Can one person change a company? Discuss…

I’m giving a speech to the grocery and food manufacturing industry–and I’d like your help.

I’ll be the closing keynote speaker at a Sustainability Summit in December in Arlington, Va., organized by the Food Marketing Institute, a trade association of grocery retailers and wholesalers (Ahold, Kroger, Price Chopper, Publix, Wegman’s, Winn-Dixie,  etc.) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade association made up of the companies that produce much of what we eat (Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Dannon, DelMonte, General Mills, Kraft, H.J. Heinz, Kellogg, Kraft, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and many more).

These folks, needless to say, can have a huge impact on the environment and on our health. So it’s a great opportunity for me.

Because I’ll be the last speaker that people hear before they go home, my plan is to give a talk called “The Power of One.” It’s about how one person can change the world–not by himself or herself, of course. But by mustering the right arguments, and enlisting the right allies, one person can change a company, an industry and eventually change the world. I’ve seen it happen, more than once. In my 2004 book, Faith and Fortune, I devoted a chapter called  “Can One Person Change a Company?” to a woman named Barbara Waugh and her impact on Hewlett Packard which was, then and now, an enormous global company.

Where do you come in? Well, I have some stories in mind of people who have had an impact on corporate America, but I’m eager to hear more. If you know of someone who, with their passion and commitment and smarts and strategic thinking, helped make a company, big or small, more sustainable, please let me know. (Post in the comments below or send an mail to marc.gunther@gmail.com) I’m going to write  about some of those people for this blog and tell their stories in the speech. They need not work in sustainability or corporate social responsibility–in fact, I’m interested in individuals or small groups of people  who broke through silos or made things happen without having institutional responsibility.

And, if you work in the grocery or food business, by all means come to the summit. Ken Powell, the chairman and CEO of General Mills, will give the opening talk–it’s always an encouraging sign when a CEO is willing to give a speech on sustainability. Other speakers include Matt Arnold of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Gwen Ruta of Environmental Defense, Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund, Jon Johnson from the University of Arkansas (who is leading the Sustainability Consortium), writer Andrew Winston, Dave Stangis of Campbell Soup, chef Barton Seaver, Aron Cramer of Business for Social Responsibility–and those are just people I’ve met or interviewed. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with then, as well as meeting new people. As my friend Joel Makower likes to say, networking is great–and not just because it’s only one letter away from being not working!

Comments

  1. Marc:
    For your talk, here’s a quote I wrote years ago. It’s in the form of a koan.

    “You have to do it by yourself,
    And you can’t do it alone.”
    Martin Rutte

  2. Corporations are just people bound by beliefs, values and articles of incorporations. It can be done, its not easy, but with the right person and the right system conditions, it does happen.

  3. Mark,
    My family owns a small chain of grocery stores (13) located in Ohio. Although we are a small cog in a big wheel, we are very pastionate towards sustainability! I noticed how much waste our company generated each day from our restaurant, meat, bakery & produce scraps and hauled to a land fill. We knew there had to be a better way!. We partnered with a local composter and, with the cooperation from our trash hauler, began hauling all of our scraps to be composted. However, just composting wasnt good enough. We wanted to close the entire loop by selling our compost at each store’s location where the scraps were originally gernerated. We designed a retail bag to sell our compost. As a result of our efforts, so far in 2010, our thirteen grocery stores have sold nearly 3,000 bags!

  4. I am the dietitian for Ingles Supermarkets. I don’t think many of our customers actually understand what sustainable means but if we talk more about supporting local then that seems to resonate. One thing that Ingles has been doing is working with a regional group, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Projet (ASAP) http://www.asapconnections.org, to bridge the gap between local farmers and our supermarkets (202 stores in 6 states). ASAP has worked with most areas of our store and helps to facilitate relationships and connections with farmers and teaches them how to get their products into the supermarket.

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