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Ocean Spray’s Christina Ferzli: “Here Is What Our Company Is Doing To Tackle Climate Change”

An Interview with Penny Bauder

Believe and live what you preach. If you don’t truly believe in what you are saying and doing, success will be very hard, if not impossible.

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Ferzli. Christina has dedicated her career to building a healthier future for our people, planet, and communities. As Ocean Spray’s Director of Global Corporate Affairs, Chris leads Ocean Spray’s Health and Wellness, Public Relations, Consumer Engagement, Executive Communications, Events Management, and Corporate Social Responsibility teams. Her primary goal is to ensure we connect our farms to families for a better life and share Ocean Spray’s unique story across the globe.

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

Since a young age, I have always wanted to help others. I was the kid at lunch who gave away my food to those who were hungrier than me. I always asked my mom to stop at the bus stop and give a ride to the woman with her baby waiting in the cold. I gave my holiday toy away to another child when visiting my dad at work. And, when I was receiving my education, I went to law school in hopes of curing homelessness in our world, and realized that so much of our systemic deterioration is rooted in improving the health of our people and our planet. My career as an attorney led me to take a leadership position as strategy director and legal counsel on First Lady Michelle Obama’s team, with a focus on creating cross-sector partnerships to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of food worldwide. There, I realized just how interconnected nutrition and sustainability were — improving one should intrinsically also improve the other. Today at Ocean Spray, I work closely on developing cross-sector initiatives that impact our planet and our people in a positive way.

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

Our purpose at Ocean Spray is to connect farms to families for a better life. Impact is not a part of our business; it is our business. We are on a mission to improve the health of our people and our planet.

When it comes to our planet, we look around the world and see a rise in environmental challenges, especially in agriculture. Ocean Spray is doubling down on sustainability to combat issues like climate change, and to ensure we are a regenerative and resilient cooperative for generations to come. We have committed to sustainably farming all of our cranberries, making us the first fruit cooperative to verify 100% of its crop as sustainably grown. With the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), we are benchmarking our crop to SAI’s Farm Sustainability Assessment, a comprehensive tool for sustainable farming. This is the first time a fruit cooperative worldwide is verifying its fruit as sustainably farmed. While there are many sustainable farming claims and frameworks, Ocean Spray is stepping up by having a third party auditor verify its farming as sustainable. The definition of sustainable by SAI standards goes beyond traditional definitions. Ocean Spray is measuring its efficient production of safe, high quality agricultural products, in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees, and local communities, and also safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.

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?

We recently committed to verifying 100% of our cranberries as sustainably grown, using a third-party auditor, SAI. When we say Ocean Spray cranberries are grown sustainably, we mean they are grown using methods and tools that ensure the long-term viability and wellbeing of the cranberry vines, the surrounding ecosystems that supports those vines, and the farmers, workers and communities growing the berries. For reference, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) measures sustainable agriculture through their Farm Sustainability Assessment Standard (FSA Standard) and defines sustainable agriculture as:

· The efficient production of safe, high quality agricultural products

· In a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities, and

· Safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.

The SAI FSA aims to accelerate a sustainable agriculture that feeds the world, protects the planet and improves farming lives, advancing people, profit and the planet. The FSA provides a single benchmark for comparing existing codes, schemes and legislation. The SAI Platform FSA assesses sustainable agriculture across 17 topics, such as soil, water, and waste management and the impact on the local community, employee health and safety, and biodiversity. This FSA for Ocean Spray is an assessment of 112 weighted and scored questions covering a holistic breadth of topics relevant to farm management.

It’s a lot of hard work, but we know it’s worth it for our communities and consumers, today and tomorrow. As a North American native perennial crop, cranberry growing practices are unique and naturally in harmony with the surrounding environment. This sustainably grown program will help Ocean Spray farmers document existing good practices and identify further improvements.

We’re broadcasting our efforts far and wide to encourage other cooperatives, companies and farmers to take action on sustainable agriculture. We hope others will follow in our footsteps in creating a better world for people and the planet.

The time is also ripe to share our unique story. As a North American native perennial crop, our cranberry growing practices are unique and naturally in harmony with the surrounding environment. Our commitment will help us document our existing good practices and identify further improvements. The hard work involved is a testament to Ocean Spray’s dedication to bringing our farms to families for a better life.

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?

We are uniquely situated during a time when doing good fosters doing well. Ocean Spray is a multi-generational cooperative of more than 700 farmers, so our commitment to sustaining future generations runs deep. As we look around the world, we see a rise in environmental and social challenges, so we’re doubling down on sustainability to be a regenerative and resilient cooperative for generations to come. At Ocean Spray, we feel fortunate that making a true impact for our farmers and our planet is also appealing to people who eat our food and drink our juice.

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.

1. Lead by example

2. Lead by example

3. Lead by example

4. Lead by example

5. Lead by example

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

1. Don’t bite your tongue. Your ideas are unique to you. Get them out there! Worst-case scenario, they don’t crystalize. Anyone who makes you feel bad about an opinion or any idea is the one who is in the wrong, not you.

2. Your youth is a power, not a weakness. Fresh eyes and minds are such a game changer. Don’t ever feel your lack of experience is disempowering — rather, it is an asset.

3. Believe and live what you preach. If you don’t truly believe in what you are saying and doing, success will be very hard, if not impossible.

4. It’s okay to feel tired. You need to remember we are all human — take care of yourself so you can take care of others and our world!

5. Trust your gut. Always.

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 had the privilege of working with First Lady Michelle Obama from my time as the Strategy Director and Legal Counsel for her Partnership for a Healthier America. Mrs. Obama taught me the importance of leading with purpose — how focusing on the common good will always result in a win, whether for the world or for the business. I learned dedication, drive, passion, and attention to detail; that the most important part is believing in what you are doing day in and day out. Most importantly, I learned that leadership isn’t about being authoritative — if you are truly a good leader you shouldn’t be the only voice in the room. When the task is completed and the project is successful, your team will say, “We did it!”

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. :-)

For one day a week, every single person doesn’t use power. I mean power in two senses of the word — electricity, gas, cars, etc., and also authority. A day of both kindness to our planet and kindness to each other, mindfully. The astronomical effect we would see quickly on our planet would be so worth it — even with just one day a week! — and the hopeful humility that grows from listening to everyone on a level playing field would be so meaningful.

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

“Hope is a powerful weapon.” — Nelson Mandela

I truly believe there is no better feeling than having your hopes so high and seeing them come to fruition. Pushing through, being set on success, and finding creative ways to realize your goals are not possible without hope.

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

You can follow me on Linkedin. You can follow Ocean Spray on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

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