Friday, September 30, 2016

'Next Gen Responsible Extractives' - a Virtual Reality Experience at COMMIT

The COMMIT!Forum will feature an interactive session titled "Next Gen Responsible Extractives: Leveraging Deep Ecology & Virtual Reality (VR) for High Impact Messaging of Mining's Needs, Opportunities, and 21st Century Solutions." This session is hosted by Charlotte M. Thornton, chairman and founder of Clean Copper Mining, Minerals & Manufacturing, Inc.

CR Magazine spoke to Thornton about her session, and she gave a detailed overview for attendees.

CR Magazine: Why should attendees attend your session? What will they learn?

Charlotte Thornton: Location. Our session takes attendees to Chile where we will explore the largest copper mining district in the world. We invite you to drop by our virtual reality presentation, Trumpet Towers of Light, located by the doorway to the convention hall. You will learn about the world’s largest copper mine tailing, and how its recoveries can benefit all corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioners throughout the supply chain when performed according to parameters we prescribe for realizing the world’s first premium grade Clean Copper defined as Fossil Fuel Free.

There is apparently 13 times more copper in one ton of iPhone 5s, than in one ton of copper ore. Copper is fundamental to everyone’s supply chain, but is typically only acknowledged by the downstream as a life cycle assessment data point for look up in an EPA pre-calculated table, or, in SEC reporting schedules, as 'Not Applicable.'

We observe that the extreme upstream of copper doesn’t communicate with its downstream users. We will be reporting as to this unacknowledged disconnect in terms of our own tediously evolved solution while living as entrepreneurs in Calama, Chile doing systems requirements analysis for systems engineering for transforming a copper mining to run only on solar and hydrogen industrial processes.

We will briefly introduce a new framework for arriving at mega-scale technology solutions for extractives dubbed “Integrated Deep Ecology & Solmaxion Engineering” (IDESOLE). We set forth our IDESOLE framework for thought by all progressive CR professionals simply because it is time to have dialogue and exercise our solutions in the context of ‘deep ecology’ versus ‘shallow ecology’  and especially when crossed with the tenets of Buckminster Fuller. Our Trumpet Towers of Light (conceived in Chile in 2005) are being proposed to be inserted into the world’s largest copper tailing precisely in the spirit of a ‘Bucky Artifact,’ i.e. a perturbation to effect dramatic change because nothing else will or has amidst much change needed.

The mining industry is overdue for change, and oil and gas are close behind for its stranded assets and decoms of offshore production platforms. We make a brief IDESOLE-merited case that ironically Offshore Oil is best positioned to become the next generation of mining and Mining is best suited to become next gen refiners of solar and hydrogen energy, i.e. transport fuels.

Copper is arguably the most important commodity to the global supply chain. The global economy can exist without oil and gas but not without copper. We will prove out how downstream demand for a new premium grade of Clean Copper™ can prove to be the new low hanging fruit for all.

Attendees will walk away with a fuller grasp of how to “see” through to the positive impact upon their own responsibility and sustainability reporting if they were to adopt Clean Copper. We will make clear the unacknowledged impact of the downstream’s copper usage that is unwittingly born daily by the mining communities, workers, and families who suffer unreported pollution levels that no G-20 nation will tolerate.

CR: What is the biggest takeaway from your session?

CT: We advocate transformation of 100-year-old industrial process of copper mining to solar and hydrogen processes even at the expense of preserving metallurgies that yield sulphuric acid as a by product to offset production costs. Our output is a new premium grade of Clean Copper that embodies associated bookable Firm Owned Ecosystem Services. We are informing the entire supply chain how to forward purchase clean copper as a way to avoid paying carbon taxes, which are licenses to pollute.

If enough downstream companies were to adopt clean copper, mining districts can quickly become the world's first regional solar and hydrogen economies outside of the will of the oil companies. An alternative fossil fuel free supply chain would quickly evolve. 

As a de facto member of a global Clean Copper Supply Chain Alliance, hydrogen at the pump will be supported and advocated as having never been closer, dubbed as "Life Without Oil." Clean Copper translates to fossil fuel free for those that want to see it pulled through the entire supply chain.

Check out our website and links inside Crowdfunder and Indiegogo Generosity. We are eager to explore how clean copper can lend opportunities to any large, small, or medium business looking to enhance its responsibility and sustainability reporting in new ways.

CR: Why do you think it’s important for people to attend COMMIT!Forum, in your opinion?

CT: Never has there been 'an opening in the sky' such as now to take back America's heritage of exemplary and ethical global business practices and trade. At COMMIT!Forum, two like-minded souls that unwittingly meet can agree to raise up a new standard, starting a butterfly cascade of change regardless their industry sectors.

The opportunity and implicit necessity of U.S. corporations to once again arrive other nation states, and exude mentorship of technology and innovative corporate culture, versus warmongers after regime change in the name of oil, has never been more important. We must strive to regain our reputation of benevolence, integrity, anti-corruption, and champion of doing the right thing by example.

COMMIT!Forum is the place to be to go for "beyond corporate responsibility and sustainability." The CRA organizers make it easy to COMMIT! with no turning back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Financial Education for Young People – Being Reached by Relatable Voices

Nyandusi Omurwa grew up in Kenya as the sixth of 17 children. His parents couldn’t afford to send their children to high school, much less college, but from an early age, Nyandusi had an incredible sense of determination—and a gift for networking. Like so many young people who face great barriers to success, he created his own opportunities.

Nyandusi found access to books and education through his friends and earned his high school degree, all while working odd jobs to get by. He met his wife, an American, at one of these odd jobs, and in 2009 the couple moved to the U.S., where Nyandusi worked the night shift to pay for community college. Today, Nyandusi is my colleague at PwC—as well as a constant source of inspiration.

PwC has long recognized the need for more access to financial education in schools and has worked to be a leader in filling that void. Four years ago, the firm made a $190 million commitment to educate 2.5 million students about financial literacy through a program called Earn Your Future. Since that time, the firm has reached 3.5 million students and educators; our partners and staff in the New York metro area alone have committed more than 192,000 hours teaching students or volunteering to impact youth or youth education. The firm is also leading the way to help recent college graduates reduce their student debt through a Student Loan Paydown program, and initiatives to help students better understand and manage their loans right from the start are in development—and Nyandusi is taking advantage of this program.

Nyandusi’s story is incredible because of the many hurdles he faced, due solely to his demographic and income status. And though the challenges facing American students—especially those growing up in underserved communities—likely differ from Nyandusi’s, there are many barriers:

• A recent PwC study of K-12 educators found fewer than 12 percent of teachers nationwide address personal finance in their lessons, and fewer than 65 percent of teachers feel it is at least somewhat unlikely their students are receiving any financial education at home;

• Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge; and

• Americans have accumulated more than $1.3 trillion in student debt.

This week, PwC took another step toward raising awareness among students about the importance of financial literacy at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx with rapper and social activist Dee-1 to lead the lesson. Young people know Dee-1 because he went viral with the song “Sallie Mae Back” about paying off his student loans. Ninety-nine percent of students at Cardinal Hayes graduate on time and 98 percent go on to post-secondary studies, so Dee-1 spoke with them about selecting a college based on their career goals and earning potential, and emphasized that they needed to persevere through any challenges they may face. He warned them that low-income Black and Hispanic students have higher loan balances, and drop out with debt at higher rates than white students:“the worst thing you can do is go to college and drop out before you get that degree,” he says. The reception was overwhelming. The students asked questions, engaged with him on social media, danced when he sang, and swarmed him afterwards to talk with him more about his life.

Dee-1 will continue to travel around the country with PwC, teaching more lessons like this because the company believes in engaging and energizing students in new ways. Nyandusi’s story is an inspiration and reminder that there is still much to do to make the business world a more accessible and desirable place for a diverse workforce. PwC hopes reaching students in their schools with messages of financial literacy will continue that work.

—Brendan Dougher, New York Metro Managing Partner, PwC 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Best Practices in Advancing Women in Middle Management Discussed at COMMIT!Forum

Every year, COMMIT!Forum attendees look forward to gaining insights into the CR strategies and best practices of notable thought leaders. The 2016 conference will include a presentation from Joan Michelson, CEO of Green Connections Media.

Michelson’s session, “Best Practices in Advancing Women in Middle Management,” will elaborate on what managers and executives can do to ensure the women in their organizations have opportunities to advance out of middle management and further their careers through specific initiatives and programming.

Below, Michelson answers a few questions about her session and her expectations for the forum:

CR Magazine: Why should attendees attend your session? What will they learn?

Joan Michelson: They will learn new strategies for advancing women to achieve diversity goals and improve their business performance.

CR: Why do you think it’s important for people to attend COMMIT!Forum, in your opinion?

JM: It’s a way for them learn new strategies that work for achieving responsible business growth, from people who are doing it every day.

CR: What aspect of the forum are you most excited about?

JM:  I’m most excited about meeting new people and learning new strategies.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Time to Get Vigilant About Supply Chain Risks

While the fallout of the UK’s decision to exit the European Union has sent shockwaves throughout the political and economic world, Brexit is merely a footnote in the global supply chain risk story. According to the latest CIPS Risk Index, the second quarter of 2016 saw worldwide supply risk reach a level not seen since 2013, with confusion as to the true implications of the move fueling widespread uncertainty and fear. Slow global economic growth, particularly in China, and subdued commodity prices are clouding the picture further.

Short-term protectionist strategies are the order of the day for many companies as they battle against exchange rate volatility, for example. But against this backdrop, a need to address longer-term sustainability issues is being pushed further up the corporate agenda – especially within organizations at the mercy of complex, multinational supply bases. The ongoing and relentless pursuit of low-cost sourcing and efficiency has led to the creation of critical supply chain nodes in at-risk regions. While short-term fear and uncertainty brings unexpected costs and potential disruption, the longer-term implications of failing to tackle sustainability could be catastrophic, putting the very existence of many businesses in jeopardy.

For food and drinks businesses, in particular, the impacts of a changing climate are taking their toll. Extreme weather events, erratic storms, pest outbreaks, drought and disrupted growing seasons continue to put the world’s farmers in an uncomfortable, vulnerable and destabilized position. Their ability to continue to produce the crops companies rely upon is becoming increasingly compromised, particularly in developing countries where smallholder farmers and indigenous communities depend solely on farming to survive.

Take cotton, for example. For every tee-shirt made, around 2,700 liters of water are used in the agricultural process – the same amount of water the average human drinks in three years. But, as the World Economic Forum notes, water security is “one of the most tangible and fastest-growing social, political and economic challenges faced today”. The world is likely to face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water in the next 15 years.

There are also a plethora of social challenges posing significant risk to supply chains everywhere. A recent study by Verisk Maplecroft suggests that companies with suppliers in a list of 115 countries have either a ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk of slavery, with China and India topping the list. In fact, most companies (71%) believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some point within their supply chains, according to the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability.

From human trafficking in the Thai shrimp sector, to child labor identified in the Turkish textile factories supplying fast-fashion giants, human rights abuse is a widespread issue, exacerbated by corruption, political unrest and a lack of legal enforcement and governance.

So, what can be done to reduce the risk?

Central to reducing the risk of being exposed to such challenges is having sight of who suppliers are and where they are located. When the Bangladesh Rana Plaza textile manufacturing complex collapsed in 2013, killing 1,130 workers, the scandal of poor health and safety standards onsite was only part of the story. Many companies found themselves caught up in a story of supply chain negligence without even realizing that their products were made at Rana Plaza.

Increasingly, organizations are making use of software platforms to map their supply chain hotspots. By assessing and analyzing data streams to better understand where assets are located, how many employees are working there and associated ‘risk score’ for regions in which the asset is located, supplier engagement or auditing efforts can be prioritized accordingly, helping to avoid the next disruption or risk exposure.

Engagement is key

Addressing supply chain transparency is largely ineffective unless companies move beyond the first tier of suppliers. However, reaching out to the many thousands of suppliers that support a business is easier said than done. For example, just half of the 8,000 key suppliers contacted through CDP this year bothered to respond – this is despite CDP’s analysis showing that suppliers which did report were logging much better carbon reduction improvements and were much better at identifying risk to their organizations than those that did not report.

A growing number of companies are investing in solutions to facilitate better communication between brand and supplier, for example by initiating a monitoring and remediation system to address child labor in their supply chain. By recruiting and training local agents to work in the field, companies are able to identify children that might be at risk and intervene.

Collaboration is also critical. Because supply chain sustainability is such a complex endeavor, it is not something that can be tackled in isolation. A new survey by the UN Global Compact and Ernst & Young revealed that 78% of 70 large companies interviewed are engaging with non-profits, industry associations, NGOs, and government bodies to initiative collaborative programs. In the apparel sector, for example, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which was formed in 2009 by US retailer Walmart and outdoor clothing firm Patagonia, aims to unify the industry to take a more integrated approach to dealing with some of its challenges. Key to SAC’s approach is the Higg Index, a ‘standardized supply chain measurement tool’ for industry participants to better understand the environmental and social and labor impacts of making and selling their products.

Another collaborative initiative which recognizes the complexity of the textile and footwear value chain is ZDHC – or Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals – which has set out a roadmap to phase out hazardous chemicals use by its members by 2020.

In an increasingly complex and globalized economy, where companies continue to seek out efficiencies in parts of the world most at risk of environmental, social and political non-compliance and upheaval, the exposure to a wealth of supply chain risks is unlikely to dissipate any time soon. In fact, the risks are only likely to get bigger, as rampant investor and consumer demand for corporate responsibility, transparency and traceability leaves little wriggle room for non-compliance, malpractice or plain ignorance.

—Matt Scott, director of business development, UL EHS Sustainability

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Five Stages of Measurement Maturity

There is a transformational shift taking place in the giving sector from traditional philanthropy to results-focused giving. This shift is happening for a number of reasons, but ultimately, better measurement enables greater impact; donors are able to see the results of their giving, thereby increasing the likelihood of continued donations, while foundations, nonprofits, corporations and even the individual change agents that support them, are able to use tracking and reporting information to adjust programs in order to yield the greatest benefits for those on the receiving end.

As a result, the need to measure outcomes and impact continues to accelerate across the giving sector.
However, as a relatively new movement in the philanthropy space, organizations are at varying places and stages of maturity when it comes to measuring outcomes. Some are unsure about how to even get started, while others are looking for sophisticated technological solutions to aid in measurement and reporting. Knowing your organization’s current capacity when it comes to measurement is half the battle, but in order to deepen your impact, organizations should always be striving to advance measurement capabilities.

MicroEdge+Blackbaud has found that there are five stages of outcomes maturity that organizations work through as they develop their outcomes capacity in order to truly become a results-focused organization. In response the company worked with The Rensselaerville Institute to develop a tool to assess an organization’s place on the maturity model. Making a few small changes in your organization’s measurement activities will yield a big impact in advancing your organization’s maturity level from stage to stage over time.

1. Minimal. In the minimal stage, as the name implies, an organization has little to no focus on results measurement. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re in this stage—everyone started here at one point, and this stage presents a lot of opportunity to grow.

2. Basic. Measuring results tends to be more ad hoc, open-ended or reactionary. In moving from minimal to basic, giving organizations should work on creating consistent outcomes or performance indicators—make sure that apples are apples and oranges are oranges. The indicators should reflect anticipated achievements in each of program area. Additionally, get clearer about results-focused questions in grants applications and ask for anticipated results and outcomes during the application process—ensure that it’s clear as to how progress will be tracked along the way. Organizations should also implement result-based reporting throughout the grant term (not just at the end of the grant)—and when following through on outcomes tracking, use that data to assess the effectiveness of program activities.

3. Developing. Organizations at this stage are likely measuring results across all the major focus areas of a program, but now may want deepen their impact. To move from Basic to Developing, organizations should rethink their approach to funding and perhaps consider a shift to focus on achieving systemic reform to ensure their measurement approach considers both long-term intended impact (those that will directly affect participants and communities) and the shorter-term goals (such as convening stakeholders to agree upon best practices and methodologies). Organizations should also put an emphasis on outcomes in capacity-building investments, which will help get better results for participants in the long run. Construct programs in a way that measures increase in operational efficiency, reduced costs to deliver programs, decreased time to achieve results, or any other relevant capacity improvement measure

4. Strategic. By this stage, organizations are leveraging results data to inform key decisions about funding priorities. Here, evaluate risk and return by thinking like an investor—look for opportunities with low risk (such as high confidence that partners can achieve their intended impact) and high potential returns (confidence that an organization will achieve as much as possible with support), so that resources are being directed toward activities that will help meet goals.

5. Integrated. In the integrated stage, measuring results is woven into organizational culture, and it cuts across all focus areas, guides current and future decision-making, and informs program strategy. Now it’s simply about strengthening something that is already strong. Outcomes and results data should be used to make nimble program adjustments and to turn data into learnings at every point throughout a program, using information to change course as necessary to meet goals. No matter where an organization falls along the spectrum of measurement maturity, by emphasizing the importance of capturing and using results data and information at every point on the journey toward impact, organizations can begin to create stronger, more meaningful and impactful giving programs.

—Michelle DiSabato, impact market executive, MicroEdge+Blackbaud 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build an Inclusive Talent Strategy at the COMMIT!Forum

This year’s COMMIT!Forum will feature presentations from some of the most influential thought leaders in CR. One of these leaders is Diversity Basics CEO Nereida Perez, who will share insights into creating an effective talent strategy.

Her session, “How to Build an Inclusive Talent Strategy,” covers best practices and resources that will enable participants to build an inclusive and collaborative strategy to address talent development needs. Attendees will leave with a checklist that they can use to create an action plan and measure impact.

Below, Perez answers a few questions about her session and her expectations for the forum:

CR Magazine: Why should attendees attend your session? What will they learn?

Nereida Perez: Our nation is facing a critical talent gap with regards to STEM talent. More than 80 percent of jobs will be created in the next 10 years requiring skills in the technology and math.

CR: What is the biggest takeaway from your session?

NP: I’ll be sharing a template that can be used to help companies build recruiting strategies to increase  the talent pipeline.

CR: Why do you think it’s important for people to attend COMMIT!Forum, in your opinion?

NP: The conference provides an excellent opportunity to connect with likeminded people who are committed to driving change globally.

CR: What aspect of the forum are you most excited about?

NP: As a presenter and attendee am excited to learn the latest in innovative practices from other companies and leaders who are helping to improve our workplaces and communities.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Governance of the Corporate Sustainability Function

This year at COMMIT!Forum, Louis Coppola of G&A Institute and Veena Ramani of CERES will present a plenary session titled, “A View From the Top: Governance of the Corporate Sustainability Function.”

In their session, Coppola and Ramani will discuss investors’ increasing interest in the role of corporate boards in driving companies’ sustainability agendas. As company stakeholders increasingly expect businesses to operate sustainably, the case for board-level oversight of sustainability issues has grown more and more prevalent. However, even as recognition of environmental and social risk factors has become increasingly mainstream, companies differ in the level of which they commit to formalized systems of sustainability oversight at the board level.

This plenary panel will examine these differences through case studies of various corporate responses, and will review the drivers behind increasing interest in board-level CSR governance as well as research on emerging best practices in this area. CR Magazine spoke with Coppola for further insight into the session.

CR: Why do you think it is important for people to attend COMMIT!Forum? 

LC: It's important for people to attend the COMMIT!Forum in order to keep up to speed, and learn from real leaders in the field on the latest developments in CSR, Sustainability, Citizenship and related Environmental and Social issues. It's also one of the best places to network with leaders in this space year after year.

CR: Why should attendees attend your session specifically? What topics will be discussed, and what value will this session bring to attendees? 

LC: Our session will approach an increasingly important topic which is how the organization governs the sustainability function. CERES and G&A Institute will explore independent but related research studies on best practices and current state of the practice when it comes to important sustainability governance topics such as board oversight, cross-functional teams, board committee charters, risk and opportunity management and other important areas of how a company manages its internal sustainability function.

CR: How does board oversight of sustainability issues strengthen the ability of the company to integrate sustainable solutions into their strategic planning and operations? 

LC: Having the board involved in the oversight of ESG issues demonstrates to the employees, investors, customers and other important stakeholders that the company understands the importance of ESG and is taking the proper steps to measure, manage, and address these issues. The board is the governance body that can consider strategic ESG issues from the organizational level (not from within a Silo) and can make decisions and allocations can be made swiftly to address these important issues. This improves the company’s ability to be resilient and strategic in their planning and operations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

COMMIT!Forum Session Highlight: Managing Reputation Risk

The COMMIT!Forum will feature a session titled "Managing Reputation Risk: A Low-Tech, High-Touch, Cross-Functional Process."

Reputation risk is at an all-time high, but board members are not satisfied with just what the CFO or Chief Risk Officer provides. Join Anthony Johndrow, CEO of Reputation Economy Advisors; Joan Walker, former COO of Allstate; and Richard Woods, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Capital One; during this informative session.

Attendees will learn about reputation risk, and how it requires both an application of expertise and effort to organize a cross-functional leadership effort to provide input to better assessments of identified systemic reputation risks and strategic plans for addressing them.

There are advantages to this:
1) the requested resources are for proactive effort (not reactive);
2) the other functions are already “on-board” with any approved plans; and
3) the “ask” is not a one-time case-building exercise, as it becomes a process that the board mandates going forward.

CR Magazine spoke with Johndrow about the session, and why it can't be missed.  

CR Magazine: Why should attendees attend your session? What will they learn? 
Anthony Johndrow: Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability are positive concepts – concepts that have trouble motivating action in some organizations without the leverage of fear. Reputation Risk is a top priority for boards and CEOs – link your Responsibility work to the effort to reduce and mitigate their biggest fear.

CR: What is the biggest takeaway from your session?  
AJ: Very, very few companies have figured out a way past the barriers to managing Reputation Risk: subjectivity, functional siloes and the crisis mindset. At this session you will hear from two executives who accomplished the impossible and embedded sustainable Reputation Risk Management into their companies.

CR: Why do you think it’s important for people to attend COMMIT!Forum, in your opinion? 
AJ: Working inside any company risks loss of perspective and cramps your ability to be innovative. Events like COMMIT!Forum provide an opportunity to listen and learn outside the box, from your peers who have similar challenges in their companies.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How a Group of Farmer-Owner Restaurants Uses the Family Farm as a Business Model for Sustainability

It’s often assumed that it’s not possible to maintain high-level sustainability practices while still remaining profitable, especially in the restaurant business. But Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG), which operates a handful of popular restaurants in and around the nation’s capital, is doing just that.

The group is doing far more than just talking about the importance of sustainability practices. They are living and breathing them in everything they do, from the buildings they call home to the food they put on the table, to how they manage employees and their careers. For owners Dan Simons, Mike Vucurevich, and the 42,000 farmers that make up the North Dakota Farmers Union, sustainability is not a marketing ploy, it is a belief system.

 “We do what we believe. And it works. Sustainability means trusting that caring for the planet and caring for our people will result in healthy profits,” says owner Simons.

What do sustainable day-to-day operations look like in a growing multi-site restaurant business? FRG filters everything they do “Through the Eyes of the Founding Farmer.” This tagline is more than a catch phrase—it is a decision-making paradigm for the owners, managers, chefs, and support team. Because more than half of this company is actually owned directly or indirectly by family farmers, this is not a stretch. Many of the company’s founding principles come from farmers:

• The land and waterways we call home are essential;
• Ingredients and the people that provide them matter;
• Neighbors and communities are important for survival; and
• True success is measured over the long-haul, not in quarterly spreadsheets.

Many would see this novel approach as a risky way to run a for-profit restaurant company. But it is paying dividends for the restaurant group, as their flagship location of Founding Farmers has held the No. 1 most-booked spot on OpenTable for the last several years, along with having three of their restaurants on OpenTable’s most-booked in Washington D.C. list.

The outcomes are also seen in the company’s growth: with four restaurant locations, revenues currently over $50 million dollars per year, and more than 1,000 employees, the company plans to open three more restaurants over the next 18 months. The mission of the company and expectations of the investors and owners allows the company to operate like a B-Corporation. Without the typical pressure of quarterly earnings reporting, which can lead to short-term thinking, FRG has the latitude to consistently pursue socially and environmentally conscious programs.

An Environmental, Green-Centric Approach 

All of the company’s four locations are LEED Certified. The pursuit of LEED adds approximately $100,000 to the budget of each restaurant—relating to furniture, fixtures, equipment, and methods. The process starts with the architects and having two LEED-AP certified people on the internal team to ensure they meet the right criteria from the start of each restaurant. The latest D.C. restaurant under construction and slated to open late 2016, Farmers & Distillers, is being designed to meet LEED Gold standards, which their flagship restaurant achieved in 2008. This expense is viewed as an investment that results in not only lower utility bills, but as building blocks for customer loyalty and increasing sales. The dining experience highlights how the restaurants are built and furnished, motivating potential diners to support this green-centric approach. There is no requirement that a restaurant pursue this level of environmentally-thoughtful design and construction, but for FRG it is just another aspect of the farmer mentality.

The commitment to being green doesn’t end here. The restaurant currently in development in King of Prussia, Pa., will have solar panels on the roof, and the company continues to raise the bar with ongoing guidance and accountability via a third-party auditor, the Green Restaurant Association. As official partners, FRG offsets some of their greenhouse gas emissions with the purchase of carbon credits. The overall return on all of these green investments is compelling. Cash on cash returns range from 12 to 33 percent annually per location.

FRG uses their menu selections to participate in solving some of our world’s environmental problems. Since their first restaurant, they have been working on ways to serve sustainable fish; but more recently they are looking to serve invasive species of fish. For example, Blue Catfish have spread rapidly into the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay after being introduced nearby for recreational purposes. At the rate they are growing and reproducing, it is likely they will have a negative impact on the ecology of the bay, including on the blue crab population. Commercial fishing industry can make a difference. Serving the fish in restaurants can help build demand and raise awareness to these environmental issues, locally and beyond.

The company also supports honey bee research in the biology department at the George Washington University (GWU) to better understand colony collapse disorder and explore other issues facing these hard working pollinators. In addition, FRG partners with Sweet Virginia, a non-profit organization that educates children about the critical role of honey bees in pollinating plants, fruits, and vegetables, and the overall positive impact they have on our environment. This honey bee awareness is also encouraged in the restaurants: at the Tyson, Va., location there is a seasonal sunflower installation honoring the bees; and at the Potomac, Md., and D.C. locations, there are bookshelves devoted to beekeeping wisdom.

High-Quality Ingredients from the Supply Chain 

The food and beverages at this collection of restaurants are a large part of what keep bringing their guests back for more. Almost everything that comes to the table is made fresh, in-house, down to the condiments. They bake their own bread (approximately 118,000 loaves per year), grind their own beef, press their own juices, and churn their own butter.

“We call it unbundling the industrial food chain,” says owner Dan Simons, “which is a large part of keeping our restaurants as socially-conscious as we can. We source pure ingredients in order to cook, mix, and bake our food and beverage items from scratch, in-house, every day, all while honoring American family farmers and their hard-earned bounty.”

The restaurants work to direct their purchasing dollars to American family farmers and suppliers that align with their values, seeking the freshest ingredients available. Where possible, they develop relationships with farmers, and even visit their land. For example, they have a mushroom farmer in Lancaster, Pa., and have been to the farm and used this experience in their menu development. They work with two primary butchers and distributors who advise the company how to source the best meat for the restaurants. The flour they use for their bread comes from the state-owned North Dakota Mill, and the profits go directly back to the people of North Dakota. They are partners with Cornell University’s Maple Program, who have taught them about making maple syrup and provide it for all of their very popular weekend brunches and weekday breakfasts. Of course, this cannot be the case with everything they buy, but it is a goal when possible.

While the source of food is critical, so is what happens when it arrives. In these restaurants, there are no walk-in freezers or storage closets filled with packages of preservative-laden food. They receive deliveries six days a week, sometimes more than once per day, and very often the food comes off of the trucks and moves directly into production and to the tables. Their kitchens turn their entire food inventory over every two-and-a-half days.

The company’s next steps include establishing an in-restaurant distillery (Founding Spirits will be a distillery attached to the restaurant, Farmers & Distillers) to create a direct supply chain by having relationships in the field, at the still, and in the bottle. Here they will source wheat from the president of the NDFU and N.D. resident, Mark Watne, who is a fourth generation farmer, and rye and barley from a Virginia farmer, Billy Dawson of Bay’s Best Feed. This level of relationship and vertical integration is the model they plan on pursuing with more and more products and epitomizes corporate responsibility and green methods management relating to food, beverage, company culture, and facility management.

 Community Work Adds Value 

Charity work is very common in the restaurant and hospitality industry that, according to the National Restaurant Association, makes some sort of charitable donation annually to the staggering tune of $3 billion. FRG believes in participating in and giving back to its communities. They support local youth athletics including KOA Sports, a non-profit league working to change kids lives through sports, and the local high school booster club; they participate in countless fundraising events to raise money for important community groups such as Share Our Strength, DC Central Kitchen, and St. Jude’s Research Hospital. For the past six years, they have also put their money into fostering sustainability mindsets in the young professionals at GWU. The company funds an annual scholarship at GWU to recognize students who demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly industry practices and to actively engage with the university community.

These initiatives, and the FRG sustainability business model, connect the company to its community and its neighborhoods, driving revenues through loyalty, as evidenced by a 95 percent “intent to return” metric, as measured by OpenTable diners. Even the investors share in their belief system. In fact, many of the company’s shareholders are drawn to invest because of the sustainability practices and their connections back to the community.

The Long View is More Sustainable

As for its own people, Simons and Vucurevich also have a holistic approach to everyone who works for the company. Even their management style is “Through the Eyes of the Founding Farmer.” The company has a working “Constitution” and encourages the career development of all employees. These restaurants are high-performing, fast-paced environments, but they also foster career growth and loyalty. “We treat our people like family. Why would we do it any other way?” says Simons. “We want our people to excel and be happy. It’s good for them and good for us. Our management experience directly aligns with the farmer mindset. It just makes sense and is more sustainable in the long run.”

A direct result of these tactics is seen in the caliber of the management, and specifically with management retention—with turnover below 15 percent annually, the company sees that management loyalty is directly connected to their management style, green focus of the restaurants, and ongoing commitment to education. Every quarter, the leaders of the company teach “school”: a time when where the managers receive classroom learning, do role playing, and discuss everything from leadership theory to time management. They also use these classes to teach the importance of sustainability at work and at home.

Tips on How to Operate Sustainably 

The principal owners of Farmers Restaurant Group, who also run a restaurant and hospitality consulting company—Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group—have some suggestions for how to develop sustainable habits. First, sustainability needs to be considered an investment. It isn’t necessarily ‘cheaper’ to be green – but it is socially and environmentally responsible, shouldn’t break the bank in the short term, and could actually save you money over time.

Areas to consider in your own business include:
• Investing in compostable ToGo-supplies. Pricing for these materials have become very competitive, and it’s only a matter of time before many cities, such as D.C., will start banning substances like styrofoam.
• Composting and recycling your trash. This may seem cumbersome and messy, but once it is set up, it doesn’t take much more for staff to put a glass bottle into one can versus another. Compost pick up is a special service, but it is the environmentally responsible choice in restaurants where there is a lot of waste.
• Committing to energy-efficient lighting and kitchen equipment, which over time should save money.
• Using an in-house water filtration system will prevent prevents thousands, if not more, of glass/plastic bottles from being used and can provide filtered water, flat and still, for all guests. FRG uses the Vivreau system.
• Supporting the local community, which builds relationships and, most importantly, loyalty.
• Being creative and evaluating everything. There are many opportunities to begin to unbundle the industrial food chain. Also develop relationships with suppliers to learn more about food sources. The economic impact of keeping money in the community and in the USA is clear.

-The editors