The Sustainable MBA

What B Corp certification means for Danone North America

Deanna Bratter from Danone

Danone North America — maker of Dannon, Silk, So Delicious, Horizon Organic and Vega, among others — recently became the largest certified B Corp in the world for its commitment to social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

As a large multinational company, Danone North America demonstrated that certification is attainable and should be an ambition for companies regardless of size or sector.

Deanna Bratter, senior director of sustainable development strategy for Danone North America, led the company’s B Corp initiative. Bratter drives the company's sustainability strategy and programs to support the interconnectivity between the health of people and the health of the planet and works to amplify the positive impacts of sustainability within business.

She oversees the organization's nature and sustainability focus areas, including commitments to solving climate change, advancing sustainable and regenerative agriculture, managing water sustainably, restoring natural ecosystems, improving packaging and supporting people and communities. 

Bard MBA’s Sarah Hutcherson spoke with Bratter about Danone North America’s trailblazing sustainability efforts, including its B Corp journey and the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance.  

Sarah Hutcherson: What led Danone North America down the path to becoming the largest B Corp in the world?

Deanna Bratter: Our B Corp initiative started when we were formed as a public benefit corporation. We made a commitment to become a B Corp by 2020, using the assessment and tools for certification developed by the non-profit B Lab.

When we started this work we were in a huge transition, integrating the company, and we didn’t know how far we were from achieving the certification. But we decided that times of change create unique opportunities to embed different ways of thinking and different processes. We felt that if we started the work early, we’d probably gain a lot of valuable insight.

The more we started getting into the B Corp assessment, the more we realized that the organization was really well positioned. We had a lot of the policies, programs, initiatives and impact areas in place to set us on an incredible path.

This certification is not only something to be proud of, it also puts us in a unique position in the marketplace and in our industry by demonstrating to consumers and investors that we’re committed to transparency — that we really are delivering on the lofty goals that we set out in our One Planet. One Health vision.

Sarah Hutcherson: Have you heard from sustainability directors at other companies about now wanting to get B Corp certification?

Bratter: I am really excited to report that, yes, we did a big launch on April 12 when we became certified, and since then I’d say I’ve spoken to nearly a dozen companies that are interested in our journey and how we made it happen.

More formally, we have some Danone Global counterparts who are working on the expansion of the multinational track. They’re working with several other companies, and I believe they reported that 15 companies that Danone shared our story with globally have now engaged with B Lab and are looking at their own paths to becoming B Corps.  

Sarah Hutcherson: Danone North America is a founding member of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance. Can you tell us more about the Alliance’s mission and its current initiatives?

Bratter: The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance is a new organization focused on driving progress in public policy, which shapes what people eat and how it impacts their health, as well as the health of communities and the planet. We at Danone North America have joined with Mars, Nestle and Unilever’s United States division to look at how to prioritize and advocate for policy on a wide variety of issues, but grounded in this idea of sustainable food.

So we’re going to be focused on issues like consumer transparency, and the quality and accessibility of information around food that people are purchasing. There’ll be a focus area on the environment — on advocating for action against climate change, on building more resilient communities, promoting renewable energy and, of course, a huge focus around sustainable agriculture systems and soil health. We’re also covering food safety, nutrition and policies around people and communities, such as diversity and healthy work places.

It’s a recently launched initiative, so we’re looking at the most pressing issues, at what’s current, for example, the Farm Bill, and how these companies can come together to develop solutions that focus on sustainability.  

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s Oct. 5 The Impact Report podcast. The Impact Report brings together students and faculty in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.