PR’s Top Pros Talk… How To Make Sustainability Appealing – Katya Hantel
Katya Hantel, Senior Director of Sustainability at Conagra Brands
>> More episodes here
>> Also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and others.
About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: KATYA HANTEL
DOUG: Katya, with sustainability growing in importance within the food industry, how do you go about trying to translate what might be overly scientific information to people from a communications standpoint?
KATYA: Sure, well, we’ve got to spend a lot of time acting as translators and really taking what scientific data and quantified and turning it into a story, that the average consumer can understand. So, for example, last year we avoided more than ninety thousand tons of carbon emissions through sustainable product and sustainable operations projects. But what does that mean to your audience? We use a tool called the EPA Greenhouse Gas Calculator publicly available. Great tool. To help us translate a carbon footprint into something more meaningful. So, for example, that ninety thousand tons of carbon emissions, that’s more than two hundred and twenty million miles in a car. And those two hundred twenty million miles and a car is more than off to Mars. So being able to tell that story in our annual news release about our sustainability projects coming out of our Sustainable Development Awards is really important to turn science into something meaningful for the audience.
DOUG: And there’s also sort of another translation narrative, if you will, from sort of sustainability. Oh, that’s just a corporate social responsibility piece to now. It’s actually become a business imperative.
DOUG: Sure. So we when we talk about sustainability, we put it in the frame of driving growth or managing risk. So if we’re talking about one hundred percent certified sustainable palm oil that manages risks of deforestation to our business and our ingredient supply chain, when we talk about things like our fiber goals for frozen meals and healthy choice and elsewhere, we’re talking about driving growth because we’re giving consumers an alternative to plastic microwavable trays by putting that food into fiber.
And by doing that, we have avoided more than four point five million pounds of plastic from ever being created, while sales have really increased for those types of products as well.
DOUG: And sustainable nutrition is sort of a topic that’s coming up and it means more than one thing. It means more than just shepherding the environment as products are being created and distributed. Can you share maybe those two meanings to give a full understanding?
KATYA: Sure, absolutely. Well, it’s pretty logical if you think about it. Why would a company create products that are good for the Earth, that are bad for people, the people who live on the earth?. So those our environmental sustainability team closely collaborates with our nutrition team on a platform within our R&D organization called Sustainable Nutrition. So how we communicate about this is in things like our citizenship report, talking about healthy choice products and sustainable packaging in our investor relations communications, talking about eight point four billion in revenue annually coming from products that have health and nutrition attributes.
DOUG: And it’s also a sustainability story being driven by millennials and different attitudes among younger people that can be part of the workforce as well. How is that influencing what you do?
KATYA: Absolutely. So today, millennials are the largest generation in the workforce in the US and what that has done on the sustainability side, it has brought that generational passion into the workplace. Today, we’re able to set bolder sustainability goals like having one hundred percent sustainable packaging by 2025, reducing the carbon footprint of our products by 20% by 2030, because we have a workforce that is really passionate about these areas. And the second thing it does is it expands our workforce.
So within a company like Conagra, we might have a handful of people who officially have sustainability in their title. But last year we had more than two hundred sustainability projects driven by employees, many of them millennials, who are personally passionate about this and have figured out ways to make their daily work advances sustainability of the organization and help us tell the story.
DOUG: As many organizations are trying to tell more of a sustainability story as they’re moving their businesses in that direction, it is a challenge to break through. I mean, you’re still using sort of huge numbers. And that’s just part of the reality, because measuring what you save and making it meaningful. What’s the reception been on the media? And is it something where you’ve got to just take control of the communications yourself, your own channels, or can you get broadcast? Can you get other media outlets really interested in covering this story in the way that you would want?
KATYA: Sure. You have to think about your audience. So when we talk about Conagra brands sustainability to our investors, we’re talking about the overall organizational footprint and that impact. But we really break down those metrics for the brand. So Mrs Paul’s and Andy camps are two great seafood brands in our portfolio. We partnered with the Marine Stewardship Council last year to relaunch those as one hundred percent certified sustainable fish brands using social media to tell the story to get generate some traditional and social media interest in that type of program. We had to take it to the brand level. We all also use third party nonprofits who are great communicators to help promote our story and give it authenticity that makes it meaningful for consumers.
DOUG: One other challenge is you are a master brand with many brands underneath, you’ve mentioned some of this, some of them during this conversation, they each may have different audience needs and sort of different sustainability profiles just by the nature of what they are and what they provide. What some advice and how difficult can that be to navigate those different changes? How do you overcome it?
KATYA: Absolutely. So we’ve got about one hundred brands in our portfolio, not all of them we leverage to tell a sustainability story at the brand level. You have to come up with internally. Which brands are your communications priorities? Which of them have the most sustainable product attributes? Which of them appeal to consumers who are naturally more geared towards sustainability? These are the products that are sold in Whole Foods. These are the products that have a millennial profile and you focus your storytelling on those. You’ll never hit every brand in your portfolio, and you don’t need to. For investors, roll up the major impact into a master company story and metrics. But for the brands, pick and choose where you’re the most positioned to tell a strong story and focus there.
DOUG: One other thing, as we wrap up the discussion that maybe you can provide some insight. Obviously, we millennials are making up such a large part of the workforce and that includes in public relations and in communications. If they want to take a greater role and take a greater part in persuading companies and organizations to focus more on not just sustainability, but also the communications around the sustainability. Do you have any advice for them?
KATYA Sure. Well, first of all, a communications professionals should understand that sustainability is everywhere. Anywhere a company is saving money, reducing material volumes, even volunteering. So employee social responsibility programs, that is all that is a ready-made sustainability story that can be leveraged externally without a lot of change on the company’s part. So this is not daunting. It’s not a daunting story to tell. And secondly, there is a market for it. We see these headlines in traditional media. We see these posts in social media. We see these even on package communications, driving engagement with consumers. So I would think about it in that way, that there’s a lot of business opportunity and there’s a lot of made messages you probably have to work with if they’re framed the right way.
DOUG: And based on our discussion, I think there’s going to be a lot more job opportunities in communications for people can effectively understand and share that story to the growing audience that wants to hear about it and know what brands are doing. Thanks so much for sharing your time with us.
KATYA: Thanks for having me. Great talking to you.