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Five Things ADM Chief Sustainability Officer Alison Taylor Wishes She Knew When She Started

When Alison Taylor joined ADM as Chief Sustainability Officer nearly three years ago, she was drawn to the company’s ability to create impact at a global scale, an opportunity she still finds exciting. ADM impacts millions of lives every single day, whether through the breadth and depth of our portfolio of products and solutions derived from nature, or through our support of farmers and rural communities, or from the efforts we are making to reduce the environmental impact of our own operations. Recently, ADM unveiled ambitious new greenhouse gas emission and energy intensity reduction targets. At this mile-marker in our journey, Taylor shares her perspective on how we’re doing our part to sustain and conserve the world’s natural resources and enrich quality of life.

1. How do you define stakeholders across the value chain?

Everybody’s voice matters, and participation from all stakeholders is necessary to achieve sustainability goals. It starts at the beginning, with determining the right set of stakeholders to engage by identifying the sustainability attributes that are most material to your company. Next, it’s important to find internal and external experts capable of conducting thorough research to inform goal setting and measurement. And then, as you move into actual implementation, it’s critical to obtain input and support from stakeholders such as the Board of Directors, investors, industry experts, partners and/or an ESG committee. Balancing these voices is vital and I have found involving stakeholders early and often to be invaluable.

2. Can you define sustainability beyond environmental protection?

Environmental considerations are central to sustainability, but the concept is bigger than that. Customers today are looking at how companies behave more widely, including factors like employee diversity, community and corporate governance. All of these are critical for business success, and companies need to consider them in their totality. For example, last year, ADM created a Board Committee on Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility, solidified partnerships with nonprofit Concern Worldwide to help fight hunger, and committed to increasing gender parity. I consider all of those efforts to be part of our overall sustainability program.

3. How does first-hand experience shape your work?

Spending time visiting facilities and holding candid conversations with location managers to understand the impact sustainability goals will have on their infrastructure, processes and people is critical. Having a good two-way conversation with the people who have to execute on your goals means greater success in achieving them. At ADM, for instance, we received great buy-in from our plants and ended up successfully performing “treasure hunts” to identify hundreds of energy-saving projects at our facilities we may not have been aware of without on-the-ground relationships. Those projects, which ranged from replacing pumps and fans to improving data-management systems, were key to ADM achieving significant improvements in energy intensity and greenhouse gas reductions since 2010.

4. As a leader at ADM, how do you engage employees?

Employees are not only brand ambassadors, but also hold significant information and influence regarding where to prioritize sustainability efforts and how to meet targets. Early in a decision process, we engage employees through environmental awareness campaigns, surveys or company-wide challenges to source ideas, like we did with our “treasure hunts.” We continue the conversation by celebrating milestones and other achievements, and use those events as opportunities to encourage colleagues to think about what sustainability means for their roles. We equip employees with messaging and make it clear on company forums that these goals are only achievable with their involvement.

5. How do you set priorities?

Prioritizing the most impactful and pragmatic actions while keeping up with the pace of change is challenging. Whether your strategy is to make a few major investments or aggregate the sum of many smaller initiatives, understanding what tools, processes, equipment and technology exist in-house, and the growth landscape of each, is essential. Having subject matter experts as advisors helped us understand the relative investments needed for a wide variety of possible actions at ADM, and enabled us to create an effective and actionable prioritization matrix.

I hope that sharing these insights from my experience can help others as we work together to advance sustainable impact. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences so that we can continue the conversation.