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Mar 19, 2020
Will is a food entrepreneurship and sustainability guru. He is the Faculty Director of the Sustainable Food Initiative at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, a recently retired managing partner at Physic Ventures, the founding CEO of Republic of Tea, recipient of the Oslo peace award, and has been involved in leading and growing more than 30 entrepreneurial ventures over the past 30 years. This is part 1 of a 2 part series with Will.
“Food has been optimized around convenience, cost, and efficiency but it is not serving our health or climate”
This week in Agriculture Adapts:
– Building a revolutionary food company in the 90’s: health, environmental sustainability, and fair trade
– dissecting the szizophrenia of capitalism
– Triple bottom line: a structure for more sustainable business
– Why gardening may be the solution to many of our systemic societal problems
Borna (ClimateAi) 0:00
Just a quick note here before we jump in wills episode will be split into a two part series. We end up talking to will for a few hours and I tried to trim it down but it was just too good. So I decided to release the whole thing into separate smaller, more digestible chunks. Personally, I learned a ton from well, and I hope you all do too. Okay, please enjoy this episode. This is Agriculture Adapts by ClimateAi. Every week we speak with industry leading executives, farmers, non academics to get a 360 view of how the agriculture sector is innovating to stay ahead of a changing climate. I’m your host Borna Poursheikhani and I am your co host Himanshu Gupta. We’re a team of climate scientists and agriculture entrepreneurs trying to make farming more resilient, profitable and equitable as we transition to a new age of agriculture. This podcast is our journey as we explore the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry that feeds the world.
Hello, Agriculture Adapts listeners joining us today on this episode is Food entrepreneurship and sustainability guru Will Rosenzweig, am I saying that correctly? Well rosensweig rosensweig Okay, was branch. Oh, you were made for this. So Will is the Faculty Director of the Sustainable Food initiative at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He’s a recently retired managing partner at physic ventures, the founding CEO of Republic of Tea, recipient of the Oslo Peace Award, and has been involved in leading and growing more than 30 entrepreneurial ventures over the past 30 years. Will, it is an honor to have you here.
William Rosenzweig 1:32
Borna (ClimateAi) 1:33
So if I’m not mistaken, you are also an avid gardener, which is not in your CV, but also equally important thing.
William Rosenzweig 1:39
It is my passion and obsession. wonderful time of year. Lots of pruning to be done lots of shaping of rose bushes and trees and also just prepping soil for next spring’s plantings. Yeah, it’s Yeah, a lot of fun.
Borna (ClimateAi) 1:58
Are you staying true to your name? are you sticking with the Moses Do you have other
William Rosenzweig 2:01
roses but I grow fruits and vegetables and a lot of herbs and right now we have amazing citrus growing in the garden we have yuzu in Buddha’s hand and caracara oranges and wow, oranges tangerines, rain, poor limes, it’s it’s quite astonishing. It’s almost a full time job just making sure that fruit gets to good use restaurants and with friends.
Borna (ClimateAi) 2:28
And I’m bummed that we’re not doing this interview in person that would have been able to come away with a goodie bag. So Will, we usually like to start these episodes with kind of your story and how how your life kind of intersects with agriculture and farming. And I kind of just listed off like that wasn’t even the full list of things or accomplishments that you’ve done. But if you’ve got like a high level overview of kind of your story, then I would be interested to hear it.
William Rosenzweig 2:52
Well, I had the good fortune of growing up in Southern California where the weather and climate was really supportive of growing things and my mother really enjoyed gardening and she really instilled that in me from a very early age. My first memory of gardening is actually around my sixth birthday I received a rosebush for a gift and it was in the middle of winter it was wrapped in burlap, it was bare root, which meant it wasn’t even in a pot. It was just this straggly plant with lots of thorns and you know, no leaves, no flowers, and it didn’t resemble anything like a plant. And we had a gardener who was trained in Japan and he taught me how to plant it. And I remember just the remarkable wonder that I experienced watching it come to life and start to bud and then grow branches and blossoms and blooms and and the fragrance and Color was really a miracle. So that that had a huge impression on me and really has kept me grounded. I’ve been gardening at my present place for 20 years. And so one of the things gardeners learned gardeners and farmers, you develop, really a deep appreciation of all of the dynamics that you’re working with and all of the uncertainty and you also learn to embrace a longer term. I think gardeners even more than farmers, a longer term horizon of sort of reward and satisfaction is quite
Borna (ClimateAi) 4:39
not to worry about the the immediate yield.
William Rosenzweig 4:42
Well, yeah, it’s amazing to see what can what can grow in 20 years and you know, in our instant gratification society, that’s a really nice counterpoint when people are expecting everything immediately. Yeah, a gardener really takes stock in how things grow over time. time.
Borna (ClimateAi) 5:00
So you founded the Republic of tea in 1992. And you kind of created this industry around premium teas in the US. And at the same time, or maybe a little bit later you released the book about that journey. And that book became one of the top 100 business books of all time. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this company was started, why you started it, and then why you wrote the book, and then also why all these things were so successful?
William Rosenzweig 5:24
Well, in the late 1980s, when I was in my late 20s, I had the opportunity to go to a conference that was called the social venture network. And it was a group of young investors and philanthropists and entrepreneurs, many of them who were really a generation, maybe 15 to 20 years older than I was who really were brought up in the 60s I or were, you know, coming of age in the 60s, I was still a kid in the 60s. So, but I was in I went to a conference And I met in one day I remember I met Ben and Jerry of Ben and Jerry’s ice game I met Paul Hawken. I met Gary Hirschberg and Jeff Hollander, I met a lot of people who were really pioneering the world of business with values. And my life kind of changed that weekend, I saw the world differently. And I, I felt like I got the call of what I wanted to do with my life. And then incredibly, serendipitously on the way home from that conference, I met another person who was at the conference. And we ended up sitting next to each other on the plane, going home from New Jersey to San Francisco. We left New Jersey, Newark and then somewhere I think over Pittsburgh or the flight attendant offered us both coffee and we both asked for tea. And that was really strange at the time and we looked at each other and said t you know, what is it about t And we had a six hour conversation about tea. And how you couldn’t get a decent cup of tea. This was in 1990. This was also just about the time Starbucks went public and specialty coffee, had all of a sudden come on the scene. You know, now, people were spending 345 dollars for a specialty cup of coffee when they had been used to going, you know, and spending much less than that. Anyway, that was a very important and memorable conversation in my life. And it began a collaboration in a conversation which evolved into a dialogue in writing, we actually exchanged faxes, it’s probably faxes or probably before your time Borna. But these machines and we could send messages back and forth to each other. And so we sent faxes back and forth. And in the course of about six weeks of ideation and dreams, And planning and researching. we generated about 600 pages of ideas. And those, those pages actually became the book, the book being called Eventually, the Republic of t, how an idea becomes a business. And at the time when that was published in 1992, this is a very new concept of actually developing business that had a mission and a social purpose broader than making a making a profit. Yeah, and, and the book kind of rapidly, was picked up by a number of business school professors and entrepreneurship professors who assigned it as a case study. And then they asked me to kind of pop up at the end of the case and, and tell the story of what happened to the company. The company is still thriving after 30 years now. It’s just about 30 year anniversary coming up, but that was also an opportunity for me to connect to botanical roots, so to speak, I was very interested in the way things were grown, who was growing them where they were coming from, how they were blended. How they were named and authenticated, was very interesting to learn about the whole supply chain of agriculture and food back then. And also to translate a product and an experience. I mean, tea being maybe 2500 years old, historically, but being able to translate it for a modern American audience, both in a experiential and a cultural context. So the Republic of tea really became a vehicle for what we call the sip by sip rather than go by go who is really trying to invite people into a lifestyle that was counter perhaps to coffee which coffee felt like fuel, kind of aggressive, go, go, go Go and tea was really About being calm yet alert, sort of. We called it tea mind, again borrowed from sort of culturally relevant texts from Japan and China. My co founder and I really enjoyed Eastern philosophy and its connection to Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and we tried in a sort of secular way a non religious way to interpret some of those philosophies through the business. So the business became a vehicle for people embracing this team mind in this tea life.
Borna (ClimateAi) 10:40
Yeah, very cool. You guys can’t see but I’m holding up my own tea container here. I’m a big fan of loose leaf tea. My I got like the kind that we import from Iran, but at some point I need to try Republic D as well.
William Rosenzweig 10:50
Well, loose leaf tea is where we started, you know, I had discovered loose leaf tea early in my career. I was the first real job. I had. was, as the vice president of marketing of a Japanese audio company called nakamichi. And nakamichi at the time in the, in the early 80s, was really considered sort of the Rolls Royce of, of audio companies. They had invented the cassette deck and, and other pretty amazing recording technology. In anyway, I had the great privilege of getting to go to Japan a number of times early in my life and I discovered really fine loose leaf tea plus this amazing cultural reverence for the tea ceremony. Again, yeah, in Japan, the tea ceremony was very important for both social and political peacemaking. Apparently, during the samurai ages when it was a pretty brutal time the samurai would honor the tea house and They would put down their weaponry and come to have cordial discussion and conversation in the tea house. So that really stuck with me. And I remember very vividly going to a department store and seeing a tin of tea, just a single tin of tea that sold for about 60 or $70. And it was presented in this beautiful package and was apparently like the nicest wedding gift you could possibly give to someone. And that experience stayed with me. And I realized that in America, what we take in for tea was pretty much all ground up stuff, bags. And then as you trace the lineage of tea in the United States, you actually realize that tea really had a political falling out, you know, during the Revolutionary War with the Boston Tea Party it was was something that was taxed by England and it kind of fell out of favor. You know, it wasn’t politically correct to drink tea. So we sort of had a 200 and something year history of, you know, really not paying attention or appreciating fine tea. Yeah. So that was what we tried to reintroduce in a, in a creative kind of whimsical and inviting way. And it was really about t experience and discovery.
Borna (ClimateAi) 13:23
And when you guys launched this in 1992, you were saying there weren’t many companies that were doing sort of this mission driven approach? Would you mind elaborating a little bit on on what that mission was? And what kind of external factors you guys were bringing in? You mentioned kind of the philosophy behind it. But what were sort of like the other metrics or the other things that people found so interesting with what you guys were doing,
William Rosenzweig 13:42
yeah, the mission was really one of integration. So to look at our both our impact on the supply chain to become the sort of where we were ahead of our time in caring about the source of the product, the way it was grown, the social dimensions of who was getting paid what we were interested in fair trade. We were interested in organic. We were also very interested in having a light footprint in the packaging realm, we introduced reusable packaging. And we introduced a, when we did introduce tea bags, we used an unbleached tea bag. So again, to eliminate environmental impact. So we were really looking for this kind of holistic, mindful business approach that could generate value in many ways and also demonstrate to people that we could do things in creative ways that were different than the mass market. We enjoyed being a specialty producer, which meant we were premium priced, that enabled us to do a lot of things that industrial food was not doing We also came into the world at a moment when the artisinal and the natural the kind of what you’d call the gourmet and the natural worlds were emerging. And this was back at a time when Whole Foods was not yet a national chain. So there was a whole bunch of individual, what you’d call gourmet and specialty retail stores around the country. And then there was a bunch of natural food stores and co ops around the country. And all of a sudden the distribution channels started to converge, and it created a wave for us to seize what I like to think of is disproportionate attention. For what we did as a small company we always looked even from the very beginning the first time we launched the company we launched with 25 different teas loosely teas from all around the world. black teas, oolong teas, green teas and then herbs blended. So we really came up And we we made an impact and the story was multi layered. We didn’t take specifically any kind of individual environmental or social dimension, we just tried to address them, again in sort of an integrated, holistic manner. The values that were articulated were, you know, were those of this kind of ecological integrity. They were also values of health. In 1991, I believe it was the first year there was a legitimate clinical study performed on the Pali phenolic content in green tea. So this was the beginning of sort of recognizing the bioactive ingredients in plants on a, you know, from an efficacy perspective, and this first study identified that these antioxidants could be positive in preventing cancer. It wasn’t a, you know, a fully blown claim at that time. But I was really intrigued with that. So the values were around health, sustainability, they were around having a calm, clear lifestyle, a respectful and responsible way of being in the world.
Borna (ClimateAi) 17:18
Yeah, I love that. And I think that is the right approach to take. I mean, the more I read about a lot of these different topics, the more I realized they’re very interrelated. In a previous life, I was working in the energy sector, and now I’m in the ag sector, and I’m learning a little bit more about kind of like holistic medicine as well. And it seems like all these things are very interrelated. And to address one in one way would be kind of applying a bandaid solution to what is kind of a systemic issue. So I think that’s a very cool way you guys approach that? A question that I have is, you guys seem to be like, I guess the Republic of T had this aura of like, this is a some somehow like morally aligned company with what I believe in as a consumer like this is this is what a consumer at that time might have. said, Now we have companies that are making claims. Things like some some that have more definition than than others. People are saying organic people are saying sustainable, people are saying regenerative. Some of these things have definitions. Some of them have multiple definitions. Some of them have no definitions. So how can people and consumers right now kind of decipher
William Rosenzweig 18:20
truth from masking what people are doing with some sort of label? Well, the only way to do that is to really decide to engage in a curious and rigorous way. Unfortunately, labeling laws, the meaning of certain words and certifications is just massive confusion these days. You know, the sustainability movement kind of came out of the corporate sector, and in the early days of corporate social responsibility. Back when I started teaching at Berkeley, we just started to see the emergence of people Working in corporate offices of social responsibility, meaning they were starting to pay attention to the impact of the business on the communities in which they work or, you know, built plants and organizations. And then you’d have a separate group that was sort of looking at supply chains. And this word sustainability came about john Elkington. 30 or more years ago, coined a term called the triple bottom line. He also started an organization probably 30 something years ago called sustainability, which was a great inspiration to me. John’s been a real thought leader and and pioneer in in these areas. I encourage anyone who’s interested in this topic to look at his writing. He’s about to come out with a new book, too. That’s quite fascinating. But I think to answer your question, I think you have to be prepared to do the kind of work to do Understand what is behind labels and claims and engage in conversations with, with companies. I’m afraid that we become so focused on convenience and transactions and extraction, if you will, that a lot of our behavior, if you will, as human beings these days is kind of without a lot of conscious thought, especially as it relates to food. I hear so much that people feel so busy and so stressed. And so either unable to take the time to acquire the food they they want or grow the food they want or cook the food they they aspire to eat. There’s also a lot of issues in food about accessibility and affordability. One of the big challenges with food and agriculture is that in many ways, many people believe that food is Having access to food is really a human right like, like freedom, freedom of speech eating something that’s not going to kill you that’s actually going to nourish you as a human right. And that’s a really important notion. Regrettably, the industrial food system has developed in ways that has optimized for convenience, cost efficiency, and that we are now discovering vividly through the science is not necessarily serving our health or our climate.
Borna (ClimateAi) 21:34
Yeah, that’s an interesting, it kind of runs directly opposite to the way that we’re incentivizing the growth of these things like organic today, like we’re offering organic premium. And a lot of people think that we should be offering premiums on many of these labels that people want to start applying their food in order for farmers to be compensated, which is a fair request and the farmers are considering that farming is a very tough business and it’s hard to make money, but at the same time, it’s making it difficult for the average consumer To get the same quality of food, what’s your what’s your view on? You know, in the United States, we’ve developed this mindset that food is expensive and good food is expensive. And I think
William Rosenzweig 22:09
that’s all relative. And it’s, it’s, you know, we’ve been kind of brainwashed into thinking that the benchmark for good food is what industrial ag as, you know, an industrial processing and big food has delivered to us. And I have to say, like, I have many friends that work in those industries, and they’re not bad people, but they’re in a paradigm that is now you know, under duress and kind of broken. What we need to do is help people understand the true cost of food, the externalities we call it of what it really costs to produce food that maybe is full of, you know, chemicals and that are having secondary impacts that the company is not effectively paying for So, you know, I just spent a week with 15 farmers who are farming organically and with regenerative principles, meaning they’re focused on practices that could lead to higher levels of carbon sequestration. And the diminishment or removal of synthetic fertilizers, petroleum based farming, and they are challenged people don’t really appreciate the amount of labor that goes into their work
Borna (ClimateAi) 23:35
harder and much less formulaic. And yeah,
William Rosenzweig 23:37
I think, you know, just one of the things I try to convey in the edible education class that I teach at UC Berkeley is to encourage people whenever possible to to get as close to their farmer as possible to you know, to actually it’s wonderful to go meet them at the farmers market and go beyond it. Just engaging in a transaction of just buying something. But when time permits to better understand what they’re doing, what goes into it, how much time does it take even better is to go visit them on their farm and develop an appreciation. And then best yet is to try to grow it yourself once you grow a carrot for yourself the first time and see that it can take 60 to 75 to 80 days to grow a carrot, and how much sort of continuous attention and protection from, you know pests and animals. And you know, and then when that carrot comes out of the ground, it’s a wonder it’s a miracle and it tastes like nothing you’ve ever purchased at the store. So I don’t know I think as human beings there’s an opportunity to rediscover our connection to the wonders of nature, the amazing miracle of all the beauty and nourishment that can be created. A seed. And this isn’t, you know, this isn’t a throwback, there’s certainly plenty of room for technology in farming. But what makes me nervous is when we start having conversations about technology to sort of replace the systems of nature that bring us great abundance and nourishment and enjoy, like, robotic bees. For instance, what why do we need robotic bees? Why don’t we just stop killing the one? Right?
Borna (ClimateAi) 25:32
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s 100% accurate. And I totally agree. And I think engaging with the farmer is important on a lot of levels. As a consumer, mainly like there’s a lot of these labels don’t actually cover the full spectrum. As a consumer, you don’t even really know what they mean a lot of the time, like most people don’t really know exactly know like one or two things about each of these labels, they don’t really know. And a lot of farmers are maybe farming more or less organically or more or less regenerative Li or more or less sustainably but They just don’t want to go through the process of getting a certified and I feel like talking to the people, or talking to the farmers themselves can give you a sense of like, Okay, well, where do I stand on this?
William Rosenzweig 26:08
I think that’s right and Borna I’m going to encourage you to use the word eater instead of consumer. The problem with consumer is it sort of human lis. And big food companies want to think of you as a consumer and they want to think of your stomach as having day parts at which you can eat. And because companies think of people as consumers, they actually invented this whole category of eating called snacking. They actually created a fourth category, you know, you had breakfast, lunch and dinner and now you have snacking, which can happen all the time. And snacking as we know with sugar laden and carbohydrate Laden. Processed foods is contributing a lot to diabetes and obesity. cardiovascular disease of just unprecedented, you know, levels and the burden of disease, which means what the public health people think of is the cost of treating chronic disease and people chronic disease, meaning something that you’re going to have for a long time, you’re not necessarily going to die from it right away, but you’re going to have it for a long time and the burden of that diseases trillions of dollars a year, totally on the US healthcare system.
Borna (ClimateAi) 27:30
But that’s not inherently an issue for snacking. It’s an it’s an issue for the snacks that are made in a way that’s completely unhealthy. Like, my point was, yeah,
William Rosenzweig 27:38
I mean, I think you know, if you follow Michael Pollan’s, you know, little Haiku about, you know, eat food, in his definition is something that you can pronounce, doesn’t have a lot of added. Not too much. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much or eat food. Mostly Plants not too much. If you follow that, with some mindful discipline, you’re going to be be okay. And I think those are simple, you know, important guiding words. Yeah, unfortunately, just in the scurry of life, and the story of modern life, particularly in the US, I don’t know what it’s like for, for you Borna but many people, you know, when I grew up, I still came was was coming out of an era where, you know, moms had a job and it was staying at home. And so, cooking was still something that was happening actively in homes. I think in the last generation or two, you know, there’s been more progression into the workforce by both women and men and the role of sort of cooking gardening with used to be called Home Economics has, has shrunk. And we’ve become, you know, more dependent. The fast food industry was kind of born out of this idea of making mom’s life a lot easier kind of taking your brain off her, you know, and letting you have it your way, you know, from a fast food restaurant giving you a break from cooking. And, you know, that the pendulum swung dramatically so that that became kind of the status quo. And, you know, there’s some groups of people that are trying to recover the joys and beauties, the health benefits and even the environmental potential of, of cooking at home. You know, as we’ve learned in the last decade, food waste is an enormous contributor to climate change. Yeah, the way food is grown. Turns out as you probably know, that book draw down you know, a fantastic book, for any Buddy in your community, if they haven’t seen it, but there’s a lot of good research there. And I think what they do is they they look at all of the possible interventions for drawing down the carbon levels that are contributing to temperature rise. And, like nine out of the top 15, or something like that solutions for drawing down carbon are food related Food and Agriculture related. So that’s one of the reasons I think so many students from so many different disciplines today are being drawn into the food sector, Food and Ag sector, in ways that they haven’t been in past decades or generations. Because it’s such an exciting, high potential area to get involved and make a difference just even as an eater starting as an eater the way you eat. Each of us eats collectively could have a huge impact. on climate change, and, you know, human health, definitely. And
Borna (ClimateAi) 31:04
I want to dig into that a little bit more. So you you previously mentioned john Elkington and the triple bottom line concept. And when you came to UC Berkeley as a professor, I think in in 2000 or so was it 2009? You were teaching a class that was about triple bottom line. So curious to get kind of your view on like, What does climate fit into triple bottom line? And where does climate resilience fit in climate being like, climate change? How do we reduce our emissions, climate resilience being? How do we adapt to so that people aren’t getting their livelihoods ruined, so that people aren’t in harm’s way because of climate change? 20 years ago, there was a paradigm that actually still exists, I would think of it as the schizophrenia of capitalism, and that was
William Rosenzweig 31:46
one hand, people were profit motivated to try to make as much money as they could. And then they’d set up foundations to give away that money to address social ills. And areas that needed work. So there’s a real schizophrenia in the business community between making as much money as you could maximizing profit, but then also, not being a bad guy, but being a good guy, and, you know, doing good in the world. I think that back around that time I remember, I was working with the Rockefeller Foundation a little bit, they were very intrigued. They were also under some pressure along with the Gates Foundation, some investigative journalists had done some reporting about the portfolios, the investment portfolios of these really large foundations. And they found that those companies were invested in businesses that were actually causing the problems that they were trying to address through the foundation that was really you know, so, you know, they might be, they might be investing in a chemical company that’s producing great returns in the market, but it’s also creating a chemical that’s causing cancer. That their foundation is giving money to to try to find, you know, that was sort of this schizophrenia of capitalism, you know, you’re sort of creating a problem on one hand, and then the another, you know, and then having a philanthropic effort to try to resolve it on the other and a number of large foundations with a lot of money, the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, they were sort of held up to say, hey, how can you do that? That just doesn’t make sense. So, back in the early 2000s, there was some attempt to reconcile that and harmonize the actual investment portfolios at that time. Again, the Chief Investment Officer, their role was to maximize the returns of the foundation. So we’d have the maximum amount of money to give away right, but they weren’t connected together. So yeah. And the market has not necessarily moved to address the urgency of Climate change. We’re just starting to see some of the biggest investment managers asset managers like BlackRock, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock has been in the news, saying, you know, we’re not going to be investing in fossil fuel businesses, we’re going to be phasing those out of our portfolio, we’re recognizing that that paradigm is not good for the planet and not good for business. The challenges is that everything has to contain this. It’s not good for business piece. Yeah. And business is just, it’s got too many trailing indicators to really be assertive in the leadership that’s necessary. That’s why I focus on working with entrepreneurs because entrepreneurs need to disrupt the status quo, to show that there’s a better solution and gain traction in a way that it changes the paradigm of the capitalists. You know, playing field?
Borna (ClimateAi) 35:02
Yeah. Can we talk a little bit more about the purpose of like the triple bottom line means environmental, social and financial? Correct? Yeah, the three pillars of triple bottom line. So for the for those that don’t know, from the listeners, basically, instead of just having a financial bottom line, what is my profit? How much money am I making? There’s also an environmental and social component that you want to consider and that you want to quantify, which will is actually a part of putting together that kind of framework is the point that that companies just have a moral obligation to consider these three things, or is the point that if they do these things, in the long run, they will be a more successful brand and a more successful business or a little bit of both?
William Rosenzweig 35:37
Well, I think companies and leaders have been working hard to demonstrate that being ecologically responsible is good business. Certainly the company Unilever with its CEO, Paul Polman, who retired recently made that the cornerstone of his tenure, you know, over 10 years leading the company, he recognized that depleting natural resources, farming in ways that poisoned the soil and watersheds was not in his business, his best interest that he had to take a longer term perspective than the current markets generally afford. One of the things he did tangibly was he did away with his quarterly earnings calls, where he was just reporting on short term profits.
Borna (ClimateAi) 36:33
And ask you how does a company do that when they’re tied to quarterly reports, they
William Rosenzweig 36:37
get rid of the quarterly reports and their shareholders stayed with them and their stock went up. dramatically. I had the good fortune of managing Unilever’s venture capital activities in North America for over a decade. And, you know, work with them closely to look at investing in technologies that we’re going to create you know, better forms of packaging or energy conservation or better health outcomes through, you know, food and other products. But you know, john Elkington actually just wrote another paper recently where he recalled his triple bottom line, it just, it didn’t work. It didn’t get enough traction, there was never clear accountability for those other bottom lines. They were pretty much anecdotal. The market did not adopt regular or standardized measures to be able to effectively compare performance because we’re still focused in such short term thinking. So really the opportunity, you know, for any of us that have the good fortune and you know, the privilege to work, maybe in a business or an organization that has a 401k or retirement plan, you know, another place that where we can look is to see how our assets are invested, are they invested in a way that is harmonious with the world that we envision for our children and our grandchildren? And what we have to do now is we have to stretch, we have to stretch the horizons in which we measure success. And unfortunately, so many people still pay attention to the Dow Jones Industrial Average the number like a barometer of well being, and it’s just the wrong indicator. It’s just the wrong indicator to know what our, you know, human health and well being indexes. And one of the things I thought about and I have not made any progress on it is like how to create new measures. You know, everybody like looks at the weather forecast every day, people might look at their stock portfolio. They hear the Dow Jones numbers and the s&p 500 they’re reported endlessly at the ticker tape bottom of, you know, new shows, but they’re just the wrong indicator for how we’re doing. How we’re doing as a species on a planet with limited resources, how are we doing? And then every year, you see the report, you know, we just saw a report then, in the press the other day in the New York Times, it played pretty big on Fox News. I don’t even know if they talked about it. But it was we just had our second warmest year temperature wise ever. I live in Sonoma County. I saw flames burning out my window last October, I woke up in the middle of the night smelled smoke and said, you know, to my wife, I think we got to get up and check this out. You know, and then you look at what’s happening in Australia. I’ve been corresponding with friends who are in Australia, and you know, it’s just devastating. That’s what what’s happening human beings to the animal population to the natural environment. To the air to the water, I mean, it’s a total calamity. So what I’m trying to figure out is through teaching and through inspiring and guiding entrepreneurial founders, of which I think there are some listening to this program is how do you design a business to effectively translate values into competitive advantage? How do you take that competitive advantage and create a real bond of trust with your stakeholders, with your customers with your entire ecosystem that contributes to your ability to flourish? And then also how, as a challenger, to the status quo, do you shed light on what your incumbent competitors are doing? Which is not sustainable, healthy or good for anyone in the long run? So, yeah, I think the challenge that faces us is how do I We develop a longer term appreciation for our work our lives and our impact. And from a practical perspective, I think the answer to that is gardening interest. I mean, I don’t I don’t say that flippantly. I just actually think that, you know, so many people I know say, Oh, I don’t have a green thumb. I can’t grow anything. Things want to flourish, you know, plants want to flourish in the right conditions. But I think what it is its attention. I think, fundamentally, one of the tenants of gardening is care. Yeah. And the other is attention. They go hand in hand. And I think one of the real crises that many people are facing right now is a crisis of attention. Where do I put my attention, I am so distracted. I am so drawn into information.
Borna (ClimateAi) 42:00
stimulant Yeah, I read a quote that blew my mind it was a wealth of information as a poverty of attention. And now it’s now it’s on a sticker on my wall above my bed.
William Rosenzweig 42:10
So my you know, my classes and are a little different than normal business school classes, there are still a lot of people that think about business is all about maximizing profit for shareholders. The word shareholder is starting to be substituted with the word stakeholder, which is meant to embrace. Yeah, there are some, you know, certifications and organizations, the for benefit corporation where you can actually make the environment, a stakeholder in your business and you can act in its its interests too. But I have to say, managing these kinds of businesses, if you want to call it a triple bottom line business, it’s harder. It’s much harder than just a single bottom line business. You can’t Need to really prepare people to get good at this. So in addition to gardening, I also really recommend developing your capacity for systems thinking. Systems Thinking is a discipline that was developed by people like Jay Forrester and donella. meadows and john sternum at MIT. It is the study of complex systems of how all things are interdependent and connect. And the practice of systems thinking is to begin to identify sort of inflows and outflows are impact investing, we call it inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impact. Yeah, but we also look to identify where there are levers of change. And so this dynamic of systems intelligence, I call it food systems intelligence. This is what I’m introducing you To the undergraduate curriculum now, through edible Ed and food and agriculture are a wonderful place to explore and learn about systems. So Matter of fact, all of the edible Ed lectures are available online. If you just search for edible at one on one, you’ll find years worth of lectures from really distinguished scientists, researchers, practitioners, innovators, chefs, farmers, it’s just an amazing collection of, of online information and knowledge that can really help I think people develop food systems intelligence.
Borna (ClimateAi) 44:42
Yeah. And well, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Hey, everybody, thanks for listening. If you have any feedback, or you’d like to add your own two cents on the topic discussed today, or if you’ve just got your own ideas about someone that we should discuss in the future, please feel free to shoot me an email at podcast at climate dot Ai at its core, this podcast is just a way for us to learn and we want to share our learnings as we go. So we’re always open to building on these conversations and hearing new perspectives. Thanks for your support and see you next time.
food entrepreneurship and sustainability guru