Michael Cody of Earth Animal: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability And The Environment

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine

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Make friends, ask a lot of questions, and offer a lot of help. The people you’ll meet have a profound impact on who you will be and your ability to accomplish your goals.

As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Cody, Head of Sustainability, Earth Animal.

Michael holds three college degrees, including a master’s degree in Sustainability and Entrepreneurship from DePaul University. Driven by passion for the environment and a desire to do more for the world around us, Michael started a pet food brand dedicated to solving environmental issues through the commercial market. He won awards including the Pet Innovation Prize from Purina and was featured as a 40 Under 40 for Pet Age Magazine. Michael now leads the global ESG and impact programs for Earth Animal, helping to pioneer a more sustainable future for animals, people, and the Earth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been conscious of our effects on the environment, but it wasn’t until grad school where I became truly interested in doing something substantial. There, I heard about the invasive Asian Carp, that spread throughout the Mississippi River and any body of water connected to it, threatening the biodiversity of the Great Lakes and the rest of North America.

I wanted to solve this environmental problem through the commercial market. At that time, I was cooking some local carp and dropped a piece on the floor. My puppy went nuts over it, and the idea was born — I would turn these invasive fish into healthy pet treats. We proved out the concept and won awards along the way for our sustainable approach to pet food. That business led to some impactful relationships in the pet industry, ultimately leading me to my current role at Earth Animal.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

Earth Animal® is a pet health & wellness company dedicated to doing things another way by pioneering a more humane, holistic, and sustainable way to enhance and preserve quality of life for animals, people, and the Earth. The co-founders started the company 40 years ago with the mission to create impactful products free of harmful chemicals or additives. Its purpose is simple: make the highest quality pet products, always consider the environmental impact, and do it all with absolute energy and love. Earth Animal makes food, treats, natural flea and tick prevention products, natural remedies, supplements, and the world-famous No-Hide® Chews.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Sustainability for Earth Animal is deliberate and strategic. We look through a sustainability lens for everything we do as a company. That is why we dedicate 1% of our annual sales to like-minded organizations, industry stewardship, and mission-driven efforts that enhance and preserve quality of life for animals, people, and the Earth. That doesn’t mean we simply “give” 1% away, it means we dedicate and use 1% to further our positive impact in supporting all our stakeholders that share in this mission.

We have 3 key areas we want to address up front; Governance and transparency in our supply chain; Animal Advocacy and Welfare — ensuring all animals in our supply chain live a good life; and reducing our environmental footprint while inspiring others in our industry to do the same.

  • Our goal is to be zero waste to landfill for our packaging, particularly plastics. We’ve partnered with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in North America and the On Pack Recycling Label in the UK to add clear recycling instructions on our packs.
  • We are transitioning all our plastic packaging to a recyclable structure by the end of 2025. Instead of having multiple layers of differing materials that are very hard to recycle, we will utilize a mono-polymer structure that is recyclable at store take-back programs.
  • We partner with rePurpose Global to offset any packaging excess or misprints They remove the same amount of plastic from the world’s oceans as we produce and help establish recycling centers in marginalized communities around the world.
  • We are investing in reducetarian and plant-based products to reduce our dependence on factory farmed animals and provide pet parents education about the environmental imperative to look for more sustainable ways to feed their pets.
  • We invest heavily in animal welfare and will release our framework rooted in the 5 domains of animal welfare in January 2022. From there we will be making commitments to ensure each species is appropriately cared for.
  • We utilize the “uglies” in our products where possible — perfectly nutritious fruits and vegetables that don’t look “pretty” enough for grocery.
  • We just launched a Kelp Jerky dog treat using kelp grown off the coast of Maine. The treats are healthy for pets and the regenerative kelp helps reduce ocean acidification and sequesters carbon.
  • We became a Public Benefit Corporation in 2021, meaning our board is required to consider the public benefit, not just financial benefit, with every decision made. We look to become B Corp certified in 2022.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Sustainability isn’t just about being environmentally conscious, one area I think is often misconstrued. People often think sustainability is just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies getting together to try and save the Earth without regard for long term economic considerations. While sustainability does take environmental concerns into consideration, sustainability, by definition, means “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Sustainability is maximizing efficiencies — only producing what you realistically need, reducing excess waste, and redefining what the problem is. That could mean a reduction in packaging size or eliminating part of the packaging equation altogether. Does your product need to be wrapped in plastic and then placed inside a cardboard box? Can you remove one or the other, reducing your environmental impact while decreasing costs? There are countless examples of how sustainability can increase efficiencies.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

Get out in the woods and enjoy nature, simple as that. Take your kids hiking, camping, fishing, or to the park at an early age. I grew up playing in the woods behind my parent’s house, and we went hiking and camping every year. It had a major impact on my life and what I want to do with it.

Teach them to respect the Earth and all the animals on it, including other humans. Encourage inclusivity and diversity and foster a diverse community around them.

Show them where their food comes from. Show them the mountains of trash that our society creates. Explain the impact of deforestation and microplastics.

Take responsibility for the situation we are in and lead by example. Recycle and compost at home, buy in bulk, and buy environmentally conscious alternatives whenever available.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Don’t overthink it and don’t be afraid, take that first step. It’s the only way to get started.
  2. You are going to fail, a lot. Don’t get discouraged — if you haven’t failed your ideas aren’t bold enough.
  3. Persistence and passion are the most important factors in determining success.
  4. Make friends, ask a lot of questions, and offer a lot of help. The people you’ll meet have a profound impact on who you will be and your ability to accomplish your goals.
  5. You don’t know everything — keep an open mind and soak it all in. Learn from everyone you meet.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great teachers, mentors, coworkers, and partners to help me along the way. I certainly wouldn’t be at Earth Animal without its Chief Marketing Officer, Stephanie Volo. Her leadership and guidance have always encouraged bold thinking and meaningful action.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my parents. They raised me to be conscious of animals, people, and the Earth and to be a good citizen in the world. They have supported every decision I’ve made in my life, whether they agreed with it or not, and always encouraged to me look at every situation from different perspectives. I’ve taken many paths in my life, but they’ve all lead me to where I am now, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their support.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Buy less stuff. It’s pretty simple and would change the world as we know it. As a society, we are obsessed with getting “more stuff” but it is becoming more and more clear that if we buy fewer items of higher quality, we will reduce the impact on our environment. Even Yvonne Chouinard — the founder of Patagonia — says “don’t buy this from me if you don’t need it.” He also acknowledges that “most of what we produce to sell each other is crap.” So, rather than buying more crap, let’s invest in higher quality items with a smaller carbon footprint and a longer life.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
John Muir

Not every road you take in life will be paved and easy to follow. Some of them will be hard and messy. Don’t shy away from those challenges- those are the ones where you truly learn about yourself and where you’ll find the biggest opportunity to influence the world around you. But also — go out and experience nature, get in the forests and listen to the trees sing and the wind blow. Nothing clears your mind like a walk in the woods.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can follow our sustainability journey on Earth Animal’s Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages.

Earth Animal Social Media Channels:

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts