As the trusted partner in nurturing our customers, consumers and communities, the Ardent Mills team is committed to Nourishing What’s Next. In that spirit, we invite you join us as we launch a new initiative here on the blog: Conversations with Ardent Mills.
Our team members are comprised of diverse backgrounds, each with their own unique specialty and insights that drive our work forward with ingredients and innovation. Our conversations will not only share a glimpse behind the work we do every day, but our commitment to the vision and values that are integral to our spirit. As we find ourselves looking back on our recent work with Feeding America, we wanted to kick off this conversation series with Phoenix Dugger, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. Phoenix was the first to hold this role on our team, blazing the way for new endeavors that have a positive impact on the environment and local communities.
Phoenix, let’s dive right in. What is corporate social responsibility, and why does it matter?
Corporate social responsibility at Ardent Mills, also called CSR, encompasses both our focus on sustainability and our charitable giving directly. This initiative started as an alignment with our vision and values, anchored in finding safe, simple ways to build trust and nourish our communities while serving our customers by supporting their own goals for corporate responsibility.
Since joining the team close to four years ago, I’ve seen the interest in sustainability grow drastically. Not only is there a greater global initiative to implement meaningful change, but our customers have put corporate responsibility on the forefront of their work, with full strategies and ambitious public goals around projects ranging from renewable energy, packaging reduction and farmer engagement. With this interest, it’s exciting to be part of a solutions resource. We’ve established a program and alignment with the UN Goals for sustainable development, where we are measuring sustainable actions by the same metrics as our customers, and this helps us exponentially when discussing projects, aligning customers goals with our own commitments for sustainability and creating positive impacts in the supply chain.
It sounds like there’s a lot of interest! What projects has this inspired?
One of the ways we’re implementing CSR is through our new regenerative agriculture program. That project focuses on creating more productive and profitable farmland, increasing soil health and implementing water conservation practices. We currently have two successful pilot projects in Kansas and Idaho that engage farmers in our supply chain on various agronomic and sustainability indicators. Each year after data collection, our agronomy and software partners work to identify opportunities for continuous improvement directly with the farmers in the program. Once these opportunities are properly vetted and the pilots are complete, any significant findings or successes are then shared with the broader group to ensure all the growers in the group can learn from the project. All this data is then aggregated and shared with Ardent Mills and our customer partners on the project so that we may share more broadly and bring our stakeholders along for the journey. We have big goals for this project and are excited for what’s to come.
We also committed to utilizing 50 percent renewable energy at our U.S. facilities by 2025. We continue to charge forward on this goal by supporting community solar, evaluating on site projects, and working with our utilities to get our power directly from renewable sources. We feel strongly that while this also benefits the communities we are in and the projects we support, our involvement here makes us a better aligned with our customers' goals as well. This year, we seek to be at 20.5 percent and will provide a full update on our portfolio makeup each year in our annual report.
How did you get involved with this work?
After I interned for Ardent Mills, I returned to my university to wrap up my senior year of college and took a supply chain practicum class where students got the opportunity to solve real world problems by working directly with companies. My project was focused on collecting and analyzing farm data and crafting an action plan for how to engage farmers and catalyze continuous improvement in their fields with the goal being improved efficiency and productivity. This was my first foray into sustainability as a job, and once I started full time at Ardent Mills, I quickly got involved with our sustainability committee.
It’s the start of a new year. What do you see as the future possibilities for these types of programs?
Sustainability and corporate responsibility are long-term commitments for us, and we will continue to be a part of the future of ingredient solutions. Looking forward, we see many more companies releasing net zero emissions projects, package labeling telling consumers about the farm where your food comes from and more simply, brands coming forward to tell their story of sustainability and improvement. This continued interest, a transparency in project development and results, will continue to push brands towards growth. Our customers are at the forefront of this interest, and we’re ready to align with them to support this work now more than ever.
Thank you, Phoenix!
Want to learn more about corporate social responsibility and the sustainability work being done? Take a look at our inaugural reporting from 2020 here.