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Three Key Takeaways from ADM's Climate Week Panel on Sustainability and Growth

To kick off Climate Week NYC 2020, a key milestone in the annual sustainability calendar, ADM and CDP co-hosted an online panel discussion, Nourishing Resilience: ESG as a Tool for Sustainable Food and Ag Growth.

We brought together thought leaders from across the global food value chain and the ESG measurement community to examine how responsible sourcing practices can build a more resilient and sustainable food system. We also delved into the importance of ESG performance as a driver of sustainable growth, the latest ESG trends and updated best practices in the current landscape.

The session was moderated by ESG journalist Emily Chasan and featured ADM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young, CDP North America President Bruno Sarda and Kellogg Company Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Senter. Below are three key takeaways from the discussion.

1. In a post-COVID world challenged with increasing climate impacts and interconnected issues, the bar for ESG is higher than ever before, and investor expectations are quickly evolving.

ADM’s Ray Young described how the company is meeting investor expectations in terms of ESG, sustainability and resilience and noted investor focus on ESG has been quickly growing over the past several months. “What’s interesting is the amount of interest, and the accelerating interest, on behalf of the investor base regarding ESG,” Young said. “Not just the European investors, which always have been very active in following development, but now the U.S. investor base as well.”

Investors’ questions on ESG have become increasingly more sophisticated – investors not only want to know what ADM is doing on the ESG front, but also how the company is thinking more strategically about ESG, how it is holding itself accountable to these issues, and how it is showing continuous improvement in these areas. Moreover, investors are aware that ESG is a journey and do not expect perfection overnight, but rather desire companies to show progress through effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms.

Young noted the crucial role of companies in driving social and environmental impact in the current landscape, and how ADM and peers are responding by adapting promptly and developing holistic approaches to product development, supply chain transparency, and climate change initiatives. “We are very proud that we’ve kept the global food supply chain flowing around the world,” he said. “One of our strengths as a company is that we are able to adapt and pivot around supply disruptions. Even when dealing with the immediate COVID-19 issues we have not lost sight of the long-term importance of supporting the sustainable environment.”

2. With growing investor interest and increased focus across the industry, transparent ESG disclosures are paramount to inform goalsetting and ESG decision-making.

CDP’s Bruno Sarda emphasized that ESG reporting has a key role to play in accelerating shifting of capital to promote resilience. “Resilience is the ability of an institution or a system to continue performing under stress and certainly we’ve seen with COVID that a lot of systems and institutions have been stressed and we know there is plenty more stress coming,” he said.

This space is evolving, Sarda said, “in order to reach that level of speed and scale of busines and capital to achieve change.” As the “the lifeblood of decision-making” and “connector of business and finance,” data and ESG disclosures are essential to create transparency, drive ambition, and create a dialogue between companies and their key financial stakeholders to identify ESG risks and opportunities.

3. Cross-sector collaborations provide a starting point for working toward common ESG goals.

In light of the interconnected challenges that come with sourcing globally, Kellogg’s Amy Senter highlighted partnerships as an essential tool for advancing corporate sustainability agendas and mobilizing positive change across complex value chains. “There are a lot of different ways we can work together with farmers, agricultural producers and trade associations – all of these different stakeholders – to understand the risks that need de-risking,” Senter said.

She discussed how Kellogg’s looks at sustainability from a variety of perspectives – from policy, to programmatic, and supply chain – to promote solutions in collaboration with others. Through the company’s ESG programs, Kellogg’s and partners are testing and learning, building the business case for sustainability, understanding barriers to implementation, and ensuring change can be sustained over time.

Young concluded the session stating that he is an optimist with a positive outlook for the future. “A lot of people view sustainability as a cost of doing business, we don’t view it that way. Sustainability is actually a critical part of how we are going to grow the company,” he said. “That is consistent with our theme, our purpose, which is unlocking nature to enrich the quality of life of everyone in the world. We are taking these steps to go in that direction.”