Elizabeth Sturcken - Managing Director at Environmental Defense Fund

Elizabeth Sturcken - Managing Director at Environmental Defense Fund

Elizabeth Sturcken leads the work of the Supply Chain EDF + Business team. She works to leverage the power of the marketplace to make every product safer, healthier and better for the environment. She has been at EDF for over 20 years and has led our team of people working with retail and consumer product companies to create broad environmental change in areas including climate change, agriculture, green freight, toxics in products, waste and renewable energy. She leads EDF's work with Walmart and has done so for the past 10 years.

She led corporate partnerships with other major companies such as FedEx, to develop the next generation delivery vehicle and UPS, to create more sustainable overnight shipping packaging. Elizabeth’s team includes three people based in Bentonville, AR, three in Washington, DC, two in San Francisco, and one in Raleigh, NC, and one in New York.

Elizabeth Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • The Supply Chain Solutions Center 

  • EDF's involvement in the development of Walmart's Project Gigaton program and what was learned

  • Importance of science based targets and corporate engagement in climate policy

  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders

Highlights from the Interview:

The Supply Chain Solutions Center. Tell us a little bit about this tool, how it came about, some features and how this is going to help people as they work sustainability through their supply chain.

Let me tell you a story from my work years ago. Work that I'm really proud of. I led a partnership with Fedex to come up with our next generation vehicle which was a phenomenally successful bit of work. We really created a new vehicle in the medium duty truck marketplace and it's ended up rippling through that marketplace. I think we did it faster then the market would do on its own. But at the end of it, despite how successful it was, I just had this realization that this is not fast enough. This is not cutting it. It took six years to do that project and as successful as it was, and as wonderful as it was, the planet can't wait that long. We just need to be doing a lot more scaling of the work and doing it a lot faster. At EDF we collectively came to that realization.

Well, EDF created the Supply Chain Solutions Center as an answer to this problem of how to engage many companies on sustainability and help them along this journey. The idea is to make sustainability as easy as using Netflix or Spotify. What we're doing with this Supply Chain Solutions Center is we have beginner, intermediate and expert resources, all sorts of different case studies, templates for building sustainability plans and then also opportunities for connecting with NGO experts. This all covers at this six different areas: agriculture, energy, chemicals, waste, forest and freight. Anybody could create a free profile by going to supplychain.edf.org. We created the Supply Chain Solution Center out of a need that we heard from supply chain professionals and we tried to gather up all of our years of experience in working with companies.

We surveyed sustainability professionals ranging from people who are doing the work in the trenches to directors and C-suite executives at leading consumer package good companies and asked them what they need. Their top challenge with implementing sustainable supply chains was finding credible resources quickly that they could use or send to their suppliers. It's just an ongoing challenging need. One factoid that I found both hopeful and alarming is that 50% of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy goal according to calculations by WWF, but only 5% have goals on the scale science says is needed. So, everybody on this journey needs more help. Just as Netflix doesn't offer just movies from one studio or Spotify doesn't just promote one record label, the Supply Chain Solutions Center is meant to gather resources from many different parts.

Over ten NGOs are contributing resources to the site and it's just a real product of collaboration. EDF has birthed this baby, but everyone is helping to make it thrive. The NGOs that have contributed resources are Business for Social Responsibility, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Further with Food, Conservation International, Field to Market, The Sustainability Consortium, CDP, ReFED, Greenbiz group and Shelton Group. So, it's a phenomenal collection of resources all together in one place and done in a way that people can get at the content that they really need.

Tell us about what you are seeing with companies setting sustainability targets in their supply chain and how your tool can help companies with this?

The one thing that will differentiate companies that is the make or break thing in achieving sustainability is a public goal. That is so critical. If I had to urge companies to do one thing, I would say try and set an aggressive yet achievable sustainability target. Because what we've known really in companies for years is setting clear goals makes you drive towards them. You have to have goals that are appropriate. You want them to be achievable but you want them to stretch you. The other critical piece, given that we're talking about our planet and a healthy planet, is they need to be in line with what the science tells us is needed, and not just on climate but on chemicals of concern, water use and all sorts of different issues.

So, really trying to follow the science and use the best available science is critical. I think the Science Based Target Initiative is a great resource and many companies are starting to do that. That's really what's needed. Now, that doesn't mean that if a company isn't at that point, they shouldn't set some goals. Set some goals, get going, get your feet wet, use the Supply Chain Solution Center and try to figure out what you can do. You can tailor the content for the beginning of your journey and you'll get what you need in order to figure appropriate goal setting. If you're further along, you want to try and set more aggressive goals, you want to do a materiality assessment and figure out what are the key issues that you need to focus on. The resources are there in the Supply Chain Solutions Center.

I will emphasize to let data be your guide. Find out where your big hotspots are in your supply chain and in your operations. I think that that's one thing that I've learned over and over again from my work with companies, and most recently in our partnership with Walmart. We worked with Walmart to set the first supply chain carbon reduction goal in 2010. We all thought thought it would be a little easier than it turned out to be. They had just come off of exceeding their goal to sell a hundred million CFL light bulbs and then thought there's a lot of opportunity in the supply chain for greenhouse gas reduction. Yes there is, but the truth is that achieving the reductions is a lot harder than than you expect it to be. It definitely takes hard work, but I think our real breakthrough came when we started using data to look across their supply chain for all their different product categories. For example, we figured out fertilizer was a really big hot spot given how much food they sell and given how greenhouse gas intensive fertilizer is. So, the light bulbs went off and we realized this is a huge area of opportunity for us and for Walmart to engage it's food and ag suppliers who produce all the food that they sell. So, having science based targets, having rigorous goals and using data to figure out where to focus is important. Focus on the big boulders first and let the pebbles come later. I think that part is really critical.

What is one piece of advice you would give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?

Ask for help. I know that lots of nonprofits and NGOs like EDF want to help. We work with a number of other really excellent NGOs like WWF, TNC and groups that also focus on specific issue areas. They want to help so don't be afraid to admit that you need help and work together.

What are you most excited about? Right now in the world of sustainability?

The most exciting project I've led here is our work with Walmart on Project Gigaton. I guess I'm feeling like the most exciting thing that I'm seeing is it feels like people are really becoming aware that we need to act and I'm very hopeful and inspired by companies that continue to step up. I mentioned Walmart and Project Gigaton. Target just set their are science based goal and they committed to engaging their supply chain to set science based targets themselves. These are companies, along with Mcdonald's, who are just really leading and they're really big powerful companies that are setting the bar high. It's also important to make the point that right now sustainability leadership requires policy engagement by companies, and that's an area where very few companies are leading right now. The reality is that we will not get to where we need to go with just voluntary corporate action. We need policy to bring up the floor and create change and bring every company along.

What is one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?

I recommend a brand new book that I just got. It was written by Bob Langert who ran sustainability at Mcdonald's for years. It's called The Battle to Do Good and it's excellent. I heard that you interviewed Bob for this podcast so I'm putting a plug in for folks to listen to that podcast. Bob worked at Mcdonald's for over 25 years and he was the person that EDF partnered with when we together created the model of corporate NGO partnerships. It really takes you through the journey of one person's attempt to change a whole company and who he partnered with and how he did it.

What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in your work?

I guess I'd give a shout out to Greenbiz because I feel like they have been around forever and they are the go to resource. You read Joel's newsletter every Monday morning and it just hits the mark and it's really interesting. I highly recommend Greenbiz. One thing that I feel is important to highlight is what I'm seeing with my team, and that is that we're living in times that are really stressful. We're hearing a report every other week about climate catastrophe. There are horrible floodings in the Midwest. I live in San Francisco and we couldn't go outside and breathe the air two years in a row because the wildfires were so bad because of climate change. It can be really overwhelming, especially when you feel like things are going backwards in the country. I really believe that taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do to maintain your sense of balance and perspective is so critical because we can't fight this fight if we can't bring our whole selves to work and fight. So, take your vacation time, go read a really good fun, fluffy novel or whatever. I honestly think that that is as critical as a tool or support for people doing sustainability work is just take care of yourself. Go do that yoga retreat and exercise. We've got to be our best selves in doing this really important work.

Where can people go to learn more about you, your work at EDF and where can they find the Supply Chain Solutions Tool?

Our blog has lots of tips and our take on the corporate sustainability news of the day. You can check it out at business.EDF.org\blog. I'm on LinkedIn and my Twitter handle is @ESturckenurken. The Supply Chain Solutions Center is at: supplychain.edf.org. Please go and visit, use its resources and let us know what you think.