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Meet Sir Kensington's first sustainability leader

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

The following article appeared on GreenBiz.com on September 27, 2018

This is the first in a new GreenBiz series featuring companies that have recently hired their first dedicated sustainability leader. What has the start of their journey been like? In each article, I speak with the person who has taken on this new role, and someone in the company involved in creating it.

Sir Kensington’s is a condiment company with character. It specializes in better, healthier,and more interesting ketchup, mayo and mustard. The company was founded in 2010 by Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton. They realized there was a gap in the market for better condiments, and filled it with products are non-GMO, organic or vegan. (My favorite is the avocado oil mayonnaise.)

In April 2017, the company was acquired by Unilever, which added firepower to its socially conscious ethos. Less than a year later, in January, Rebecca Gildiner came on board as the social impact and advocacy manager, with the exciting job of leading the company towards greater social and environmental mindfulness. I caught up with co-founder Scott Norton and Rebecca Gildiner in the company’s New York headquarters. The conversations have been edited for clarity and length.

Mia Overall: Congratulations, Scott. Your company now has a social and environmental leader. How did this role come about and to what degree was it related to being acquired by Unilever?

Scott Norton: The effect of the acquisition was extremely positive. Unilever has a 100-year old history of being governed by a conscience. So what impact our business was having on society and what impact we were having through advocacy were questions from the beginning. Last summer, I started engaging in longer term thinking about the impact of the business. People are looking to enroll in responsible companies that share their values. As a consumer product that is so personal — something edible — we had an opportunity use this intention that people have to buy something they like. Being acquired gave us the resources to consider hiring someone for this role.

Overall: How was the role initially scoped?

Norton: When I started thinking about this, I polled the company to find out what the role should be. We knew we couldn’t be all things to everyone but we felt strongly about people. So originally the role was scoped to focus on social impact over environmental impact. It’s where our heart is and what is most relevant to our company. So there was a focus on responsibility, though not sustainability per se.

Step one was making sure our products do no harm and being cognizant of their impact on our bodies and society. But that has evolved. We are in the process of renaming the job as we learn more. For example, we’re realizing we want to raise the floor by doing the basics like a life cycle assessment or measuring the carbon footprint. We also want to raise the ceiling by introducing ways of managing post consumer waste. Since Rebecca joined, we still have the view that it’s all about people, but I personally and the company have become aware that there is also an important environmental component. 

Overall: How does this role fit into your company?

Norton: My approach to entrepreneurship and management in general is that sales is culture, management is culture, sustainability is culture too. For a company like Sir Kensington, we needed someone who could understand and tweak all the different parts of the business — the way the operating people source, the way the marketing people think about communicating in a campaign, etc. The role is really hard because the person needs to be present in the highest level of strategy in defining the new products.  But they can’t do so as a force of conflict or tension with the business. They have to layer on value with the business and teach the primary person doing sales or marketing to incorporate sustainability across each function.

Overall: Where does Rebecca sit on the org chart?

Norton: She reports to me. It’s a fairly senior position in that her ideas and perspective are designed to permeate everyone’s thinking. For example, she looks at people’s goals and reviews company strategy. There are titles, and there is also seniority through trust. In our company, the org chart is more like a circle. There are people that are closer to the center of the circle that have more to do with strategy and there are people that are towards the edge of the circle that keep operations running. We need her at the center, on strategy.  We also need her on specific operations, working with the office managers setting up volunteer days.

Overall: Do you see this role as philanthropic or altruistic?

Scott: No, I don’t see this as altruism. I see it as additional nodes in how Sir Kensington creates value. If you think of all the ways we create value — for customers, for suppliers, their farm workers and for the business itself, managing things responsibly is just another way we create value. Also, luckily for us, our entry into this space was not reactive. It wasn’t in response to some kind of a crisis, it was all about longer term opportunities.

Overall: Rebecca, it sounds like you have a trailblazing job. One of your tasks is to work with colleagues across the company to integrate responsibility into their functions. How are you doing that? Can you share some examples? 

Rebecca Gildiner: Yes. Working cross functionally is one of the most exciting parts of the job...

Read the full article at https://www.greenbiz.com/article/meet-sir-kensingtons-first-sustainability-leader