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 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!

Alas, energy efficiency isn’t sexy

If The Graduate (1967) were remade today, the famous scene where Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) gets career advice might have to be rewritten this way:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say two words to you. Just two words.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is not as sexy as solar power or wind turbines or electric cars. It’s not even as sexy as plastics. In fact, it can be stupefyingly dull. It’s not much of a punchline. But it matters. It matters a lot.

Efficiency isn't as sexy as Mrs. Robinson's stockings
Efficiency isn't as sexy as Mrs. Robinson's stockings

Today, I’m in Indian Wells, Ca., in the southern California desert where I spoke to the Energy and Technical Services Conference of the Food Marketing Institute. About 450 people are here. They are mostly engineers, responsible for the energy operations of America’s supermarkets, and the business people who sell them such products and services as micro-channel coil technology, optional variable speed EC motors, refrigerant-based industrial dehumidifiers, advanced aerodynamic fan blades, fluorescent leak detection products, etc. Breakout sessions covered such topics as “Refrigeration Innovation: Evaporative Misting/Cooling” and “The High Cost of NOT Doing Preventative Maintenance” and “Energy Innovation: Target Ventilation Case Study.”

Are you still with me?

Here’s the thing: These are the kinds of people who, if they do their jobs right, are going to help us solve the climate crisis. [click to continue…]