By Darcy Maulsby

The C-suite gets its name from the titles of top senior staffers, which tend to start with the letter “c” for chief, as in chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), chief information officer (CIO) and chief marketing officer (CMO).
In the past five years or so, another company executive has joined many of these C-suite leaders – the chief sustainability officer (CSO). While this role may go by other titles, such as corporate responsibility manager, these executives focus on strategies to reduce a company’s environmental footprint.

This involves not only the company’s business practices but also extends to the business practices of supply chain partners. In the case of a grocery retailer, it means a CSO wants to know-how suppliers such as pork producers are addressing water, land and energy use, conservation practices and other issues tied to sustainability and animal welfare.  “Once you reach a point where a customer says, ‘What are your policies in terms of your supply chain operations?’ you better have a good handle on that,” said National Pork Board President David Newman. “Investors are asking for it, customers are demanding it and employees are expecting it.”

We Care℠ University Helps Form Bridges

Call it cross-training for Pork Checkoff staff. The Pork Checkoff’s new We CareSM University showcases pig farming in terms of the six We Care principles to help team members speak with more confidence and knowledge when they promote pork to grocery retailers, convenience-store chains, restaurants, and other partners.  “We want to ensure that new employees are equipped to answer questions from retailers and others in the supply chain about pig farming and the We Care principles,” said Brett Kaysen, assistant vice president of sustainability for the Checkoff. He noted that all staff also complete the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus training. “We focus on key topics that generate questions, such as sow housing, African swine fever, antibiotic use, and the environment,” said Angie Krieger, assistant vice president of channel outreach for the Checkoff.

Earning a Place at the Table

“Retailers are genuinely interested in how farmers focus on continuous improvement, but activists put tremendous pressure on them,” Krieger said. “We want to help retailers protect their brand by basing decisions on facts. But to have those conversations, we need to have a seat at the table.”  She added, “Building relationships does that by transforming us from salespeople to trusted consultants. Companies that once weren’t interested in meeting with us now call for information. We Care University helps Checkoff staff provide the answers they need.”

Elaine Otte, national channel marketing and innovation manager for the Pork Checkoff, says the We Care University training was worthwhile.
“I can better explain the science that goes into pig farming, from nutrient management to animal well-being, while emphasizing farmers’ commitment to their communities and families,” Otte said.  “I also ask if they’ve ever been on a farm or want to visit one. We want retailers to feel comfortable about the food decisions they make and the products they promote,” said Otte, who can work with her colleagues to line up farm tours or coordinate virtual farm tours through South Dakota State University’s swine farm. “It’s essential people understand the value of the product we’re offering.”