How did sustainability become a career for you?

When I was going into undergrad, I wanted to do something in the sciences and had always had a strong affinity for the environment. I can remember back to my elementary school days when we had a “cans for critters” campaign, where we collected soda cans, and all the money from the recycling went to the San Diego Zoo.

When I saw that the University of Michigan had such a strong program—at the undergraduate and graduate level—I jumped at the opportunity to dive into something I loved Prior to working at Kellogg, I was working at the USDA doing environmental law compliance, which was a great learning experience and a different approach to sustainability. However, an opportunity at Kellogg provided the right opening to get back to my business sustainability roots. It wasn’t too long after joining the company that I was able to support Kellogg as we established our second generation of sustainability commitments—our 2020 Sustainability Commitments. The work continues to evolve, which is a lot of fun but is also one of the main challenges of working in the corporate sustainability space: What is material to our business is always changing. Stakeholder interests are evolving as

How do you think about the scope of your work at Kellogg?

The team focuses on two primary areas within the sustainability spectrum: responsible sourcing (working with ingredient suppliers to ensure social and environmental goals are tracking with our sustainability commitments) and conservation of natural resources within our own operations (reductions in energy and water use, as well as reducing GHG emissions in manufacturing). In addition, we reach out externally to understand the scientific and stakeholder landscape by partnering with nonprofit organizations and industry groups. We are also seeing increasing interest from our own brand and sales teams to respond to the needs of people who love our foods and care about where our foods come from, how they are made and how they impact communities and the planet.

The theme of the Innovation Forum conference this year focuses on measuring sustainability. Why does this matter, and which metrics matter most when it comes to better understanding sustainability impacts, both social and environmental, at Kellogg?

There is a saying: “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” Quantifying corporate responsibility is important for a few reasons:

  1. We have a lot of advocates who want to do the right thing, but being able to provide guidance on what is most material for the business—how we measure the impact of what we are doing—helps people understand their individual contribution to meeting our goals.
  2. External stakeholders, including investors, nonprofit organizations, advocates, retailers, customers and consumers, often ask, “How do we compare the work you are doing to other companies, and how do we know it’s driving the right outcomes?” Continual assessment is imperative to determine whether we are measuring the right things to drive the right outcomes.

In a corporate setting and for our NGO partners, we are all held accountable to our boards. In the end, is what we are doing consistent with our values, reducing risk and driving growth?

Where has Kellogg been successful in measuring sustainability?

Measuring our progress is critically important to understand where we are and where we need to go. Here are a couple of high-profile initiatives:

  1. Science-based targets: We were one of the first companies to set science-based targets for our direct and indirect supplier partners. We partnered with nonprofits to understand how to build those targets out and are now actively working on them. Engaging a global network of suppliers on tracking emissions data or water and energy use is a huge undertaking. We want to both encourage reporting and be a resource; we often act as coaches to suppliers and track progress at the regional level to report out globally.
  2. Farmer engagement: We have engaged growers of our key ingredients through our “Breakfast for Better Days” global signature cause program. As part of our commitment on food security, we have committed to engage 500,000 farmers in programs that are starting climate-smart agriculture initiatives. Since 2014, we have engaged over 320,000 growers. This progress is a great example of what an engagement metric can look like, and it has driven positive outcomes in yield improvement and income.


What issues does Kellogg face across the value chain, from the farm level to the consumer, in addressing materiality? Where do you wish you had better information or control of measurability?

We are in an influencer role. There are some things that we are able to impact because we have a good relationship with our direct suppliers—and for us, a supplier is more like a flour mill rather than the farmer. How do we reach the farmers that are at least a couple steps removed from us within the supply chain? We need to build trust with them, in order to get accurate information that will allow us to identify trends and areas of opportunity. We want to address challenges deep in the supply chain, from a social and environmental perspective, so being effective when we are further removed from the source is the biggest challenge we face. 

Thinking about the Innovation Forum, how does innovation help drive the conversation forward? What are some new opportunities to better “innovate for sustainability“?

One area of innovation that has been important for us is how we build programs. As we think about new ways of working, we have shifted from thinking about supply chain as linear, exploring where we can be more integrated to simplify the process.

Similarly, with measurement and evaluation, we continue to evolve how we work with our partners to ensure we are asking the right questions to enhance our programs. We also rely heavily on data. For example, with food security, we’ve started asking questions that result in more innovative and thoughtful program design. There is a real step-change that occurs when innovation can flow throughout the company—not just in our department, but cross-functionally with procurement, R&D, etc.

About the Author

Monika Johnson is a 2019 MS/MBA student at the Erb Institute focusing her degrees on the food and agriculture industry. She did her SEAS Master’s Project with Kellogg’s sustainable sugarcane sourcing initiatives.