Candace Laing is VP Sustainability & Stakeholder Relations at?Nutrien.?Candace is involved in strategic initiatives at Nutrien – the world’s largest provider of crop inputs, services and solutions – that span corporate affairs, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement. Her career has spanned both private and public-sector organizations and she has served as an instructor at the University of Saskatchewan in the Edwards School of Business.
GlobeScan?CEO Chris Coulter?spoke to?Candace about?the opportunities around?sustainable?business, the agriculture sector’s most challenging and exciting issues, and Nutrien’s Purpose journey.
What do you see to be the changing opportunities for sustainable business?
There is so much shifting right now with sustainable business.?The?previous landscape, if you’re looking at a maturity curve,?was focused on?corporate social responsibility.?While?it is?still?important to be?striving to be?a?‘good’?business, this new chapter has?a very integrated approach?thanks to the increasing focus on?environment, social and governance (ESG)?risk,?which?is largely being?driven?by?investor interest in sustainability?but also by other stakeholders.
Investors?increasingly?care about the long-term risk perspective?facing companies and?are?looking much more?intently?at?ESG issues.?What that means for sustainability and the sustainable business opportunity is that this is becoming a?core and mandatory?part of business as opposed?to a nice-to-do. From a maturity perspective,?it means we?are now?going to be?integrating?sustainability?into and across our business?which is exciting.
Are you feeling some of those integration points?at Nutrien?
As I learned more about the shifting ESG landscape, I started talking to Investor Relations and?others?to brainstorm ways we could work more closely together.?In?order to execute well on this next chapter?and fully integrate sustainability into our business, we?know our sustainability team needs?to work seamlessly?with?Investor?Relations,?Corporate?Reporting,?Enterprise?Risk?Management,?Strategy?and our Environment team.?One exciting move we made this year was to?formally bring over an investor relations team member into the sustainability team to lead our work on ESG.
We?have also?established?a cross-functional working group which includes?Enterprise?Risk?Management and?Corporate?Reporting,?in order to help us determine where and how we need to pivot in terms of?assessing our?longer-term?risks and the disclosures around that.?This?is co-sponsored with our CFO, which is?critical.?If?you’re going to be integrated,?there is no such thing as a standalone sustainability department any longer.
What are the?most exciting?and?challenging?issues?in?agriculture today?
Agriculture’s?challenge is?to?feed ten billion people by 2050 with less impact on the environment?and this is a monumental challenge facing the world.?Simply put,?agriculture is an emitter?and we?have to?find ways?to?reduce?emissions and grow more with less impact.
The fact is there is no more land. If anything,?we have to return land to?be?a carbon sink so?we need to find ways to increase?productivity?with remaining farm land so we can relieve pressure on deforestation.?There?is no more turning land into?farmland,?so modern ag-practices are really important, both to address climate change but also to help agriculture adapt to the impacts of climate change.
For instance, agriculture will be impacted by climate change in terms of which?regions will be increasingly water stressed or not able to grow crops?in?the?scenario of?a?few degree increase in temperature.?We need to?understand?these?impacts and find solutions to continue to grow food sustainably in more extreme climate conditions.
A?big?opportunity?is around?nature-based climate solutions?and specifically?the ability for farmers to sequester carbon. This type of sequestration?is?a key part of?our answer globally for climate change and?addressing?greenhouse gas emissions.
Where does innovation fit into this conversation? Is it something that is talked about in the corridors of Nutrien?
Absolutely.?Firstly,?products and practices in the field?over?the last fifty years have contributed to great increases in yield.?Without those practices and products, we wouldn’t be going from twenty-two?bushels an acre from a wheat field in the seventies to?sixty-five?bushels an acre on the same amount of land today.?An enormous amount of land has been spared from deforestation and that needs to?continue.
Secondly,?agriculture is probably one of the last sectors to digitize.?Part of the Nutrien story is?about?digitizing?the sector?and?bringing?technology to the field level.?Not only do on-farm decisions and practices improve with data but science?in our sector also?improves. The more data we get at the field level and the better we’re able to measure and track the sustainability outcomes from field level practice changes,?the better the science is going?to be able to?help?improve yields and minimise impact.?It is a?virtuous circle?that is very exciting.
Nutrien is a new company. What is the Purpose journey looking like so far, and what is next?
Bringing together two strong legacy companies?– Potash Corp and Agrium –?has really tied our?purpose together. Our purpose is?to grow our world from the ground up.?‘Grow our world’?because we know the?importance?of feeding ten billion people by 2050 sustainably. ‘From the ground up,’ by bringing the?natural nutrients out of the ground or out of the air with?nitrogen and?distributing those along with other crop inputs and solutions to growers.
What is unique about us is the retail side of the business?– we are in the field boots-to-boots with over half a million farmers globally.?So,?if we?develop?a?new technology?or solution,?we’re bringing it?directly?to the farm because of that unique relationship we have with growers. That is very exciting for us when we are looking at?practice changes that reduce emissions at the farm level and?actually tracking?those successes. That relationship, that interaction we have at the farm level, is?a very?unique?part of our story?and our purpose.
We’re a new company and when we?merged,?we had our purpose outlined and communicated to the organization and employees before anybody knew what their roles were in the new organization.?We literally started?with purpose and it really is the backbone of our sustainability strategy. If we’re going to grow our world from the ground up and if we are going to meet this challenge of feeding ten billion people by 2050,?then we need to take a leadership position?which?executes?on our purpose.?This?means we will lead globally in sustainable agriculture.
How is your purpose?being received?internally?
Both our?purpose,?“to?grow our world from the ground up”,?and?our company tagline,?“feeding the future”,?resonate with employees because they?know?working with?Nutrien?is part of something greater in the world?and is going to do the world a great service.
At the end of the day our employees?feel?good?that they?help?feed the world?and directly contribute to sustainable development goal #2 – end hunger. Their role in ensuring we have productive and sustainable agriculture is something that really aligns at the individual level, even if they are a few generations away from farming.?It?definitely connects?for me as an individual. I grew up on a farm and my entire family is still farming and working very hard to grow our food.
How does this tie into?your personal approach to leadership?
There?are?two things that resonate most with me. One is?collaboration?–?if sustainability is going to be integrated with the business,?it belongs to everybody. The cross-functional work?with?investor?relations, with risk, with reporting, and of course with operations and the environment team. I spend most of my time working horizontally and partnering,?advocating for positions in those areas more so than positions in my own area so that we have people?across?the business focused on this.?Collaboration is not just internal, but external?as well in the context of the?Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?and figuring out?solutions to?complex issues.?Collaboration with?competitors is also?an important?part of the path forward.?We?need to?link up arms with competitors?in?carving our path forward with climate smart agriculture.
The second piece would be looking at the external landscape and positioning goals. We talk about??becoming more ambitious with our sustainability strategy and targets but I would actually pivot and say staying relevant supersedes becoming more ambitious because of the momentum regarding the 2030 agenda and the urgency around climate. To me leadership means making sure that we come out with a plan that is relevant given our scale, our size and our capabilities and that we work very hard to provide solutions for a growing world.