How She Leads is a regular GreenBiz feature spotlighting the careers of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business.
With more than $6 billion in annual revenue and 4,500 employees, Golden State Foods in Orange County, Calif., is one of the largest suppliers to the foodservice industry. The company is big on community involvement: More than 80 percent of its workforce is involved with the GSF Foundation, dedicated to helping children and families in need.
At the center of GSF's evolving environmental strategies is Dimetria Jackson, hired in December 2012 as director of corporate social responsibility and sustainability. An attorney by training, Jackson is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia School of Law. In her "spare" time, she is the CEO of redBAMBINA.com, an outline boutique for children and expectant mothers; plus she's raising two young boys with her husband. I spoke with Dimetria about how her legal background helps shape her management of GSF's far-reaching CSR and sustainability objectives.
Heather Clancy: You went from being a lawyer to becoming a sustainability executive. What inspired you to make that move?
Dimetria Jackson: Lawyers have had a positive impact on corporate governance, human rights and environmental protection, as well as shaping the CSR programs of many corporations around the world. As lawyers, we're trained to work within a framework in accordance with regulations, and as sustainability and CSR become more regulated — and I'm referring to self-regulation as well as self-reporting — I envision that more lawyers, and CFOs, will become involved in CSR. I was inspired to make the move to GSF based on my interest in learning the subject matter. I also have a passion for ensuring that natural resources are going to be available for my generation and future generations.
Clancy: So who hired you? Who do you report to?
Jackson: My position is centered in the GSF corporate legal department. I report to the chief CSR and legal officer, another attorney [laughter].
Clancy: Why is it structured that way?
Jackson: From my perspective, it's the norm, although I talk to others and I find that CSR can be in many different departments: sometimes my position reports to [human resources], sometimes it reports to the chief financial officer. At GSF, it reports to legal, along with our foundation and diversity initiatives. This makes sense because this team has so much involvement throughout the company promoting CSR and sustainability, as well as diversity.
Clancy: What would you say are your green business priorities?
Jackson: GSF has had sustainability goals for years, and in 2014 launched its sustainability strategic plan. My priorities involve achieving the five overarching goals set forth in that plan. Our goals for 2020 include: reducing our carbon footprint by 20 percent; achieving zero waste to landfill at 100 percent of our facilities; achieving Energy Star or LEED certification at 75 percent of our facilities; using renewable energy or alternative fuels in 100 percent of our fleet; and achieving active engagement of 75 percent of our associates. In addition to our five goals, we also seek to align our sustainability initiatives with our customers and suppliers.
Clancy: What does active engagement mean? Just that they're participating in the programs or that they're sharing the news about what GSF is doing?
Jackson: A combination. Our associates are, overall, very involved. We have a foundation, in which our associates are very actively involved, but we want to get them involved more broadly in our other programs as well. We have a program, for instance, called Commit to be Fit. This is a voluntary health and wellness program that includes financial wellness. Associates are encouraged to participate, they're encouraged to do our walking challenge, where we walk or exercise 30 minutes, three days a week. Then at the end of each quarter, associates are eligible for incentives for participation in the program.
We have Earth Week and Earth Day challenges. We have learn at lunch events, in which we invite speakers to talk on an array of topics. We do a variety of things to get our employees excited about sustainability, excited about the community and how they can get involved. Our approach is always top-down and bottom-up. We learn so much from our associates, so it's really important for them to be engaged throughout the process.
Clancy: As I was poking around on the GSF Web site, I noticed the statement of environmental policy (PDF). Some of your goals are part of that. What's the story behind the creation of that policy?
Jackson: It was created as a way to convey our commitment to our associates, customers and suppliers, as well as the communities in which we operate. I think the plan was being put into place about the time that I arrived. I had some input with regard to the plan, but it was developed in conjunction with our CSR/Sustainability Steering Committee, as well as our CSR/Sustainability Champions. We seek to have buy-in from a cross-functional group of associates. We have representatives from each of our domestic facilities; we meet monthly, and we also include IT, Finance and Health and Wellness representatives within the meetings.
Clancy: Will the policy statement change over time?
Jackson: It's pretty stable. I think that if there were something we decided to do that was dramatically different from what's already set forth, we would make changes. We have [the policy] numbered at the bottom, so we can make sure that we have the correct one at each facility. This statement of environmental policy, by the way, is posted at all of our facilities, so if we have to make a change, obviously we're going to have to change the policy and send it out to all locations. The policy has been in place for at least a year, maybe a little longer. It sets forth our commitment, so we wanted to make sure that it was readily available to the public and also make sure our associates see it, every day.
Clancy: What do you consider your team's most important achievement so far?
Jackson: We've made several important achievements that I'm quite proud of. From a mindset standpoint, we have a uniform direction and goals to achieve carbon footprint reduction and other social, environmental and economic impacts. In regards to the environment, we're exploring innovative ways to use renewable energy.
For example, we installed solar panels on our trailers at our City of Industry [Calif.] distribution center to power the pallet jacks. We're planning to expand this initiative to our Phoenix and Hawaii facilities — basically to make better use of the sun's rays. This summer, our Illinois associates are moving into GSF’s newly constructed Chicago Distribution Center that will be LEED Gold and ISO 14001 certified.
Currently, 100 percent of the GSF distribution centers dedicated to McDonald's business are ISO 14001 certified. GSF’s New Zealand facility has also achieved ISO 14001 certification and our manufacturing facility, in Conyers, Ga., is scheduled to achieve ISO 14001 certification this year. One of our goals is to have an environmental management system at all of our facilities by 2017. We've achieved over 50 percent of that goal to date, which has resulted in increasing our landfill diversion rates, and driving energy reductions and cost savings for the company.
Lastly, from a social perspective, I mentioned earlier we have a GSF Foundation. Currently, more than 80 percent of our associates are actively supporting the foundation through personal involvement and donations. The foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families in need. I’ve found, from talking to other people, that it is rare to have such a high level of commitment from our associates to our foundation; which is just wonderful.
Clancy: Realizing that there are many challenges in your job, what is your biggest daily obstacle and how are you surmounting it?
Jackson: There is so much to do, and no lack of ideas and programs to implement. Our challenge is identifying initiatives that fit our business and keeping the directional push forward and our associates engaged. We don’t always get it right, but we fail forward and reset when necessary.
Clancy: Who do you consider to be your most inspirational mentor?
Jackson: My most inspirational mentor, or mentors, was not environmentalists [laughter]. My most inspirational mentor is the Honorable Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice and lead attorney in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. My parents are also my mentors. Justice Marshall inspired me to go to law school, and my parents inspired me to make a difference; to make a difference in my community.
Clancy: So, what advice would you give someone who aspires to a career like yours?
Jackson: I think it's important to learn the landscape through coursework, certificate or degree programs, and also to explore volunteer opportunities. I would also recommend that you learn the language of your industry and work with the business leaders to become a trusted resource and help add value to your organization's bottom line.
Top image of Dimetria Jackson by GSF.