As a leading yogurt manufacturer in the U.S. and abroad, France’s Danone long has advanced the broader purpose of making people healthier. CEO Emmanuel Faber has promoted a forward-thinking corporate responsibility manifesto built around the pillars of sustainability, health and wellness, summed up in the tagline: “One Planet, One Health.”
So it came as little surprise that after Danone’s U.S. arm, Dannon USA, merged with WhiteWave, the global leader in plant-based “milks,” earlier this year to form DanoneWave, the combined entity supersized its sustainability focus.
As a top 15 food and beverage company in the U.S., DanoneWave aims to pioneer purpose-driven business by codifying, promoting and activating a corporate commitment to preserving and restoring the environment, to benefit human health and to advance a positive impact on society.
In April, DanoneWave was designated as the largest public B-Corp (or Benefit Corporation) in the U.S., meaning the company is legally permitted to pursue goals beyond sales and profits—or, as DanoneWave puts it, “to produce a public benefit and operate in a responsible and sustainable manner.”
It’s also pursuing a global B Corp designation, which requires certification by a non-profit organization that evaluates the company’s commitment to the greater good.
Some early results of this enhanced focus on “corporate purpose” include a commitment to sustainable dairy farming and pristine milk supplies that Dannon, whose brands include Danimals and Oikos, has initiated. The Dannon Pledge involves a huge move toward non-GMO milk supplies and toward redefining the brand’s relationship with farmers.
“I’m a true and strong believer that being a ‘big food company’ doesn’t have a negative connotation but a positive one,” Mariano Lozano, CEO of DanoneWave (and previously CEO of The Dannon Company), told brandchannel. “We like to regard ourselves as a big and good food company. We have a role to play… We have the power to move the needle. If you do the same with a small company, it will be harder to move the needle.”
Lozano told us more about the opportunities and challenges in running America’s largest public-benefit corporation:
What does being a B Corporation do for DanoneWave?
I see my role here as being a constant reminder to people that we need to walk the talk. It’s a journey of inspiring the team. The first big impact is within the company: It drives a big level of pride for what we call “DanoneWavers” and creates a level of engagement that is even higher than before.
The second is employer branding, attracting talent. More and more when we sit with young people we find that they’re very engaged in the story of our company, and we’d like to be seen by them as a company on a mission. That drives our attractiveness so that you can bring in talent that you couldn’t if you didn’t have this story to tell.
The third part of this journey is that being a public-benefit corporation can help you build equity.
Is there a down side to “walking the talk”?
You have a constant tension between the short-term and the long-term. We’re a listed company—our parent company is Danone—and DanoneWave comprises about one-fourth of [Danone’s total business], so we behave like a listed company. We have short-term financial results to deliver and other normal stuff. But a lot of us who work for this company like to have an impact the community we live in and to leave a better planet for our kids.
What can you do as a B Corp that you might not otherwise do?
For example, we are analyzing health insurance for DanoneWavers. [In order to qualify for B Corp status] there is a certain number of points that you need to score, and how much health insurance you give helps determine the number of points. If you’re mindful of that, it’s driving part of your decisions on that issue and others, such as parental leave. You know that the more of some of these decisions you make, the more points you can put on the table.
Have other companies with B Corp status helped you on this journey?
We started an advisory committee to help us and the chairperson is Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia. When you think about CEOs who have a clear stand on a variety of sensitive issues, she stands up clearly.
Patagonia is taking a stand against President Trump’s release of some public lands in Utah. What do you think in general about CEOs who take public stands on political issues?
I highly respect leaders who take a stand. But it’s difficult to align everyone on every subject. We need to pick our battles. And for us, the two journeys around the Dannon Pledge and getting B Corp certification for the company are significant.
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