132: Lorna Davis, part 1: C-suites and B-corps (transcript)
This is a long episode but if you care about business, business school students wish they had access to global corporate leaders at the frontier of change like this episode. Lorna and I are in person, we are talking about multinationals she’s led across the globe. We also talk about vegetables and we talk about major leaders reduced to tears reckoning what they could do but have put off for too long. Lorna has influenced big global business helping shift Danone USA to become a B Corp working directly with the CEO. That’s a billion-dollar company making a fundamental shift to its corporate structure. The parent company made twenty-five billion dollars last year with over hundred thousand employees. So if you don’t know what a B Corp is and you want to know what’s a B Corp, what difference does it make, Lorna will explain everything from her insider personal experience view over the course of our conversation. Her story about changing herself from winning the rat race which she was doing but not achieving what she wanted to in life to living by her values and succeeding more that starts about 17 minutes in. Her explanations about B Corps comes about 30 minutes in. And again, business schools don’t give you access to this insider view like Lorna gives. The shift is huge. The shift to a B Corp not just for one company but in general is likely a systemic change to capitalism but enacted voluntarily by capitalists, not by government, not from without. Even if you know about B Corps hearing her insider view will and I don’t know any other way to say this it will blow your mind. B Corps look to me like one of the greatest signs of hope and expectation of success out there.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m here with Lorna Davis. So when we spoke the first time, we didn’t have a great Internet connection and so now we’re in person and the conversation was great and I think we’re just picking up where we left off. So, listeners, we are just picking up where we left off. So let’s go.
Lorna: Hi. Well I was just thinking about you at lunchtime because I read your rant on Brussels sprouts and I was at a restaurant and I ordered I don’t know the Portobello sandwich that doesn’t have bread you know. And it was exactly like that like you’ve described it. It had all this crap all over it, all this sort of sugaryâ€¦
Joshua: Salt, sugar, fat.
Lorna: Yeah. Exactly.
Joshua: Those things go together.
Lorna: Exactly. And I felt really sad because there were really nice vegetables under there that were completely ruined.
Joshua: Yeah. I think the rant wasâ€¦ The title was Americans hate vegetables.
Lorna: Indeed, it was.
Joshua: Yeah. Like last night I was at something and I got some tacos which by the way I brought my fork and a spoon and I brought a little container and they serve me in my container and I looked at the tacos and it was like, â€œThere’s no vegetables.â€ I mean there was some guacamole but I saw in the thing that guacamole is coming out of a package. So they weren’t chopping up avocados. And there were no vegetables. Iâ€™ll put a link to the rant so people can read it. But the upside of vegetables is they are really delicious. Part of what I mentioned to you about coming over here was to make you a vegetable stew. You had already had lunch. Are you hungry?
Lorna: No. Iâ€™m fine.
Joshua: Okay. So when I make the stew it’s almost all local vegetables, beans from dry but I take the bag with me to the store and weigh them and nutritional [unintelligible] is the same thing and a lot of times I prepare it and people watch me like I make a show of it and I say where I got the stuff from and talk about all my not packaging and how it all led to this.
And they see everything that I do and it’s not rare, it’s not all the time, but they’ll take their first bite of it and they go, â€œThat’s really good. What’s in it?â€ And I say, â€œYou saw every single piece that went in here.â€ And I believe that they’re used to seeingâ€¦They associate. If I put a lot of broccoli and kale and some squash in it, they are like, â€œWell, that’s not going to taste good. What are you going to do to make it taste good?â€ And then it tastes good because vegetables taste really good. And people have just lost that.
Lorna: Your palateâ€™s adjusted. I mean your palate is different from average people these days.
Joshua: That’s the case with sugar and salt but it tastes good anyway. Even with no adjustment to palate it tastes really good. I’ll have to have you over here again because now you have to eat likeâ€¦ I believe you will agree with me. Now I’m accountable to everybody so you can judge that.
Joshua: But you have to taste it. And actually, I’m kind of holding off on getting new stuff because I just got back and my refrigeratorâ€™s unplugged. So I’m trying to see how long it can go without plugging it back in again. And once I make the stew, I always make like five-six-seven meals which I have to put in the fridge because I was on a month-long trip and I had to finish it all out.
Coffee earlier today I met with a former client of mine. When I was coaching him, he was a CFO at a publicly traded company and he contacted me and said, â€œIâ€™ve been listening to your podcast and I want to change. And I got two kids and a wife and it’s not straightforward exactly what to do.â€ And so we met for coffee and he doesn’t need to care about this sort of thing. And my hunch was that he didn’t really care before and the podcast influenced him to contact me and do stuff. Anyway, most of the time I was sitting there just talking to him you know interacting and I was like, â€œThat’s reallyâ€¦ Maybe there’s change happening.â€ Because so far people are saying you got your guests and sometimes they listen and they say they really liked the podcast but very few people are coming back and saying, â€œNow I changed.â€ And if I don’t lead people to two things – on the environment side change their behavior, on the leadership side say that enjoy it, that is rewarding, that they like it in some way, that it builds community, those are the measures. Do they change behavior? Are they happy with the change or they want more?
Lorna: It’s interesting for me that I’m noticing that children are becoming an enormous motivator for people to change. I hear a variation of the story that I’m about to tell you often. I was talking to a very senior person at a packaging company about nine months ago and our first conversation was sort of cool. I guess somebody on his board had suggested that we speak and you know you could tell that he was being polite but wasn’t really engaged. And about four or five months later he contacted me and was obviously very serious. Now he was going to have a big event at his organization to discuss how they were going to tackle the way that they operated going forward. And I said, â€œI’m really delighted to be here but I’m kind of intrigued about why you’ve changed.â€
And he picked up his mobile phone and he showed me a photograph of plastic bobbing around in the water and a text message underneath from his daughter that said, â€œI hope you’re proud of yourself, dad.â€ And you could see that the pain for him was very serious because he’s built a whole life on being a serious business person, providing for his family doing what he thought was right. In a legacy business that’s challenging, and by the way while he’s got an enormous number of forces against him criticizing him for polluting the ocean, he’s also got an enormous amount of demand on the other side, people who continue to want the products and he’s got shareholders and he’s got a whole lot of stakeholders to satisfy. And by the way, he’s got an enormous number of employees who are relying on his company for jobs. And in the context of all of that he was pretty clear that he had his values straight at the beginning and one of his values is obviously being a good and successful dad and providing for his family. And that was kind of crumbling in front of him like a house of cards. And I’m hearing that kind of rhetoric a lot from people. And of course, once they get into a place of accepting that this canâ€™t continue, then the creative process of reinventing yourself begins. Before that when you’re in denial, no creativity is possible. So it’s interesting. I’m sure that your podcastâ€™s having an enormous impact on people and I think people are hearing from many angles and it’s quite possible that that person that you’re talking about his children probably had some kind of contribution to that conversation as well.
Joshua: He’s a little torn because he’s like, â€œThey eat a lot of chips and thereâ€™s a lot of garbage.â€ And I was advising him to work on himself first and not try to bring them along. In some cases they’re ahead of him, in some cases he’s ahead of them. Yeah, family’s a big challenge because a lot of people use it as an excuse like, â€œOh, well, if it was just me, I could do it. But you have to understand it’s a family.â€ On the flip side, you have people like Bea Johnson, I donâ€™t know if you know her. And so sheâ€™s a zero waste person and family of four – her husband, two sons, and all of their garbage for a year fits in a small container. And that blows people’s minds. Certainly, I don’t compare myself to Americans. It’s really tempting to say I pollute less than people around me. The most polluting people ever, I mean maybe there are some cultures that pollute a bit more but go back in time and there’s never a pollution like this at all. So itâ€™s very tempting to do that and be like â€œOh, good. I can be comfortable.â€ but I prefer to find role models who are way ahead of me.
Anyway, so family can be challenging but I also had another guest Jim Harshaw. His challenge that he took on was to take public transportation for a while. It turns out where he lives outside of Charlottesville Virginia there’s a bus that goes directly from his home to right by his work. But then he realized it still took extra time. And he came back and said, â€œJosh, this isn’t going to work. I’ve got four kids and they’re worth too much to me.â€ I said, â€œHow about we schedule an episode one point five to talk about and maybe we can work through this?â€ And in between when you schedule that and when we actually spoke, he sat down with his family and said, â€œKids and wife, I took on this thing I really care. I want to do this. I care about you too and I don’t want it to take time away. And together why don’t we do something here?â€ And it was that event alone my read is that that was a fun family building experience. On top of that they found other things that they could do. So he substituted taking public transit. They do more carpooling and that means that they’re spending more time with the kids and connecting with the kidsâ€™ friends of the neighbors and then they just started going off on other stuff and so less packaging for the school lunches. And it’s a building closeness. If you’re stuck seeing the world fromâ€¦ The way I look at it is we have a system, a global economic environmental system the way that we work. And I don’t blame anyone forâ€¦ Up until very recently I don’t think anyone could have guessed that little humans could affect the planet on a planetary scale. And you can’t blame companies for getting successful based on beliefs that everybody had. Science turns out we can change the world you know mercury in the ground water and carbon dioxide methane and all that stuff.
OK. So now we know. So that doesn’t mean we have to stick in that system. If you stick with the values of that system, then you say things like, â€œWell. I have a job and there’s nothing I can do. My family lives all over the world. There’s nothing I can do.â€ Now I think flying makes people spend less time with family because it sends them far away. So if you think of just Thanksgiving, yes, you won’t see them if you don’t fly. But if you think of flying in general makes you spend less time with your family, makes you less connected with your community, then you realize there’s another set of values and in the new system there’s a set of values that in my experience speaking only for myself but I believe this applies to a lot of people, the values are much closer to my heart. I much prefer knowing my neighbors, spend time with my family, knowing my farmers getting exposure to new cuisines from the vegetables that are grown by farmers near me rather than flying all around the world to get something which by the way happens to be flown here anyway. I can get a mango anywhere. It’s hard to get a turnip though even though the turnips are really nearby. And so I want to connect with those values. People ask why do I keep not flying. It’s because my life is better by my standards and I don’t think those standards of community, relationships and meaning and purposeâ€¦ I have more of those things this way.
Lorna: Yes, and I think what’s interesting underneath the things that you just said and underneath the story you told is the co-creation of appropriate solutions as a new form of leadership. So if you think about the conversation that that guy had with his family where he said, â€œThis is really important to me. Can we talk about how we could co-create something that works for us?â€ he didn’t have the have the solution. He tried his solution. It didn’t work so well. But then he continued to have a desire for a different way and he engaged the people that he loves and cares about and with whom he has a leadership position as the father at that home, as a male adult in that home to create a solution. And what I’m noticing about this journey is prescribing people’s solutions is not that interesting. What’s interesting is prescribing or challenging the underlying assumptions that people have which is what you do. And then if we provoke people enough, it is simply impossible to work it out by yourself. Impossible. Which means that the entire old-fashioned military model of business leadership for example is just inappropriate. So you have to engage a broad range of people so it becomes, this whole journey becomes like a Trojan horse for diversity and inclusion if you like. It becomes the Trojan horse for increasing the millennial contribution to your conversations in a business because you can’t get there without that. So it actually becomes a really powerful big conversation I think. And I’m noticing people stumble into it. I don’t think they expected that at the beginning but then they realized there is no other way really. And then that’s a dance, a journey, a new way of being.
Joshua: Yeah. It makes me think of like minimalism is something that I think people like less stuff. And then when you get into it, it’s not about stuff like that’s not what minimalism is about. One of things I realized is that it’s a misnomer because people who have little stuff they’re actually about relationships and meaning and purpose and that’s them maximizing it. So it’s kind of naming a movement or I don’t know, it’s naming minimalism but what they don’t care about in the opposite direction. What they do care about it’s not about getting rid of stuff although that’s the entry point. And then you do the entry point and youâ€™re like first get rid of a bunch of junk. Next things are like, â€œWait, this is hard to get rid of. Do I care about it? Do I not care about it? And what does it mean to me?â€ And meaning suddenly pops up and then you think, â€œOh, this connects me to this person.â€ Well, but this isnâ€™t that person. Am I actually going to spend time with that person?â€ And then you realize people, stuff gets in between you and people and if that’s the stumbling that you’re talking about in another area certainly for me I didn’t expect food packaging or not flying to lead to the way it is for me.
Lorna: Yes. And interestingly again, I’m listening in between what you’re saying about a new level of intimacy because as you explain to a friend of yours why you’re not giving them a holiday present or you explain to your mother why you’re not visiting her for Thanksgiving your heartfelt values have to be discussed and so they have no alternative but to know really who you are. So I guess it’s a Trojan horse for intimacy too, right?
Joshua: Yeah, a little while ago I spent like probably two hours on an email. Someone wrote meâ€¦ It was someoneâ€™s podcast I had been on. His helper wrote me and said, â€œWhat’s your home address.? And it’s like mid-November. So I am like, â€œThey are going to send me a card.â€ So I spent like two hours writing a note saying, â€œI appreciate it. It means the world to me that you’re saying this but I don’t want to overstate it but I donâ€™t want to understate it and I appreciate the sentiment but I’m sensitive to things that are going to end up in the landfill.â€ And you know how do you say, â€œPlease, don’t send me a card but it means everything that you would do it.â€ And now I have to reuse it so it won’t be like two hours per email. And yeah, it’s hard to do that. It’s hard to talk when you’re in one set of values and someone’s in another set of values it’s tough to get what their values are but if you don’t address them by their values, then it won’t make sense to them. People when they hear me not flying, they think I don’t know, not seeing the world, stuck, not getting a vacation and that’s notâ€¦ When I say not flying I think of community and values and meaning and things like that and my family. If they had the opposite, itâ€™s not going to work and I can’t expect them to be responsible for me as I speak for them to understand.
Lorna: Yes. Although again you know it’s interesting reading what you’re saying is that this journey, the really complicated things in life, the really important things in life perhaps are not sort of five-second soundbites to explain. Itâ€™s all about decisions all of our stands if you like need care in sharing them with other people. And so actually what I’m finding in this journey is a slowing down in general of my life simply because I don’t want to be sort of slick and superficial in a way that I was before and when I want to have a conversation like the one we’re having it takes time and I sometimes don’t really know what I think and so I’m going to stumble a little, another person’s going to stumble a little and so I’m much more interested in having fewer conversations with people that really resonate with the journey that I’m on. And I notice that I’m doing actually quite a lot of minimalizing, if that’s a verb, in people as well. You know there’s a bunch of people that I simply can’t find common ground with anymore. And I was kind of sad about that at the beginning but now I’m pretty pragmatic about the fact that that’s just the way the world is for me now.
Joshua: Yeah. Correct me if Iâ€™m wrong, but you’re not spending less time with other people. You’re just stretching yourself less thin.
Lorna: Yeah. And I am actually spending less time with people. I’m spending a lot more time alone and I am more comfortable alone than I used to be. Which again I think is a consequence of being more thoughtful and more authentic about my choices. And so I’m just really happy to hang out in the park or lie on the couch and read a book in a way that I didn’t use to be before. But then when I am going to spend time with people. I would rather one-on-ones and I would rather longer times. I can barely handle restaurants anymore. I don’t know if this is just because I’m getting old. I canâ€™t hear people in restaurants. I found my whole life has sort of shifted gone down on pace and just eased and I just have a greater sense of well-being really.
Joshua: Are you getting more done, less done, the same done, different done in a business sense?
Lorna: Oh, that’s remarkable. A lot more is getting done but at a completely separate pace, a completely different pace. So you know I used to be very interested in being seen as decisive. When you’re like classic CEO of a big company that’s valued to look like you’re quickly deciding things. Now I mean I’m not a big CEO of a company anymore so that’s changed, the content of my job has changed a bit, but actually remarkable things happen when I slow myself down and decisions make themselves when it’s the right time for them to be made. I find I need to go back and I don’t need to go back and re-engage people like I used to. I used to think I was being decisive and then I used to spend the next year or two years getting people back on the boat and back on the boat and back on the boat because it wasn’t a really grounded decision and that I was making decisions before they were ready to be made. I mean it is very agricultural in a sense. There is no point in pulling out the carrots to check whether they’re ready. Things take time. And so I think I just have a different relationship to time. In fact, a kind of slightly disconcerting difference in the relationship to time you know some things seem to be really, really slow and then suddenly everything happens. Some things seem to be really, really important and then just disappear. Other things didn’t seem to be important and appear. So everything’s changed with reference to time, productivity, decision making, everything.
Joshua: I’m reading that you would not go back.
Lorna: Oh, no.
Joshua: We are laughing because the expression on your face is like â€œOooh.â€ The reason I asked is because everybody when I talk to them about what I’m doing, they are like, â€œI couldn’t do that. That’s impossible. There’s so many obligations that I have that I must do.â€ And what I’m hearing you say is describing a system and they think they’re describing reality. And their participation in that system is a choice and there are other systems and I believe I heard you describing another system that’s equally accessible to people.
Lorna: Yes. But I think you also need to get there in your own time. You know I think for me I have broken every single travelling rule of yours that there could be moved internationally a lot and I lived in China for six years and then I moved to the US for the very first time after that. And the juxtaposition for me of a China, I would live there from 2006 through 2012 so now we’re talking you know the sort of acceleration of China’s economic boom, whatever you want to call it, maturity, strength, speed, it doesn’t matter what you want to call it, the explosion of Chinese people wanting and being able to see what Western rich people have. And then the sheer speed of it in front of my eyes was completely devastating to me. It had never really registered before. And then I came to the US and I saw what it’s like to live in this world withâ€¦
Joshua: The end point of where they were going.
Lorna: Exactly. That’s where they were coming and it was like my whole brain got sort of shaken up and turned upside down. And I’ve never been the same again and I can’t work out. It was like China kind of disconnected you know sort of unraveled me and then the US unraveled me further and it would be completely impossible for me to go back now.
Joshua: Can you describe the unraveling? [unintelligible]
Lorna: In China or in the US?
Joshua: I was thinking ofâ€¦
Lorna: I’ll do both. I had lived in quite a few countries before but I had never been in a country that is so foreign to me at every level. Like I didn’t speak the language. It’s not a Judeo-Christian society, they have completely different set of morality, values, ways of making decisions. It’s a collective environment. You know what the state says matters a lot more than anybody else. There’s no religious underpinning of the country. Pretty much everything was different and I was forced I think into a level of vulnerability and a level of trusting other people and trusting things that I didn’t understand logically to operate because otherwise I wouldn’t have survived and so I started to find other sensors to help me make decisions about what to do. I was running big business in China. I went there to run the Danone business and then my business was sold to Craft and I put the two companies together and when I left in 2012 it was a billion-dollar business with ten thousand people. But you know it’s a big company. And given that I didn’t know what the hell was going on most of the time because you just even if you think you do it you don’t because there’s a whole bunch of things going on at levels that are not obvious to your average Western leader.
Joshua: That’s a culture [unintelligible] also the size and scale like even if you were in your home territory, there’d be stuff going on.
Lorna: Indeed. Indeed. And of course, you know there’s not the kind of data that you would have in a country. You know in the US same size business you’ve got an enormous amount of information, people are tracking sales and you know people track stuff. I mean in China at that time people didn’t track. So people decisions, food safety decisions within the food business you know an enormous amount of complexity. And so I landed up I think operating much more viscerally than I ever had before because there wasn’t an alternative. And I found a freedom and a connection to that that I was surprised thatâ€¦
Joshua: So going by your gut, going by intuition, enough experience and also you couldn’t get any more information so you’re just, â€œGot to go with my gut here.â€
Lorna: Yeah. And got to trust people. I learned some people, not other people listen to people, not listen to me. I mean I just operated at a level of I think subtlety that was a shock to me because I had always been very kind of you know logical but that’s sort of typical trained business person. And at the same time, I really saw that there that they were going for more cars, more meat, more stuff was just decimating the country. I mean I just saw you know the roads being laid. I mean I used to joke. It sounded likeâ€¦ It sometimes felt like aliens were coming from another planet and building another road because they were so quick to build everything and I could see that that where they were going wasn’t going to beâ€¦ I could see the implications for the entire planet just because of the sheer numbers. And I could see really for the first time that that was a mistake this game that I was in. I was leading in fact this capitalist get-more-sell-more-be-more-buy-more game which I had just taken for granted.
And so I think, and everybody who lived in China for any period of time will tell you that when you leave China you’re disoriented and you know it’s kind of a confusing time. And then for me to come to the US which is kind of in a way the extreme version of what the Chinese were looking for lots of things, lots of success, but also the opposite when it came to individualistic versus collective. You know the American Dream, individuality, the innovation, the desire to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make it here was also something I’d never seen before. So the juxtaposition of those two things just led me to some sort of visceral realization that that this wasn’t where I belong. There had to be a better way to live, a better way to be. And I was kind of embarrassed by the way at the end of this because before that I had been proudly capitalist, proudly acquisitive, proudly decisive, proudly business. I’m interested in having intellectual conversations about any of the things you talk about. I would have dismissed you as a hippie at the time. So then I had to make a kind of complete [unintelligible] and accept who I am now which is very different.
Joshua: I donâ€™t read you as a hippie though.
Lorna: No but you know there are many people who would call me a hippie. You know it’s a spectrum.
Joshua: So let’s do an interlude and you are involved in B Corps which is not anti-capitalist to me at all. I’m sure you answer a lot of questions about B Corps. Maybe you could say a few words about it because I heard about it in business school which would be like 10-15 years ago and you involved in I believe the largest B Corp so far. Maybe you could tell us about B Corps and your attraction to them, what you do.
Lorna: So I first want to tell you what a B Corp is. So a B Corp is an organization that has two major characteristics. Number one is it has a desire to use business as a force for good. So there’s a kind of a value underpinning that says that business can and should be a force for good. There’s a legal certification which is in this United States in 36 states. It’s called the Public Benefit Corporation Legislation that publicly states that this organization’s goal is to meet the needs of a broad range of stakeholders, not just shareholders.
Joshua: The company says and chooses whatâ€¦
Lorna: Indeed. But when you become legally and when that becomes your governance you basically sign up to be a public benefit corporation and in whichever state you happen to be and you can explain the details of who those other stakeholders are and you make a commitment to have an external audit of your delivery against that goal. And B Corp certification is a third-party certification system by a not-for-profit called B Lab which basically says this organization is achieving the highest standards of environmental and social delivery. They have a 200-point scale, you have to get over 80 points to get the certification. And so to become a B corporation you need to have that certification and ideally you have the legal framework if that’s available to you in the country in which you operate.
There are about 2700 B Corps around the world. My personal relationship with them came when I was working in Danone in France. We were trying to take business as a force for good to its next level. We had been looking for a kind of KPI system or a certification system that would allow us to say, â€œA-ha! Outside people have verified our organization to be a good one, to be one that’s acting in the public good.â€ And frankly there were none that we were happy with until B Corp came along because B Corp is so holistic. So we said, â€œUh, this looks interesting.â€ We decided to experiment with it. We certifiedâ€¦
Joshua: This is Danone?
Lorna: Danone, yeah. We certified a couple of countries in Europe, our companies, our own companies in Europe. And at this point Danone bought White Wave which is a big organization here, three and a half billion-dollar business in organic plant-based protein and so on here in the US. And my boss who’s the CEO of Danone asked me to come back to the US and create a full entity here in the US to become the biggest B Corp in the world. So I came back last year. We set up North American Danone as a public benefit corporation with the legal status and we made the declaration that we were going to pursue B Corp certification. And on the one-year anniversary in April this year we became the biggest B Corp in the world. And now I’m on secondment to B Lab the not-for-profit helping people in other big companies pursue this journey because what I saw is that businesses are basically metric achieving systems and the current set of metrics that are measured by the stock exchange, stock market measured by investors a simple set of financial metrics. They are not appropriate for the situation in which the world finds itself. B Corp metrics on the other hand cause a company to ask themselves the kinds of questions that you and I started off asking ourselves at a personal level. They force you to ask yourself as a company what’s your stance on solar panels, what’s your stance on workersâ€™ rights, what’s your stance on pollution, what are you doing about taxation, a whole bunch of questions. And so it becomes a really powerful mechanism for not only thinking through who you want to be as a company but also engaging all of the people in your company and also all of the people that you’re doing business with, buying from, selling to. So it’s a really sort of systems approach to better business. So I’m a huge fan. I’m a big believer. I see it working all the time. It’s hard because it’s completely different way of doing things just like deciding not to fly for years hard but it’s worth doing.
Joshua: What kind of things have you seen? So now it’s been, what, six-seven months and actually the process, so plus a year. Okay. I can easily see how someone could say, â€œWe’ve increased costs, we’ve diverted people’s attention from the customers to ourselves.â€ but that’s not the difference youâ€™re saying.
Lorna: No, not at all. In fact, on the contrary. What I found interesting is a few things that are almost notable but there are others. The first is there is no doubt that everybody under 35 in our company is engaged in a way that they never were before because anybody under 35 doesn’t want to work for a big company unless it’s got some mission that’s more interesting than the classic. Not everybody but many. So there is just as we were talking about that man with his kids engaging them in a solution. When we started this journey, we got much more buy in from the more junior people in our organization on the journey. So employee engagements improved dramatically.
Second of all, because it’s impossible to do these kinds of things alone your relationships with your suppliers and your customers get better. So for example, if you take genetically modified feed for our cows we made a declaration a couple of years ago that we were going to move from genetically modified feed for the cows that produce our milk to not genetically modified feed. And we made some commitments you know stage commitments to 50 percent of our portfolio and so on. When we started doing that there was no non-genetically modified cow food available and many of our suppliers of milk and feed said, â€œNo, it’s not possible.â€ We said, â€œWell, you know we’re a big company. This is a big market here. We’re sure you’ll find a way.â€ And it was remarkable how the early movers got on board and said there looks like there’s an opportunity here. And then within two years the goal was achieved and all of the sort of fear tactics about yield going down and how difficult it was going to be pretty much all of those things have evaporated. But also we’ve got that kind of intimacy with our farmers that we didn’t have before necessarily. We had pretty good relationships with farmers but as soon as you make a commitment that’s a full supply chain commitment like that one you can’t have an intermediary so you can’t buy from distributors, you can’t buy from collectives, you have to cooperatives, you have to buy from the farmers [unintelligible] the relationship with the farmers yourselves because you have to be able to see. And so the sort of connections through the entire supply chain have changed and improved remarkably.
I think thirdly our relationships with government and broader stakeholders are getting better and better. If you take the subject for example of recycling, people can criticize companies who make single use plastics or the like but the reality is that if you look at really successful countries and the most successful country in recycling rates and actually using that is materialist Germany at 92 percent recycling and one of the reasons that Germany is so successful is that they’ve got a fully integrated system between the government legislation, the availability of bins, the actual government does uphold the law, there is a market for the materials that are recycled and there is a loop. You canâ€™t do this kind of thing as a single manufacturer. You need to work consistently with the whole community. So for example one of our businesses here did a really successful program in Union Square to teach people what to recycle, what’s trash because as you know the bins in New York City are complete circus. People don’t know what’s recycled, what’s trash, what’s plastic, so we partnered with the local government to work out exactly what the bins system needs to be and what the communication needs to be to get people to recycle properly. And then you can work out how to collect the materials and then you can work out what to do with it.
So as a manufacturer if you’re on this journey, you can’t afford to sit in your company wherever you are and say well, we’re doing our bit over here. You have to reach out to the government. You have to reach out to civil society. You have to reach out to your suppliers, your customers and say, â€œLet’s work together.â€ And so I think what’s happened in certainly and in North America but in all of the companies in the north that have been certified and there are nine now is when there’s a problem the old impetus, the sort of old capitalist impetus let me say is, â€œWell, how am I going to work that out by myself?â€ It’s not possible. The new impetus is â€œWho do I need to get in a room together to work out what to do about this?â€ And then let’s see where we can find common ground. Let’s see who’s going to give take wash and then let’s work on a plan together, let’s experiment our way through.
I mean I think another thing that’s changed dramatically is the old model. You know when I was a youngster as a leader of a business you were supposed to know all the answers. Thatâ€™s not possible now. I mean maybe it was never possible then either but it’s certainly not possible now. And so by definition everything that you’re trying to do is an experiment and trying to work out whether it’s going to work or not get a whole bunch of people together work out if it’s going to work or not if. It works do more of it. If it doesn’t work, give it up and do something else. So the mechanism of experimentation becomes one of the natural ways of doing things. So thereâ€™s whole bunch of benefits and we’re just at the beginning of the journey.
Joshua: This is really fascinating. I mean thereâ€™s so much in what you said that I could pick up on and I think one big thing is that when you talk about systemic change it was something I’ve been thinking very recently. Like a lot of people think, â€œWell, we’ll just recycle our way out of this.â€ or â€œWe’ll get a lot of solar and then problemâ€™s solved.â€œ They don’t get it. There is something that hit me recently. So I am taking Amtrak all across country and this is without question a third-world train system. And in this world, there are first rail train systems and it happened to be that I think there were some Japanese on the train. I couldnâ€™t tell… It got me just thinking about Japan, as far as I know they have a first-world system where lateness is measured in seconds and minutes whereas here it’s measured in hours. And the trains I believe don’t creek as ours do.
The first thing I thought was I wonder what was it like for them. It must be weird. But then I started thinking if you wanted to change Amtrak from a third-world system to a first-world system, what would you do? Well, the technology exists so we can get trains that move double speed of ours but no one would think, â€œJust bring the trains over here and put then on the tracks.â€ Even if you could change the gauge to fit. Thereâ€™s so many things. And so I think if you ask someone how would you change Amtrak so it could go the same speed and have the same on-timeness as Europe and Asia, everyone would get the technology is not all there is to it. You got to changeâ€¦ Ultimately, you’ve got to really work with the culture of Amtrak, the culture the government and people that eminent domain and all this stuff. And that’s a simple system compared to our global economic interacting with the environment system.
And so now you’re talking about one part of the system but itself a big system. I feel like this B Corp hit a leverage point of a system. It’s rare that you get a leverage point that’s so effective at one point and yet it seems to be happening. Did they know, whoever came up with the B Corp concept, that they would get this cascading of effects?
Lorna: I think you need to interview them. They have a fascinating story, the three guys who founded B Corp. I think they would probably tell you that they were just passionate about a different way because they had been sort of in a way burned by the old system. But I think that one of the things that they’ve done very well is they’ve held on pretty tight to the metrics piece and they have a new version every two years. So they’re kind of constantly refining the metrics. And by the way the metric system which is called the B Impact Assessment is free online and if any of your listeners are listening, just go to the B Corp website, go on to the Impact Assessment and just take a quick assessment of your organization and see how it does. Seventy-thousand companies have used it online and only two thousand seven hundred have actually certified. So actually, there’s a really powerful tool there. But I think the really powerful thing of it is the fact that it’s a movement. It’s kind of got a trendiness sort of hipness to it that your normal sort of metrics doesnâ€™t have.
So I’ll give you an example. So Patagonia, we are enormously admiring of Patagonia and I think one of the important elements of this journey is and anybody who’s interested in improving their health and well-being will tell you that the first thing that you can do is to choose the people you spend time with. Choosing your friends actually has an enormous impact on your lifestyle because you hang out with people that you want to be like. And in a way what we did when weâ€¦ Not in a way, actually really when we decided to go on this journey, we actively chose to align ourselves with people that we admire. So Rose Marcario who is the CEO of Patagonia is the Chair of our advisory committee and so she’s been helping us through this entire journey. And when you’ve got Rose Marcario who’s going be in your boardroom in three weeksâ€™ time and you’re trying to make a decision about, I donâ€™t know, solar panel or recycle ability of plastic or this or that, I can tell you it focuses your mind.
But the second thing is that if you look at the way Patagonia does things, again I’ll give you a specific example. We got 84 points. So we just scraped over the 80. We were pleased with ourselves until we discovered that Patagonia had a hundred and fifty-two points and organizations are competitive and that’s good. It’s good fuel. So what did we do? We asked them to get together with us and help us to understand how they got 152 and we got 84. Like where are the differences? How do you operate differently from us? And we got enormous insights into the way that that it’s embedded, in the way every single fiber of every meeting, every job title, every job description, every remuneration package, it’s embedded in them and of course they’ve been on that journey for a long time, we’re relatively new to the party but that became something for us to aspire to. And they’re very generous, in this movement people are very generous. And I can call them up and say, â€œI’m struggling with this, that or the other thing. What do you think? And now help us.â€ And so I think you know you ask the question how did this get this sort of momentum. I think that the sort of purity of the certification combined with the generosity of the movement is creating something very special. I think the big question for them, for all of us really is the speed of upscaling now because there are a lot of people on this journey now, a lot of people, a lot of big companies have bought B Corps, for example Unilever’s got six or seven B Corps I think that they’ve bought. A lot of people are on the journey but you can’t scale this thing too quickly because otherwise you know you make some mistakes really because it’s a completely different way of thinking about business.
Joshua: And not just thinking, but doing.
Joshua: And I have to ask this. So I have Joshua Spodek LLC. Can I make Joshua Spodek B Corp?
Joshua: What does it take?
Lorna: Well, you go and have a look. Is it just you?
Lorna: It should be pretty quick, pretty easy. Just go on the website and see how many points you get. And in fact, what I find interesting about it is there’s a big difference between people who’ve actually done it like actually just gone on the web. Even when I speak to people all the time they say to me, â€œWell, it sounds really hard. What can I do?â€ And I say to them, â€œTake the smallest element of your business and take the most junior person who cares at all about this subject and ask them to go on the BIA tomorrow afternoon and tell you their answers on Friday and they always kind of laugh and go, â€œWell, that sounds a bit simple.â€
Actually, genuinely you just have to open up the website and do it. And then when you actually go through the questions you first of all realize there is a bunch of stuff you’re doing that’s really terrific. So obviously in your case that would be true. But all companies are doing terrific things. You’ll realize there’s a bunch of stuff that you haven’t even thought about. So you don’t know whether you’re doing well or not, you’re not even measuring them. And then there’s a bunch of stuff that you’ve actually not very much. There’s a few things that you’ve actively decided not to do or are doing that are going to kind of count against you. But mostly people are amazed at how well they’re doing in certain areas and the things that they had never thought about yet. I’ll give you an example. We didn’t measure living wage. It’s just not something that we even thought about. And so then we had to not only measure it, we then had to work out how many people in our organization were at or above the living wage. It took us months. Kind of embarrassing.
Joshua: Yeah, that sounds really likeâ€¦
Lorna: That’s great. Itâ€™s good.
Joshua: If itâ€™s happening, better to know and do something.
Lorna: Indeed. And I tell you this is again one of the things that’s important about the journey is the journey begins by working out where you are right now. All right. So if you spend all your time trying to pretend you measure the thing and you don’t, well, that’s not very helpful. So we tease ourselves about the things that we didn’t know or do know. And the stupid things that had never really crossed our minds. But then once you know it then you can do something about it. And then you can decide what you double down on and not because you can’t be good at everything and I think that’s interesting about your approach is very environmentally focused obviously. B Corps assessment is balancing worker’s rights as well as environmental things and animal rights and all sorts of other things. And I think you can choose where you double down. But there are many people who are very good in one area and are really bad in other areas. And we’re trying to make sure that people are at an appropriate level on all of the things that really matter. So it’s a pretty holistic system.
Joshua: So now I have to clarify that it’s leadership first, environment second. So environmentally focused but the primary goals for people to enjoy is for people to feel reward and come back and say, â€œI wish I’d done that earlier.â€ People miss that part in my message. So I’ve got to make that more clear that I’m not sharing compulsion, compliance. I’m sharing joy. I’m not the most eloquent person.
Lorna: No, no. I get your point and maybe I’m not being very elegant in my response but I’ll say what I wanted to say here is that I have enormous compassion for people who are running businesses and employing people. And many people who have very difficult legacy businesses are actually employing a lot of people. So for example if you think about the chicken business you know the frozen battery chicken business. I won’t say the name of the company but it’s pretty well known one in this country that makes those kinds of chickens. It’s a big business. It employs 120000 people today. Now the person who’s running that business has got people buying those chickens, he’s got people growing those chickens and he’s paying people to manage in that business. Those people don’t vanish overnight. That whole system doesn’t vanish overnight. It has to be transformed somehow. And the jobs element of that needs to be taken into account as well as the animal welfare and the environmental issues of that. So it needs to be tackled as a holistic system. And sometimes on any one day, week, month or a year you’re going to be in sort of positive or negative on those multiple measures because you’re trying to measure multiple things at the same time. That’s what I was trying to say.
Joshua: And I donâ€™t know the right order to ask things. I’ve studied game theory and it feels to me like oftentimes you can get groups that will work together to make it better for everyone. But there’s often incentive to cheat. So Tragedy of the Commons is like that. Is it possible that a bunch of B Corps would get together and work really well together and there’d be some pollution crazy company that would reap huge profits by doing what they wouldn’t do externalizing other costs and internalizing all the profits? I guess what happens in a natural ecosystem is that you’ll have a lot of creatures that interact mostly symbiotically and then there’ll be a few parasites that sneak in and humans have evolved [unintelligible] evolved incredible revulsion for ticks and leeches and they are like horrible, like some people don’t like spiders. No one likes leeches. No one likes ticks. And I suspect that the natural world is kind of like that. And is that what happened with B Corps? I’m now out on a limb here and just kind of speculating. Is it possible that there is some that like the defect and win when they get shunned?
Lorna: So a couple of important points in the question because I think actually you’re asking two questions. One is within the B Corp system itself and the other is whether B Corps become competitively disadvantaged because they’re trying to be holistic and other people can be single minded and simplistic. And I think both of those are true. Let me talk first of all about B Corp as a community. You have to recertify every three years. And so there’s independent standards or advisory committee that you know does all the due diligence to make sure that people are continuing to do the right thing. But I think if you actually boil down the way that they work, they have three really important elements that I think are very useful to the world as a whole. The first is that they ask a bunch of questions that I think are relevant and then you have to answer them. Secondly, they have what they call a disclosure questionnaire which is they basically say, â€œWe asked you a bunch of questions but there are probably some things we didn’t ask you that you should probably tell us. So can you please disclose what are the critical issues in your industry, in your business that you think we should know?â€ And then the element which is really the killer element is the transparency of the community. So if anybody wants to complain about a B Corp certification, they can complain to that body and it gets investigated and it happens a lot and it does get investigated.
And so I think their view that transparency and crowd sourced transparency is the magic third element of that sort of triumvirate Israeli smart because obviously some people are going to make comments and ask questions that are scurrilous and not helpful. But the vast majority of questions that are asked by the broader community of the B Corp certification system you know are useful and interesting questions and they cause the system to need to ask itself hard questions about hard things. So for example, today Danone has a breast milk substitute in infant formula business. Infant formula is an incredibly emotional subject and in fact there are many people in the world who are extremely grateful for the fact that breast milk substitutes exist because for whatever reason they are not able to feed their own baby with human breast milk. There are other parts of the world that don’t want anything to do with infant formula because they would rather breastfeed. Both of those groups of people have rights and it’s complicated business. Right now there’s a full investigation into that industry happening that B Corp is doing and Danone is simply waiting for the results, waiting for their ruling effectively.
Now as a manufacturer that’s, on the one hand, kind of it’s a brave thing to do to say to somebody, â€œCome and see my industry and see my behavior in this industry and let me know what you think.â€ It’s really putting herself out there. On the other hand, the way we look at it is it’s fantastic because you got somebody else saying this is what we think of your industry and this is what NGOs and other people who have got a point of view on this, the WHO and so on. I have to say about the industry and if we’re going to certify you as a B Corp, we’re going to need to answer all of those critics. So we’re going to make sure we’ve done our homework. So the magic of this kind of hard-edged transparency and hard-edged investigation is a critical part of the system. So that’s my comment about B Corp.
I think on the subject of whether having these kinds of standards makes you more or less competitive and more or less vulnerable to short-term competitors is you know it depends on your perspective. My perspective is that the benefits of that kind of long-term view and that holistic view far outweigh the short-term benefits of somebody who is simply outsourcing problems that they don’t want and doing short-term shortcuts. On the other hand, it’s not easy. It’s not easy. There are lots of examples in lots of industries of people who are not doing the appropriate thing for the environment, for workers or for animal rights or whatever and are continuing to be financially extremely successful.
Joshua: I feel like this is modifying the invisible hand idea, this model of the free market that we’re as long as everyone looks after their own interests, it works out for everyone whichâ€¦ There was always a footnote of as long as a systemâ€¦ I mean there are certain constraints on that, one of them being that you can move to new territory and get new land and you didn’t have to worry about where the pollution was going. Economists seem to not really like physics. And when you impose physics on it, it’s like you can’t just grow forever. And now I feel like the model I guess I don’t know if anyone has come up with what the symbolism is but it feels like it’s not a nanny state because all the companies that do it have voluntarily chosen to do it and so you can’t say that is imposed from without. Everyone who is doing is chosen to do it and it’s a conscious choice, itâ€™s a deliberate choice that they have to think through and they work out. And it puts a relationship ofâ€¦ It’s not like hippie. It’s still grounded in responsibility and accountability and hard numbers. But it’s more teamwork. I guess it’s the difference between command and control leadership, what you call traditional military leadership which actually the more I work with West Point, the more I find it’s not like that.
Lorna: I should change my language.
Joshua: Thatâ€™s how itâ€™s presented in the movies. And leadership is much more effective. If you’re going to order someone around, sometimes itâ€™s a crisis like we’ve got to get this thing out by end of day, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got toâ€¦ But that can only work if you have a relationship with the people ahead of time and then you circle back afterward and you know okay, we did that and we tried to step on some toes, letâ€™s fixedâ€¦ Let’s see what happened. But most of the time it’s working together.
What you talked about your life. So the B Corp. Because I’ve long said, not long, but the more they get into the environmental stuff, the more I realize if you make something more efficient, say you make a technology more efficient. I don’t know if Jevons paradox or rebound effects. So if you have a system that its primary goals or among its primary goals are growth and externalizing costs and you make that system more efficient, it will grow more efficiently and will externalize costs more efficiently and you know it happens cool, it happens with less widened roads. It has happened with Uber and Lyft that people are driving more miles driven. LEDs are on track to overtake letting things more and lettings more things. And if you change the systems goals and beliefs, then it makes sense. And so if the goals of the system are what it sounds like what I’m hearing about the B Corp goals of taking responsibility for how you affect others.
Lorna: Yes. I think you’re putting your finger completely on it because you inevitably land up needing to do full scope commitment. So if you take for example the CO2, the carbon footprint commitments that we made, carbonâ€¦ What do we call itâ€¦? Carbon emission commitments that we made in the [unintelligible] so we made a full scope. So we basically said we are going to be carbon neutral from the beginning of the cow to the end of the yoghurt patch. And people said, â€œHow the hell are you going to control that because you don’t control the cows and you don’t control the consumer who takes that pot and puts it in the trash?â€ And we said, â€œYeah. We know we don’t now but once we take responsibility for that whole thing, we’ll work out how to do that.â€
And so the dance between declaration and delivery becomes a really important one here and you need to be willing to lean into a scope that’s way beyond your obvious responsibility because otherwise as you quite rightly point out you can’t solve the system’s issues. I mean if you’re in the food business which we are, you are in the agriculture business. By definition you have to take responsibility for the soil, for the animals, for the feed, for the water, for all of it because you’re producing stuff that comes out of that earth. If you’re in the consumer business as we are, you have to take responsibility for whether that person who just finished one of your products drops it into the trash can or into the recycling can. Because by definition you produce that. Now that’s kind of for some people a radical idea. For us it’s not a radical idea anymore. We still don’t know quite how to do it but we’re learning.
I mean the example that I just gave you about Union Square it’s this little example and itâ€™s 2018. By the time we get to 2025 it’ll be kind of the normal way of doing things. So I think your point about broadening the point of your responsibility is the critical element of the whole subject. And it’s exactly what you’re on about basically. You know you said to me the other day when I said I flew to go and visit my mother and you said, â€œRosa Parks took a hit on behalf of the entire society. Can’t you take a hit on behalf of society for not going to see your mother?â€ One part of me went *******. Another part went, â€œYeah. Good point. Fair point.â€ Because I think that that’s the kind of provocation that we all need and the ultimate aim will be the broadening, broadening, broadening, broadening of what we take [unintelligible]
Joshua: I want to refine something you said earlier. You said that when you are aware of things and you can act on them and one of the things I’ve realized and talked to a lot of people about changing behavior with a respect to the environment to meet their environmental values is that everyone will deny this but everyone says, â€œI need to build my awareness and be more conscious and that will lead to behavior.â€ But behavior leads to awareness way more than awareness leads to behavior to the point where I would say, this is what everyone will deny, that use awareness as a goal and using be more conscious as a goal is a delay tactic. And you can delay yourself forever and no one will acknowledge this but it took me a long time to realize that to say I need to raise awareness is delaying things and I believe that the reason you guys had the change was notâ€¦ Yes, you had awareness but the awareness came because you decided to become a B Corp.
Lorna: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s as simple and linear as that and I think it’s different things at different times. So if you take for example the flying thing, I mean the awareness of that comes before action for me.
Joshua: OK. Yeah. I agree it’s cyclical. The thing about awareness with environment, there have been so many front-page stories. Everyone is already their awareness over the threshold of what they need to say, â€œIt’s time for me to act.â€ So yes, you need awareness that leads to action, awareness, it’s actionâ€¦
Lorna: And that’s why I think the question of who you spend your time with is really important. So you know the example that I’ve used many times is running a marathon. Have you ever run a marathon? You look like you would be.
Lorna: Oh, of course. So from the momentâ€¦
Joshua: Let the records show I pointed to my medals on the wall.
Lorna: He pointed to three medals on the wall.
Joshua: Well, oneâ€™s that I’m learning to sail so that I can get â€¦
Lorna: So two marathon medals. So when you decided to run that marathon behind youâ€¦
Lorna: 2014. Tell me the sequence in which that event happened.
Joshua: You mean theâ€¦
Lorna: When did you decide? When did you announce? When did you register? When did you tell your friends? When did you start training? Which sequence did it happen?
Joshua: There’s an old thing in physics of if you want to make a pizza from scratch, first you have to create a universe. Is it something like that?
Lorna: It is. But tell me more simplistically.
Joshua: The best I could do is go backward because I originally registered for the 2013 but I injured my foot like the week before. So you have to go before 2013 but that one was marathon number six so there isâ€¦ Now I got to go back to marathon number one. So that would have been like the late 90s.
Lorna: Itâ€™s kind of too complicated in the sense that all I’m trying to point out is that in that marathon you had to register, you at some point told people you were doing it, at some point you started training either alone or in a club. Did you join a club and did you run with anybody?
Joshua: The Veterans Association organizes run so I’d run with them sometimes, yes.
Lorna: So there’s a combination of declaration, sort of decision declaration, action and then running with other road runners. Simplistically put letâ€™s four things. Now it doesn’t really matter which order you do think those things in but that kind of combination of things is normally what leads to successful outcomes. So you can declare upfront and then start training or you can start training and only tell people that you signed up like the week before. You can join a runners club and you can run every you know three times a week with them or you can run by yourself and then occasionally run with people but that combination of being public about it, to be held to account by other people is actually really important because it keeps you on the days where I’m sure even you want to lie on the couch sometimes and eat Doritos. Maybe you donâ€™t but anyway. On the days that you don’t feel like training you think to yourself, â€œOh my goodness, I’ve already told everybody I am going to run this marathon. I better get out the door.â€
Joshua: I definitely make it. Part of my sharing the not flying is it makes it easier not to fly.
Lorna: Indeed. Because if you flew now, weâ€™ll all give you a hard time so…
Joshua: Actually, I am going to be like, â€œYeah.â€ I didn’t see an inconvenient truth. I think a lot of people said, â€œYeah, it’s OK if we inconvince people. It’s OK to fly around a bunch because it was in service of a greater savings.â€ I think they’re really saying, â€œIt’s OK for me to fly.â€
Lorna: Indeed. It could be. It could be. But anyway, the point that I want to make is that that bundle of things is important.
Joshua: Can you say the bundle again?
Lorna: So there’s this decision declaration, there is action and then there is hanging out with people who would like you to keep you in the game. And so if you take on the subject of B Corp, I’ll give you an example again on B Corp, there are many people who are kind of lurking around the system speaking to me privately and saying, â€œI’ve been [unintelligible] I’m close. But don’t tell anybody yet.â€ But they’re doing a whole lot of action inside their companies. There are other people, one a couple of weeks ago, they’ve plastered all over the lobby that they’re going to become a B Corp. And I don’t think they’ve done anything but they’ve told everybody that they have.
Joshua: So various steps.
Lorna: Various steps. And I think depending on where you are, who you are, how you operate, how your organization operates, all of them are valid but I don’t think that you can skip any of these stages. I think you need all of it. And I do think that if I look at being in the sort of capitalist system and if I look at the way that Danone manages this and my boss particularly, there are times when a very big declaration is useful. So you know when you’re doing well financially, you can make a huge declaration that you can change. Well, if you have bad [unintelligible], that’s probably not a good time for you to make a big declaration about changing the world because people will accuse you of trying to distract people. So it’s a judgment call about what you do, when in this whole thing and I think your point about being onto ourselves about what we use is delaying tactics is a useful reminder. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that awareness is not important to race.
Joshua: Okay. Yeah. I see what you’re saying. There’s more involved. I got to work this out. This is something I’m struggling with is as I see it which is not how they see its so I’ve got to figure out how to communicate this is that awareness I think people see like, â€œIf I commit to this, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be really hard and so I’ll work with awareness.â€ For me I know thatâ€¦ I mean I see the same thing happening with a lot of people what happened with me. When I decided to go for a week to tryâ€¦ I saw a lot of garbage that was mine came from food packaging. And I wanted to decrease that. What I try to say but don’t always say it is that six months passed after I thought, â€œLetâ€™s see if I can go only for a week without packaged food.â€ And then I suddenly thought, â€œI don’t know how to do that.â€ I thought, â€œI got to plan this out.â€ And then the planning got really complicated. And so every time I’d start planning I wouldn’t finish planning and so I wouldn’t start the week. And then Iâ€™d start feeling guilty, not guilty [unintelligible] because my own values and helpless because I knew that I could do it and I wasn’t. But maybe I couldn’t do it. Maybe I was living a life that was contrary to my values and powerless to do anything about it. You start getting really swept up in all the stuff. And the easiest thing to do was to say, â€œI’ll do it later.â€
And so six months passed and finally one day I just said, â€œThis is going nowhere.â€ And really what drove me was my style of teaching was very experiential project based. And I felt like I was approaching it in a theoretical academic analytical way of studying these things which doesn’t getâ€¦ It wasn’t at least in this case wasn’t getting anything done but made me feel like I was doing something because at least I’m thinking about it. And I just said, â€œI know if I just have water and eat some fruit over the next week, I’m not going to die. So it starts this second and I’m going to go at least a week.â€ And you know I don’t know the rules because like I had food in my cupboards. So I worked them out as I did it. And I said, â€œAlright you know I can finish food thatâ€™s inâ€¦â€ My rule was I got to go for a week and I won’t buy any food or packaging has to be thrown away and recycling counts as throwing away. So I don’t know. Is it the best rule? I don’t know. But it worked. And so that shift fromâ€¦ Awareness was there but action suddenly things motivate you pretty strongly when you go to the store and you’re hungry and you’re looking at the shelf where well, that’s in a box, that’s got a rubber band, that’s got a sticker and you’ve got broccoli. All right I guess I am eating broccoli. So that’s step one.
And without committing it never would’ve happened. And I see people doing it. I don’t know how to get them out of that. And, I’m sorry, it’s not that I want to get them out of that, it’s that at the far side of it if it’s not according to their values, that’s their business. I’m not trying to change people’s values. If it’s with their values and something compared to the value at hand trivial is keeping them from something much more valuable, then I want to help them traverse across that chasm. And as long as they see studying and analysis as a step toward action, sometimes it is but I think that’s like one percent of the time.
Lorna: Yes, it’s interesting you say this because I actually have kind of view on this and I’m also looking forward to the fact that you’re probably going to give me a hard time for not being activist enough but maybe not. And I think that in all conversations we bring three qualities â€“ credibility, logic and empathy. And whenever I’m approaching a conversation that I’m sort of thinking about in advance I wonder which one I lead with. You have to cover all three but I wonder which one I lead with. And what I noticed is that in my youth I used to spend a lot of time leading with credibility because I was trying to demonstrate that I knew something. And then once I had some credibility, the next sort of decade of my life I spent leading with logic because that’s kind of the language of business in a way. Now in this conversation, in this whole space of business as a force for good partly because I’m older and I don’t need to establish my credibility and because logic I’m finding is not a very useful teacher I lead with empathy all the time because if I take that man that I started this conversation with who’s devastated that his daughter thinks that he’s not a cool guy because he’s polluting the planet, he doesn’t need to know anything from me about logical things. He doesn’t need to know the facts. He knows the facts but his heart is breaking and he’s trapped because he runs a company and doesn’t know what to do about it. So until I understand where he’s coming from I can’t help him. And the question of what I do once I understand I think is a bit more subtle because I think I’m a little Pollyannaish in the way that I speak about this stuff and I think there is room sometimes to be a little bit more hard-edged on the other side of empathy. But I think empathy is a really important step because people are hurting because they don’t know what to do.
Joshua: Yeah. A long time ago before any of this stuff I gave myself a rule giving people advice that they haven’t asked for imagine you’re telling your mother how to raise a child because I feel like around the world everybody agrees that if you tell a mother her is a child if she’s not abusing the child, if she disagrees, she’s right and you’re wrong. Because my model for talking to people about changing the behavior environmentally is it doesnâ€™t get me in trouble. I imagine I’m talking to someone who uses heroin and doesn’t see problem with it. It brings them joy, it makes them happy. Yeah, they know a lot of people disagree but it works. And I don’t knowâ€¦ I’ve never met anyone as far as I know but I feel like if they donâ€™t want to change, it’s not going to work and people can live happily and not care about the environment. They can go for a long, long time their whole lives without recognizing that they’re living against their own values. Now of course people have conflicting values, comfort and convenience those are values too. But the analogy I used a long time ago, if you walk out in the morning and maybe you stepped in a puddle or it was raining when you went out your feet your socks get wet, then you can go the whole day and if you’re busy you don’t have time to change socks when you go home at the end of the day and you take your socks off, youâ€™re like, â€œOh my God. That was reallyâ€¦ It didn’t bother me consciously but that was really getting me the whole day.â€ And I feel like a lot of it really is like taking off wet socks that have been bothering me all day and eats you up inside except the socks are just your feet. And this is more like your soul.
And I’ve never met anyone who started acting more responsibly environmentally, responsible to themselves who then said, â€œThis is stupid. I’m going to go back to the way I was before.â€ I mean it hasn’t happened yet. It’s a small number because not many people have actually shifted that much. But the other side of it is all that you’re talking at the beginning of this conversation of relationships and values and purpose and it’s so much more purposeful. I feel like the B Corp transition and this is just through this conversation, you know more about it than I do, it’s taking responsibility, accountability in a more holistic way, a more inclusive way. And in my personal life when I think of taking more responsibility the word that I think of is mature, that I’m more mature and taking responsibility before I was mature, I didn’t want responsibility. I didn’t want accountability. And responsibility and accountability mean I can’t do things I used to like. And I must do things that I didn’t use to like to do but that’s always been better. And people talk about the transition that I’ve gone, they are like, â€œIt sounds so complicated.â€
And there’s a couple groups that just totally blows my mind. One is entrepreneurs who want to take on the world and they take on these huge mammoth challenges and they love it and then they say it’s impossible for me toâ€¦ I am like, â€œHow does this one part of your life you’re able to take on the world and this other part you’re completely helpless?â€ And the other’s parents. Because I have never changed a diaper and I’ve never gotten poop on my hands. And they do and they’re happy. I mean how much easier is it to get my hands dirty in a farm than to get poop on my hands? And the guy I was talking to this morning he realized environmentally he was kind of [unintelligible], kind of not, and I was like, â€œYou know if your kid was sick, would you sometimes take him to the doctor?â€ Heâ€™s like, â€œNo, every time.â€ I am like, â€œThat’s what it’s about. Do you regret that?â€ Heâ€™s like, â€œNo.â€ In other contextsâ€¦ I probably get a little piece of what came up in the conversation.
Lorna: Yes. So you were talking about the differences in what people are willing to do, what they consider to be difficult not difficult? Yeah, that’s true. It’s paradigm. It’s perspective. And as you say once you have just as you used the children analogy, once you’ve been a parent, youâ€™re never not a parent you know you always know how that new world looks to you once you’ve made the environmental shifts whichever ones they are you don’t go back. And that’s why I think that I challenged myself around the subject of empathy and whether I move strongly enough post the understanding. So once I’ve got to the bottom of why somebody is struggling with something, how do I use that as leverage to really shift them, challenge them, move them forward somehow somewhere? And I think my stance has been quite invitational – this is what I’m doing, that’s what we’re doing. Let’s talk. I wonder whether there are times to be more provocative, more pushy, more challenging. It’s just an inquiry for me right now.
Joshua: My strategy has been to work with the most influential and well-known people because one of most best predictors of people going solar is more than how much money they make or the politics, is if their neighbor has it. And I want to bring people who are in everyone’s community and so then people are like faced with, â€œOh, you know so-and-so is changing behavior, so-and-so is changing behavior.â€ So you talk about changes and things like that. I want to offer youâ€¦ When you think about the environment what do you think about?
Lorna: I’m going to sound a bit mushy now but I think about the sheer beauty and extraordinariness of this system that allows us to survive and thrive on it. And so I’ve become much more basic you know so I have a little piece of land that I got in last year for the first time and the miracle of planting seeds and eating radishes and carrots it’s just the extraordinary thing, the miracle of breathing, the miracle of the sea. So I think about it with a sense of awe and I feel enormously sad about what we’re doing, about how we’ve damaged the environment and how we are damaging the environment. And I think about it as a whole system. I do think about it as aâ€¦ I don’t think that there’s a single point answer that’s a kind of magical solution. I don’t think it’s just not flying or just not having packaged foods. It’s a bundle of things that we do to make a difference.
Joshua: So I heard beauty, miracle and then sadly sadness. And it’s a very complex set of things that are wrapped up together. And yes, I agree. I don’t see one single thing anyone can do but one thing I think of is that I think that the best way to tackle a very complex problem is to solve a simple problem and then learn and grow and then apply that to something a little more complex and so on. And the path I think that I’m on isâ€¦ At first, I thought if I work on something little, it doesn’t matter because like straws if everyone in the world stops using straws, we don’t really change much. But I think of it differently now. It’s not how big the first thing is. I think of the first things as scales. If you want to play at Carnegie Hall and someone says, â€œWell, you got to start playing scales.â€ One could rationally say, â€œScale? That doesn’t give meâ€¦That’s like nothing.â€ But it’s also what everyone who got to Carnegie Hall did.
And so while it’s not everything, it’s one thing. And if you do that and then if you think of it as like, â€œI’m going to play one scale and I am done.â€, it’s not going to work. But if you think like, â€œI would like to get somewhere far. I would like to solve this complex thing and I’ll start with this one thing and then build and build and build.â€ So what I want to do is get people to start the first thing. And you’ve done many things it sounds like but what I’d like to do with guests is to ask them at their option to, based on what their values are, and yours are actually pretty close to mine, and everyone has different answers for what it means to them, remarkably different, surprisingly different. And based on what you, about the beauty, the miracle, about the sadness and the other things, the systemic nature is there anything that you could do however brief or temporary, a scale? But I always have to say a couple of things first. It doesn’t have to fix all the world’s problems and you donâ€™t have to do it all by yourself but it can’t be telling someone else what to do. It has to be something measurable and Iâ€™ll ask to make it a SMART goal.
Lorna: Well, it’s interesting because you asked me this the other day and I said to you that I’m a vegan and one of the things that I found interesting about becoming a vegan was kind of it decided me, I didn’t decide it. There was just this moment when it was the right thing and I know you don’t use that label but it’s a useful label for me to explain what it is. And I think that the sense of wonder that I have around growing things and my joy about that is driven a whole lot of really much healthier choices around eating. But I think that for me a big call is stuff, buying stuff. And so I have decided that my commitment to youâ€¦
Joshua: Not to me.
Lorna: Not to you, to me but my public commitment then, okay. That’s good. That’s a good catch. My commitment to myself in front of you is that I am not going to buy any item of clothing or shoes for the next year.
Joshua: Wow. A year. Starting the second? Startingâ€¦
Lorna: Starting now.
Joshua: Okay. So I often give people two things that having walked a lot of people through thisâ€¦. Two challenges that often come up. The two are other people and travelling and I’m not sure if they’ll affect you but the real issue is that sometimes things unforeseen come up and travel often put things out of your control. Other people sometimes they impose obligations that you know. If your thing is not to eat meat and your mom cooks your steaks, sometimes people like the mothers above you knowâ€¦ I don’t know. And so the issue is I just want to prepare people. You canâ€™t prepare for everything but that’s a big one.
Lorna: It seems like quite an easy one. I can’t imagine why anybody else is going to get in the way of my clothing or shoes purchasing. Why would they?
Joshua: I don’t know but a lot of people around this time of year say that they’re going to go to the gym twice a year for the next year.
Lorna: Oh, no. I am good withâ€¦
Joshua: Letâ€™s say you are going somewhere. You’ve got a meeting. Airline lost your luggage and you’re wearing likeâ€¦
Lorna: Probably I am wearing something. That would be a good story.
Joshua: Yeah. So that’s it. The thing is I found it that the moreâ€¦
Lorna: I could borrow something.
Joshua: The more effective I find someone as a leader, the more that they say they look at itâ€¦ Like Jim, the parent, he’s like, â€œLet’s figure it out.â€ And so I just want to prepare you.
Lorna: I’m excited. I think it’s going to be good. And I’ll tell everybody.
Joshua: Actually, this podcast began, I was on a bulletin board online and a bunch of peopleâ€¦ It was in October of last year and people were saying, â€œWhat commitments are you going to make for November?â€ And everyone’s like, â€œI’m going to do X, I am going to do Y you know lose weight and atop smoking and all this stuff.â€ Like November 2 people are writing, â€œOh, I’m off the wagon.â€ And I put that I was going to launch my podcast. And do you know when I launched my podcast? November 30, like 11:59. To me that’s November. It works for differently for different people. I just want to help prepare people not to get into where they say, â€œOh, it didn’t work. I give up.â€
Lorna: Yeah. Well, I think it’sâ€¦ Yeah.
Joshua: Because a lot of people it’s likeâ€¦ Jim was he couldn’t get started and so he had to rethink things. And so we’re in New York City so the sirens are in the background. That’s how it goes. And everybody handles in different ways. And I’m going to be very interested. It kills me that I have to wait a whole year. It doesn’t kill me butâ€¦
Lorna: Iâ€™ll send you progress updates if you want. No, I think it’s going to be fun.
Joshua: I hope we get to talk between now and then.
Lorna: Sure. I’m here. I’m not far. Well, it’s been a pleasure.
Joshua: Same here.
Lorna: Thank you for taking the time.
Joshua: Thank you for coming over and thank you for taking the time. Yeah. I was talking to Tansy and with Vincent and both previous guests on the show and I forget which ones said I should talk to you and I was like, â€œYes, yes. yes.â€ They were both like, â€œYes, you definitely talk to her.â€ So I really appreciate this. Thank you very much.
Lorna: Thank you.
Fascinated by B Corps as I am from this conversation, I could ask her more questions but I’ve learned enough about learning by doing that the next step for me to learn more is to do it. And Iâ€™ve started the process of converting my LLC into a B Corp. So everyone listening, keep me accountable. And I can’t add much more beyond what Lorna said. But if your company is not a B Corp, it sounds to me like a great way to build relationships with the decision makers and the people higher up in the corporate hierarchy. That is if your company, its employees or its customers are calling for more environmental action or caring about the employees or caring about the community which sounds to me like basically all companies today. Sounds like it’s a way to get ahead. I recommend you look into it.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees