In Their Words: Erin Callahan, Director at the Climate Collaborative
OPN recently caught up with Erin Callahan, the new Director of Climate Collaborative. Erin brings extensive experience at CDP and We Mean Business, where she worked directly with hundreds of the world’s largest companies, industry groups and investors, supporting them in making leadership commitments to slow climate change—including science-based target-setting, renewable energy commitments, deforestation goals, and more.
OPN Connect: What is the Climate Collaborative? Why is it needed now?
Callahan: The Climate Collaborative is a project that brings together the natural products industry—from manufacturers to suppliers, distributors, brokers, and retailers—to inspire and facilitate action on climate change. We are a project of OSC2 and the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA), and launched at Expo West in March of this year.
Specifically, we are encouraging companies to commit to action in one of the nine areas we have identified as the most effective pathways for the industry to mitigate climate change, including improving the energy efficiency of their operations, increasing their use of renewable energy, reducing the climate impacts of the agricultural practices used in their supply chains, reducing food waste, and supporting policies that will help mitigate climate change at a local, state and federal level.
We keep the barriers to entry intentionally low—participation is completely free of charge—in order to give companies an easy on-ramp to tackling climate change regardless of how large or sophisticated their operations are. Our programming then provides the tools and resources to help support implementing these changes, and we showcase companies displaying best practices whenever possible.
The urgency for action is stronger than ever—the private sector accounts for over half of global emissions. In order to reverse climate change, companies have to step forward and do their part. We believe that the natural products industry is perfectly poised to lead the way in tackling climate change, just as it’s done with organic agriculture, non-GMOs, fair trade, and other issues.
OPN Connect: What milestones have you achieved and what do you hope to do in the future?
Callahan: We’ve been amazed at how quickly and powerfully the industry has responded. Since we launched six months ago, we’ve already surpassed our Year One goal of supporting 100 natural products companies in making commitments to climate action. In fact, more than 120 companies have made nearly 500 commitments to date. From Annie’s to Cliff, DanoneWave, Dr. Bronner’s, the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA), Nature’s Path, National Co+op Grocers, Organic Valley and many more, we are seeing major brands from every corner of the industry take action, collaborate with their peers, and participate in our work.
OPN Connect: What services do you provide to members committed companies? What are the benefits to a company who is a member participates?
Callahan: We host monthly webinars on our commitment areas that bring in partners and experts to provide practical guidance for companies on implementing their commitments. We also direct companies to tools, training sessions and communities of practice where possible to educate them on steps they can take in their operations, and to foster deeper, wider-reaching collaboration across the industry.
In addition to the technical webinars and email newsletter we provide each month, we’ve recently launched our first “action group” for companies working on carbon farming. We call it Rooted Community and we’re offering it in partnership with the Sustainable Food Lab. The goal is to help a smaller group of companies work together to share knowledge and find new ways to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change, and make it part of the climate solution rather than part of the problem.
OPN Connect: Why is it pertinent for organic fresh produce companies to be involved in climate change solutions?
Callahan: Agriculture accounts for about 13% of climate change-causing emissions globally so it’s critical that the sector be part of the solution to the climate challenge. To really tackle climate change as an industry, we need every part of the industry represented, and it starts at the farm. We need farmers working with their buyers and vice-versa to set common goals and join forces to reach them.
Produce companies are key to this approach, because they touch the wholesale, retail, and direct markets and can influence the entire food industry. Taking action on climate change is a natural leadership position for the produce sector, and we invite them to join the Climate Collaborative so they can work alongside others in the industry to really drive forward meaningful solutions.
OPN Connect: Are there organic produce companies that are currently members of the Climate Collaborative?
Callahan: Yes! Stahlbush Island Farms has just announced commitments to energy efficiency and food waste. We are also delighted to have two produce distributors, Organically Grown Company (OGC) and Veritable Vegetable, among our committed companies. OGC has made six commitments through the collaborative - to carbon farming, energy efficiency, reductions in food waste, packaging, renewable energy, and transportation. Veritable Vegetable has made commitments to energy efficiency, food waste, and transportation. We are really thrilled to have these three companies and we know they represent the tip of the iceberg in the produce sector. Over the coming year we hope to support many more produce companies in making and implementing climate action commitments.
OPN Connect: OSC2 Executive Director and Climate Collaborative co-founder, Lara Dickinson will be moderating our Sustainable Packaging Session at OGS in December. What are your hopes or outcomes from this session for the farmers?
Callahan: It’s probably equal parts information gathering and information sharing. We hope to start a dialogue with farmers and produce companies about their primary challenges on packaging. We also plan to share practical steps they can take to assess the impacts of their packaging and to begin to reduce its impacts, from conducting life-cycle assessments to switching to new packaging products. And of course, we would be thrilled to have companies join the Collaborative as part of the session, as well! And if any companies are interested in learning more or joining before OGS, they can learn more at http://www.climatecollaborative.com.
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