Before joining the Erb ranks, I worked as managing partner for my family’s cherry and apple farm in Traverse City, Mich. Farmers love to tell stories, especially stories about dramatic, devastating weather events. As the sixth generation to lead our business, I grew up hearing iterations of events that have affected our farm over the last century. Although my ancestors certainly put up with some harsh surprises, our business has faced the most extreme shifts in weather patterns within the last decade.
Climate change will continue to create enormous challenges for farmers, especially those that do not have the resources to adapt and rebuild. I recently spent 10 weeks as a summer associate with BSR in San Francisco and learned how crucial the prosperity of agriculture is to global businesses and their customers.
As a BSR intern, I had the opportunity to consult for multinational corporations leading a shift in how they act on the realities of climate change. BSR is a nonprofit organization that works with a network of more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From offices in Asia, Europe and North America, the organization develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration.
During my internship, I worked on client-facing climate resilience work . An industry-leading multinational beverage corporation approached BSR, interested in how the company should leverage its size and influence to build resilience in the communities that supply it with key agricultural raw ingredients.
My role was to perform benchmarking research of other multinational food and beverage companies. I was responsible for scanning sustainability reports, annual reports and publicly available material of related companies. Every company tells its sustainability story in different ways, so the challenge was to collect all this mostly qualitative data and organize it so that the team could compare initiatives and scan for trends.
This was my first exposure to climate risk assessment and sustainable sourcing. I drew from some of the lessons I learned while working on my MAP project last semester with a food company, including some of my team’s research on the global food supply chain.
My biggest challenge with performing benchmarks was staying at a surface level. As students, we are encouraged to dive deep into research and analysis. In a consulting role, the project manager budgets a limited amount of time for each piece of research. I had to learn to resist spending too much time researching one topic or company.
During my research, I found that many companies realize the need to invest in the communities and ecological resources in the regions in which they source their ingredients. Many are particularly focused on water management, women’s empowerment, technological innovation and extension education in developing countries. While these efforts are admirable, few companies describe how these investments are necessary to reduce risk. Climate change poses a serious threat to companies, especially those dependent on agricultural products. This risk should be embedded into the corporate strategy and risk report.
BSR advises clients to build climate resilience by enhancing the adaptive capacity across the supply chain and within vulnerable communities. Strengthening the human, financial, social, natural, physical and political capital assets is key to building resilience.
Climate resilience changes the conversation about corporate responsibility. Companies are no longer simply taking initiative to reduce their carbon footprint because it is a socially responsible thing to do. Climate risk is business risk, and companies are beginning to acknowledge that empowering vulnerable communities is good for business—not just the greater social good.
The benchmarking exercise deepened my understanding of how peers approach climate resilience, and it provided best practices and common failures. Establishing the benchmark is only one step in BSR’s ongoing project with the company to develop a resilience strategy. Coming from a farming background, it was fascinating to discuss the environmental challenges that farmers face with multinational corporations and experts in the climate consulting space. I learned that climate adaptation and resilience will require cross-sector collaboration and partnership throughout the supply chain.
To learn more about BSR’s insights and work on the topic of climate change, click here.