In December 2012, Brian P. Kelley assumed the role of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR) president and CEO, taking over from Lawrence J. Blanford, who led our Company for nearly six years. The two executives sat down for a far-reaching discussion about the business and sustainability, exploring where our Company has been and where we are headed. Excerpts of their conversation are found below. You can read the entire fiscal 2012 sustainability report at www.gmcr.com/sustainability.
Q: How has the GMCR dialogue regarding sustainability changed as the Company has grown and evolved?
LB: The world has become increasingly complex, and companies must be far more proactive and transparent as they respond to broader societal pressures. We’ve been on a tremendous growth track, moving from several hundred million in sales to several billion, from under 1,000 employees to nearly 6,000 employees. As we have grown larger, we have a responsibility to proactively communicate the strategy of our Company.
BK: That’s one of the big opportunities we have because we have people who truly believe in sustainability and believe it’s the right thing to do and that it ultimately will benefit our business too.
Q: Coming into the Company with a fresh perspective, Brian, where do you see GMCR doing well in socially and environmentally responsible business performance, and where do you see the biggest areas of opportunity for us?
BK: We do really well on strategic impact. If you look at the entire supply chain, as well as how we integrate sustainability into our products, every program we have is designed to be more sustainable for the consumer in one area or another. The impact we’re able to make on our local communities and the impact we’re making on our employee base — it’s authentic, it’s real, and the impact gets greater as we grow.
I haven’t seen a company with this kind of genuine, integrated sustainability commitment. It’s one of the key elements that attracts people to us, and it’s one of the elements that attracts consumers to our brands. That’s really our opportunity: How do we stay in the lead and continue to stay on the leading edge.
Q: What industry challenges are coming down the road in the next five years?
BK: I think the resource shortage is real, no matter what resource you look at — whether it’s access to water, access to energy, or access to land. Resource scarcity is a concern in terms of how we buy products, how they’re shipped, how they’re consumed, and what happens with the products at the end of their life cycles. Is there a clear path for getting that product back to useful life again in some other form? I think there are lots of opportunities in front of us.
LB: Historically, we’ve been very focused on one primary commodity — coffee — and ensuring that the world and GMCR have adequate supplies going forward when faced with climate change impacts or political risks. But now we’re moving from coffee to apples, strawberries, cocoa beans, tea, and a host of other ingredients that have their own supply chains. While we understand the coffee supply chain pretty well, we’re only beginning to understand how we facilitate the sustainability of our other supply chains and ensure high-quality supplies for our business going forward.
On the brewer side, the supply chain continues to become more complicated in that we are moving from one manufacturer with one platform in one country to multiple platforms, with multiple manufacturers in multiple countries. The opportunity for us to continue to think about sustainability on our supply chain side continues to expand exponentially and will be very challenging.
Q: Do you see opportunities for increased industry action in some of these areas?
BK: It’s hard to prompt industry action if you’re not doing it yourself - that’s Principle Number One. The second piece is you can’t do much on your own. Things work better when you work as a team and you collaborate. Whether it’s between us and our industry, or between us and governments or NGOs, there are lots of opportunities out there.
LB: One of the principles we’ve tried to use at our Company is to let science and facts guide our initiatives, as opposed to emotion. We also build credibility as we go forward by carefully picking those areas where we can truly make a difference. And there are only a few areas where we can uniquely be that leader. Packaging is certainly one of them and coffee supply chain is another. By focusing our efforts, we can develop a leadership position and help move the industry.
BK: And all the while we must recognize that there’s a lot out there that we still don’t know and there are others who know a lot more than we do. I think that’s been the spirit all along: we don’t know everything, but we can learn quickly. Participation in multi-stakeholder initiatives is a key way in which to inform ourselves and contribute to the growing base of knowledge on the intersection of business and sustainability. Our participation in the United Nations Global Compact and commitment to the integration of UNGC principles into our business is one example.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.
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KEYWORDS: Business & Trade, People, Social Action & Community Engagement, Reporting, Ratings & Rankings, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Brian Kelley, Lawrence Blanford, CEO, discussion, sustainabilty, Q&A, Report