Advice from a CE-Yo

Posted by: Diane Brady on December 17, 2007

I have long admired Gary Hirshberg’s business philosophy. The co-founder and chief of Stonyfield Farm combines his drive for profits with a deeply held desire to improve the environment. He has succeeded, building Stonyfield into the world’s largest producer of organic yogurt. But it has been a struggle, as I chronicled in a cover story on The Organic Myth.

Now, Hirshberg has outlined those beliefs in a new book (hitting book stores in January) called Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World. On one level, it’s a treatise on the need to move away from factory farming and chemical-intensive agriculture. But it’s also a look at the learning process Hirshberg went through in building the business—from figuring out the best form of waste management to the challenges that came with getting big. (His decision to sell out to French giant Group Danone wasn’t an easy one) In the book, Hirshberg also makes a nod to other companies whose practices he admires, from Patagonia to Wal-Mart.

Yes, there’s that element of self-indulgence that emerges when any leader writes about his or her experiences. But it’s clear that Hirshberg’s convictions aren’t forged by the latest marketing campaign. He has spent his life trying to figure out how to make his success translate to a more sustainable environment. It makes for a thoughtful read.

Reader Comments

Pedro

December 18, 2007 10:50 PM

It's better to focus on facts than on fallacies. Gary Hirshberg is probably just another CEO trying to surf the wave of organic food and social/environmental responsibility. I am aware of the fact that he did created and built Stonyfield into a respectable brand, but the issue right now is that he is taking advantage on his SUPPLIERS. It's quite easy to show all those ads depicting wild life and industrial farms "living together" when he is not doing the operational part of what is indeed a revolution of better practices in greenfield. The main part of that is NATIVE, the biggest supplier in the world of organic food and the one who has proved consistently how to balance the ecosystem with a win-win approach to environmental problems.
Take a report from EXAME.com.br regarding NATIVE:
"At the end of 2005, Gary Hishberg, founder and the main executive of Stonyfield, suggested to Balbo (Native's owner) that he was interested in changing Native for another supplier in Mexico with a cheaper price. I said to him that he would have to stop using our images showing foxes and birds on his brand advertisements", replied Balbo. Gary Hishberg backed out of his plan. "We not only buy the product itself, but all the stories from behind it, said Hishberg to EXAME.

Native has increased its revenues for the past 3 years and his productivity is way above the average:

Revenues
(In Millions of Reais)
2004 25
2005 40
2006 60

Productivity
(Tons of sugar cane per hectare)
Native ------ 104
Others ------ 84

Moreover, Native's field is a place for a diversified fauna compared to natural reserves. Recently, It has been catalogued by Embrapa, 35 species of extinction-threatened animals. Ant and insect populations co-exist representing what is a real breakthrough to green practices.

I suppose Gary Hishberg should write about profit-driven actions (which is great) but not try to pass through topics that do not represent his real intentions or doings.

Green Guy

December 19, 2007 12:54 PM

I think Hirshberg is right to look for a profitable way to save the planet. Doing good without making money isn't a sustainable plan in the long run.

Diane

December 19, 2007 12:58 PM

The real challenge in building a planet-healthy business is trying to sustain it when it reaches a global scale. Once you start sourcing from around the world, the headaches and opportunities to sabotage your brand can increase -- along with the opportunities to get greater reach.

Peter

December 31, 2007 2:23 PM

I've interviewed Gary several times. He's as sincerely committed to the values his company promotes as anyone in American business -- probably more than most. Sure, it hasn't been an easy path to follow -- Stonyfield Farm pretty much pioneered their market space, and there have been many challenges along the way -- but Gary remains one of the true heroes of organic/green/sustainable business, and provides a powerful model for others to emulate.

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