll say is, for us here it is, when we do think about sustainability and I know you’ve talked about this before it can be broad. We are thinking about the environmental commitments as well as the social commitments and the [crosstalk] way that we govern them.

John: Sure.

Joanne: So, it’s that full span. That’s part of the reason why the DEI and belonging team, sits within the organization. So that we can be sure, that as we’re thinking about our goal setting from an ESG standpoint, that we’re incorporating those factors as we think about it. So when I got here, one of the first things that I did, and again, I’m sure you hear this a lot. Is, I did a science-based materiality assessment. We really took a look at our internal stakeholders and our external stakeholders. We also looked at our business growth priorities and we thought about, where do these things intersect? Where do the things that people expect from us internally and expect from us externally? Where’s the regulatory environment going in? Those are externals stakeholders that we think about. We are not publicly traded but we do have private equity owners. So we talked to our private equity owners, to think about where they expected us to be. Of course, our customers. Then internally our leaders, the subject matter experts who impact all of the issues that would be trending. Then our associates, they’re so important to us. So when we looked at these priorities and we looked at our business growth priorities, our materiality assessment plotted these issues, less than 20 issues, that we really try to take a look at. We’ve been focusing our efforts on the top 10 and I don’t think it’ll surprise you. The top five are effectively around the care of the animals in our stores, as well as the sourcing of those pets.

John: Sure.

Joanne: The way that we treat our employees from a diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging standpoint, as well as the programs that we offer to them, compensation, benefits, wellness programs and then climate, right? So, energy. I don’t think that’s surprising, I think a couple of these are just retail issues that we need to think about, and then others are really specific to us within the pet industry.

So that materiality assessment really helped to create our CSR framework, which is called, “A world through their eyes” [crosstalk] and…

John: I love it.

Joanne: …it’s such a great aspirational framework for us to think about. We believe that we can create the best PetSmart, if we do so, by thinking about it through the world of our pets eyes.

John: [inaudible]

Joanne: Pets are inclusive, they provide unconditional love. They are nature-loving, they need clean air, fresh air and water and green spaces to thrive. And you know, we know we’re not always going to get it right. Our pets certainly don’t always get it right, but we aspire to create a world through the eyes of our pets. Then, [crosstalk] within that…

John: [inaudible]. Yeah.

Joanne: Yes? Go ahead, John.

John: No. Go, go. Go.

Joanne: Within that, we really pinpointed our focus areas into three areas, and that’s healthy and happy pets. I think that one of the things that really differentiates us at PetSmart is, we think about the health of our pets of course, but we’re also thinking about their happiness and joyful moments that are created with the families that we have. So, healthy and happy pets is our key primary pillar. Empowered people because, we want people’s lives to be empowered and enriched with their pets but also empowering the associates that we have, who are caring for pets every single day. In the communities that we serve, empowering people in the communities that we serve. Then, responsible stewards. You know, we want to be responsible stewards of our brand but also of course, from a sustainability standpoint and of our planet, and thinking about all of the ways that we can mitigate the impact that our company has.

John: So talk a little bit about the progress you’ve made since you’ve initiated this, A World Through Their Eyes CSR strategy.

Joanne: We’ve made so much progress because it’s really helped us. When you think about focus and you think about a framework like this, the impact becomes more visible because you can stack it up in that way, if that makes sense.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: When you can strategically align it to these key issues that you’ve put into your materiality assessment, you’re thinking about, how are we driving the issues that we can most uniquely impact forward? So in our first year and our second… so we put out our first Corporate social responsibility report in 2023. So doing the materiality [crosstalk] assessment…

John: Wow. Wow. That’s [crosstalk] [inaudible]…

Joanne: …and putting out our first report, that was just a huge accomplishment.

John: Sure.

Joanne: As we’ve gone from last year 2023 about this time, we just released our second corporate social responsibility report. In that year, we went from having our framework, which I just discussed with you in our key pillars, to introducing some actual first-generation goals that were aspiring towards for the future. We took on aligning to the UN sustainable development goals, and so there are a few SDG’s that we are aligning to, and we are reporting to the GRI framework. So, just to get a little bit geeky into the world of CSR and Reporting. Within that first year, having gone from really determining what the priorities are, to then working towards actioning on those priorities, by setting these goals that we just introduced into this second report that’s come out.

John: So are you a little bit like me in that, the report comes out and of course, you’re so proud of that moment, and you’re relieved that then proud at the same time, but you’re already thinking about next year’s and how much better the company’s going to get? How much progress you’re going to make? It just never ends. Every time I come out the reports released, I’m always thinking, “Oh, next year were going to get so much better at these areas that were not great at today”. How does that work with you? Because you got to do your day-to-day work, but it’s so much fun to look to the future and how much you could still do in the future.

Joanne: I think that we all tried… So first and foremost what I say, and I think we all try to live by the same tenants, right? Increase transparency.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: Increase the rigor, and that means aligning two different frameworks.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: Also just thinking about, how do you reach different audiences? So when I think about the goals that we’re introduced this year, the ones that were going to be working towards. We’re thinking about supporting the health and happiness of more than 6 million pets annually through trial [crosstalk] and error.

John: Wow. Wow.

Joanne: That’s a lot of pets that come through our doors. As a result, we become really invested in the training of our associates who are caring for those pets. So we made the commitment of 1 million hours of training each year for our associates and Pet Care roles, and who are around our pets. We also… really, when you think about empowered people and you think about our associates, were thinking about upskilling and that’s really different from on-the-job training. Of course, it’s our responsibility to provide them training to do their jobs but we’re really committed to providing 40,000 associates a year of our 50 plus thousand, with upskilling opportunities, so that they can grow their careers with PetSmart. That’s really important to us.

We know that our associates are one of the most differentiating factors that we have as a company because they really love pets, and they spend [crosstalk] so much time…

John: [inaudible]

Joanne: …connecting with our customers about their pets, grooming, if somebody’s favorite groomer. It’s a really valuable relationship. Not to mention when you think about Veterinary care, very similar. These are people that you trust within your community. When you think about pet ownership and I mentioned this very briefly earlier. One of the things that we’ve seen is that, the diversity of our associates directly matches the diversity of pet ownership, which makes good sense. We put pet smarts in places where people own pets. What was surprising to me is that, when you look at the US Census demographics of pet ownership. Really, pet ownership in this country has been predominantly white people and we’re seeing that grow within Hispanic population, pet ownership grow in that area. But really, there’s a huge opportunity, especially if we believe that pets enrich people’s lives, to create more opportunity and to expand pet ownership. To grow the diversity of pet ownership and to reach African American and Asian American and Native American households with pets. That’s also something that I think is really fascinating that we put an eye towards as we think about the future, and how we think about the work that we do in communities and our responsibility. Then I think, again like most retailers, we have goals to reduce our energy usage, of course. As well as diverting waste. In the environmental sustainability though, within the pet industry, it’s really fascinating to think about some of the issues. Because water usage for example, and most retailers is landscaping or your [crosstalk] bathrooms, things like that.

John: [inaudible]

Joanne: Here we have full walls of fish tanks at PetSmart. We also have grooming salons that use water and so, we are really also, in addition to the goals that we’re setting within the space of Environmental Sustainability, we think a lot about water usage. I mentioned consumer behavior change because, there is a lot of items within the consumer world that you can’t recycle curbside. So a lot of different retailers or manufacturers are thinking about, how do we make that easier? So, PetSmart is really a solution for that because, if you make dog toys you may not have a point of contact to reach your customer, but we certainly do. So we’re rolling out one of the more sustainable dog toy and dog treat brands called West Paw. One of the things we’re doing is, as we roll this out into PetSmart, which is great because we’re creating increased opportunity for access for more sustainable products. When it’s difficult to find those products, it’s also difficult for people to choose them. So, we’re really trying to make it easier for pet parents to choose products that are better for your pet, better for the planet. When you have a brand like West Paw, they can take back their toys, crunch them up and make new toys or make other things, so that that product doesn’t end up in a landfill. So in 100 of our stores were doing a pilot program where we’re going to take back these West Paw toys and work in partnership with West Paw to take them back and turn them into something else. So, that is one thing. Another example of that within the pet industry is, packaging of pet food consumables. So there’s multi-layer packaging of dog food bags for example, or the flexible packaging of dog treat bags. That is not recyclable curbside. So, we are working with TerraCycle, again, later this year to do a pilot on our stores for our treats rewards members, our loyalty members, to be able to bring back those consumables bags and drop them off at a PetSmart. So that’s going to really, I think, help us to see how can you drive consumer behavior change. Because, even though there’s so much that we can do at PetSmart and what we can do. That ripple effect within our supply chain, of course, which people think about a lot. When you think about your packaging and your energy usage and those things, you think about your supply chain, but we’re also trying to think about it from the other side of it, right? With our customers and how we can incentivize them and empower them to drive change themselves.

John: So when people bring back the chewed up toys for basically going back into the circular economy to be reused again for new toys. If that works at those hundred stores, that will be socialized to your other stores, eventually?

Joanne: Our goal is to try to figure out, how can you scale it. We’re using our own reverse logistics system as well, so that it’s going back on trucks so that it doesn’t create any [crosstalk] additional…

John: Sure.

Joanne: …[inaudible] mental burden. So really, the goal is to see how can you operationalize something and how can you change consumer behavior and make it something that they want to do, enough of the time, that it makes sense to make a program in all 1600 stores.

John: That’s awesome. I’m sure your background in retail at CBS has served you well at PetSmart, but where does it differentiate? You talked about the water. It’s not only about water usage but isn’t it also potentially, water cleanliness and consistency? Since you got to support all of the the aquatics there, the fish. Also, the cats and the dogs and the other animals have to drink consistently clean water. So, how does that work?

Joanne: Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head. So you think about water is one of the issues for sure. We absolutely have way more water treatment systems…

John: Wow.

Joanne: …and other things. We also have to have different HVAC systems. So, our stores are actually… you have to think about the temperature control when you have pets. You have to think about humidity control when you have pets. When you think about certain animals that are in aquatic tanks. So we do a lot really, that is different. If we’re in a mall or a shopping center, we work really closely with our landlords on things like water and things like our HVAC systems. Another really different thing when you think about the issues within the Pet World that others maybe don’t have to think about, is animal welfare in your supply chain. Where are you sourcing your life pets from and how are you using CITES and IUCN, which are frameworks to ensure that animals aren’t being endangered? You know, the sourcing of product is something we talked about a lot in sustainability and when [crosstalk] those become….

John: Sure.

Joanne: When those become live pets, obviously, we’re really proud of a program we have called, Vet Assured. PetSmart has a team of staff veterinarians that make all the decisions and guide the decisions that we make, across our full business. Whether that’s in caring for pets when they’re in our stores. Certainly the sourcing of pets and which business partners we choose to source them from and the processes with which they travel to get to a PetSmart. Then also, the the care guides for when a customer purchases a pet. Because again, our associates want to ensure that this is a responsible pet parent, that’s walking out of store with a guinea pig or a hamster. So we have care guides that we ensure that every customer acknowledges receiving and we spend time talking to them about the care for that pet. So within social responsibility when you think about those live pets, we have a really formal approach to how we think about animal welfare and their care. Then finally, I would just talk about ingredients. Ingredient management again, is something that a lot of people think about. But when you think about, certainly within the area of consumables for pets?

John: Sure.

Joanne: There’s veterinary guidance that has been around forever, that says pet’s eat protein. When you’re looking at human protein potentially changing, people becoming vegan and thinking about how climate is impacted by the growth, growing of those proteins and people making changes as a result of that. Well, the majority of protein found in pet food comes directly as a by-product from the proteins in human food. So if there are challenges or risks or really down the road future changes that are going to impact that supply of human human food protein, we really need to think about it too in the pet industry and there are a lot of people doing Innovative work around insect protein. PetSmart owns a B-Corporation called, Only Natural Pet. So we’re really lucky because we sort of have an opportunity to get insight and learning from a B-Corp that we own, their out in Boulder Colorado. They have a store, they’re sold within PetSmart and they have a website and they are thinking about sustainability 24/7. So, we have a lot of.. within our 1670 stores but then also within our brands and our proprietary brands, were also thinking about sustainability all the time.

John: Well, I’m sure you have a team that also looks like, are these dog bowls made out of partially recycled material? Then also, is this dog food or cat food being grown and is the farmers using regenerative agriculture? We want to choose people that are more concerned about the environment. Is that all part of your ecosystem as well Joanne?

Joanne: Absolutely.

John: [inaudible]

Joanne: Pet Smart as well as Only Natural Pet, were members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition. The Pet Sustainability Coalition and the members are really tackling things, as you mentioned, regenerative agriculture. Because when you think about it, there are ways for us to grow these proteins in a manner that is nature positive, and that needs to be done across the board. We’re not quite here yet in the United States but I know in Canada, pet waste is also something that’s really being explored. Because if you think about it, it’s ending up in the landfill and that is also creating challenges. So there, in many provinces in Canada, looking at composting. You can pick curbside compost pet waste. So, there’s a lot of fascinating issues John, in this industry.

John: Well, not only did you bring up Canada but then you’re dealing with the patchwork quilt of Canada and US, but then you’re dealing with all the 50 states across the US and Puerto Rico. I’m sure the diversity of laws and some are more progressive than others, et cetera, et cetera. You’re constantly having to examine where each state is, and where your stores are in those states, and how they interrelate appropriately in the regions and geographies that you do business in.

Joanne: Well, and we’re actually fortunate or I always say sustainability practitioners are fortunate because the regulatory environment is on our side, helps us to make a business [crosstalk] [inaudible].

John: Right, right.

Joanne: But one of the reasons we’re fortunate at PetSmart is because, if we make a change, prop 65 California for example…

John: Yeah, yeah.

Joanne: … and we decide to make a change to an ingredient or something in our proprietary brands? We do that across the board. So, I’m really proud of that because, we are making decisions across our ingredient lists. If we’re eliminating flame retardants for example or were thinking about PFAS or were thinking about phthalates, we’re really doing that across our full spectrum of proprietary brand products. Whether that’s in Canada or the US or otherwise. But I’ll also say, the regulatory environment allows us to test and try things in Canada in 2023, there’s so many different guidelines. Municipality by municipality and provinces by province. This is the same here to some degree, in the US around plastic bags. Charge ten cents here, give a paper one there. No plastic, no bags at all. You’ve seen this here. We made a decision there that across the country, we would not give out bags, we would communicate to customers that we would not be getting bags. But if a customer really needed a bag, then we would offer one for 10 cents. We just did it across the country, we found it to actually be really successful. Because, in a place where the government is already communicating about things and changing guidance and giving people a lot of notice about how the bag bans are going to go into place, it really helps us as retailers. Also, it helped us to come up with a consistent approach that would be valuable for us across PetSmart Canada. So we just overly communicated with our associates and with our customers and it ended up being really successful.

John: For our listeners and viewers, we will put the PetSmart’s most recent CSR report. In the show notes there’ll be a link to that and any other things that Joanne talked about today, there’ll be links to everything. Joanne, talk a little bit about the focus of the future. I mean obviously, it’s important to get through the day’s work and you’re making so much progress already. What are you super excited about for some of the goals that you’re tracking, for next year’s CSR report and other things that you’re working on?

Joanne: I’m just really excited to see, when you have focus and when you set these North Stars which is what everybody is always looking towards, how you can drive impact? I’m also really excited about our associates, they’re such pet passionate people and we’ve really been… we have this program called, The Voice of the Associate program. So when you think about the S side of things and you think about, how we’re trying to create a culture at PetSmart that is one where everybody feels that they belong. Through this Voice of the Associate program, we get so much feedback from our associates and it’s so smart and actionable, that I’m really excited to continue to hear from our associates and to begin to hear from our customers. So I think what I’m most excited about is, thinking about our ripple effect and how we can take all of the amazing work we’ve been doing at PetSmart and magnify and multiply and amplify that, by working with business partners who sell product in our stores, by working with our associates to make sure their voices are heard. The average age of a PetSmart associate is 18 to 25, and so when you think about these issues, when you think about sustainability… look, this is an election year. We launched a Rock the Vote campaign which [crosstalk] also [inaudible] about.

John: That’s awesome.

Joanne: Because I know how valuable those were for me when I was a young person.

John: Yeah.

Joanne: I’m really just excited to have our associates voices heard internally to drive change at PetSmart but also externally, in the communities that we serve. PetSmart charities, which is the largest funder of Animal Welfare in North America is turning 30 this year, and in 2024 PetSmart Charities turn 30. So I’m really excited about that. There are 10 million pets that have been adopted. Were hoping to hit that 11 million this year, as we celebrate 30. They’re also just doing a lot of work even outside of adoption, in thinking about veterinary care and access to veterinary care. I’m excited about the work that PetSmart does to support pets and pet parents, but also the work that we’re doing in the communities that we serve and for our associates.

John: Joanne, you’re not only obviously sustainability rock star and a retail expert but obviously, you broke in the corporate world and communication. So it goes without saying that you’re a communication expert. I heard that your communication tool or some version of thereof at PetSmart, is called Central Bark?

Joanne: It’s called Central Bark. We love those [crosstalk]…

John: That’s awesome!

Joanne: …pet puns, the pet terms, the pet names. Central Bark launched a year ago and it’s been really amazing to see, when you have an app and you have a tool that your associates can use to engage. How you can do what I was just talking about, which is take their voice.

John: Right.

Joanne: Make the change, communicate with them. We love Central Bark, it’s a great tool. John, let me say, I might be sustainability rock star but you are the one who’s been a shining a light on all of this work that everybody does. I always say in sustainability, we’re all pushing the same heavy train up the hill , there’s no competition. Thank you for doing that and for collaborating with all of us and also, from a business standpoint, for helping to drive sustainability forward through the work you’re doing yourself.

John: Thank you. That’s so kind of you. But the truth is, you’re the rock stars but it’s the greatest fraternity. I’m so lucky for 17 years, I get to do these wonderful interviews with the greatest fraternity on the planet. That makes the world, on a regular basis, a better place. Before I let you go today. Talk a little bit about How do you interrelate with your online platform as well?

Joanne: So chewy has actually been separated from PetSmart for a couple of years now.

John: Okay.

Joanne: But I as I mentioned, we are private equity owned and they also have the same private equity owner as us. I would just say, that I actually stay really close contact with my peers at chewy at Petco and across the space, because a lot of these issues are issues for industry and issues for retailers, and we will not solve them alone at PetSmart. So [crosstalk] thank you for question.

John: Yes. Then with regards to the future. What’s one thing that you’re most excited about? We’re having this conversation because we’re going. I’m going to have you back on and we’re going to continue. Because we know sustainability is a journey, there is no finish line. Next year, what are you most excited about coming next year?

Joanne: Well, we really believe that pets enrich people’s lives. So, I just want to see how we can work to continue to expand pet ownership so that everybody can have the love of a pet in their family.

John: Joanne, I can’t wait to have you back on. I really am grateful for all your time today. I’m more grateful for you and your colleagues though, for making the world a better place. Thank you again Joanne Dwyer, for everything you do.

Joanne: I’m so grateful for my colleagues too and I’m grateful for you John. Thank you so much.

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, livestreams and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit 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

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