Tony's Chocolonely: Raising the chocolate bar for industry change

For years, I’ve been supporting chocolate – and change – maker Tony’s Chocolonely to create their annual report. My kids and my colleagues love that I work for them. Because I always return from meetings with their yummy chocolate in funky flavors. Their bars are a treat, but what inspires me most to work with them is their commitment to creating positive change in the industry. Here’s my take on their key ingredients for positive change!

Crazy people raising the (chocolate) bar

Positive change usually starts with frustration about an issue plus people crazy enough to doing something about it. And this ccompany started just like that. Investigative journalists were shocked to find out how much child labor and slavery there is involved in nearly all chocolate. In 2006, in an attempt to prove that it could be done, they produced 5000 bars of slavery-free chocolate. As this first batch sold out in just a few hours, they turned the experiment into a company.  The company tagline says it all: “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.”

Partners towards a common goal

A shift to more sustainable business practices is needed at all steps along the chain. From cocoa farmers, chocolate companies and governments, to retailers and consumers. The people at Tony’s understand they cannot transform the cocoa industry by themselves. Tony’s therefore developed a roadmap towards its mission: “Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free”.

The roadmap engages five key actors in the industry to work towards this common goal:

  • Strengthen farmers to increase their income
  • Engage the largest companies in the industry to take action in their supply chains
  • Encourage retailers to leverage their buying power
  • Push governments to adopt and enforce legislation
  • Enable chocofans to raise awareness and spread the message

Scaling up for real movement

To really engage partners along the cocoa chain, Tony’s knows there needs to be a business case every step of the way. Its own story and success provide lots of inspiration to get different parties to act.

At the launch event for its 17/18 annual report that scale became very clear:

  • Over 5,000 farmers benefit from the special premium Tony’s pays, nearly 1,000 farmers are involved in awareness-raising activities to prevent unwanted child labor and slavery;
  • The Netherlands’ largest retailer Albert Heijn announcedit will use Tony’s principles of cooperation for 100% slave-free chocolate for its very successful private label chocolate brand Delicata. World leading chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut supports the change process;
  • 5,000 chocofans joined the party, over 8,500 people support Tony’s mission as Serious Friends;
  • And the brand became the market leader in the Netherlands with a market share of 19%. Net revenue grew by 23% to nearly € 45 million and a net profit margin of 4.5%.

Relentless ambition for chocolate and change

Nice numbers for a company that produced its first bar of chocolate just 12 years ago… But they know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Team Tony’s continues to work – and party – very hard to increase its own impact by expanding the business to other countries and continuing to drive collaboration in partnership with many others.


Co-creation session for a sustainable pension fund, BrightPensioen

Last May 24th, during the Bright Future event of PrightPensioen, we facilitated a co-creation session for Bright's members. We brainstormed on creative interpretations for the future of this sustainable pension fund. With a lot of post-its and an interactive app, the most innovative ideas came about. The results tasted like more co-creation!

Co-creation for sustainable business

The aim of the brainstorming session was to think together about the question: "How can Bright accelerate its member growth in to be able to pay out its members as quickly as possible?" The majority of the attendees were convinced that Bright could reach its ten thousand membership goal by the end of 2019. But... how?

The sky is the limit

In the first brainstorm round 'the sky is the limit' we invited the participants to think big, to dream. They had to imagine that they had all means at their disposal, from infinite money to the latest technologies. Fantastic and creative ideas came up. For example, one group suggested that all new members should be taken to a tropical island as a reward for their memberships. Another great idea was building an escape room where one can only get out when one has discovered which is the best pension fund to become a member at.

Back to earth

Inspired by these creative but not always realistic ideas, it was time to land some thoughts. Two 'sky is the limit' ideas could be chosen for the next round 'Back on Earth'. How can these ideas be realised with a 'normal' amount of resources? The projects and initiatives became more and more concrete. Members that had the idea of starting to give local workshops to attract new members. Opening a child pension account. Teaching lessons about pension funds at schools. Reward members with shares when they attract a new member.

Way forward

There are three main themes that Bright decided to further develop as a result of our session:

  • Member get member: "How can we reward our existing participants for their ambassadorship? After all, we prefer to spend our marketing budget on our existing participants."
  • "How do we attract more self-employed to get a pension? And especially: how do we influence procrastination?"
  • Bright customer portal. "We would like to make our member portal better, more beautiful and more customer-friendly."

Now the remaining question is: how would you tackle these challenges?


Top tips for greenwashing: communicating sustainability in horticulture

In October 2017, The Terrace was invited by the MPS-group to lead a workshop for and with leading growers of flowers and flowering plants from the Netherlands. This was part of event in preparation for an international horticulture trade fair. The focus of the workshop was on how to best communicate on sustainability in the horticulture sector. Here's what I had to say about conviction, focus, collaboration and... greenwashing.

Tip #1: Start from your personal conviction

The trouble with sustainability is the lack of a common definition. It may include topics like environmental protection, labor conditions, community engagement, economic impacts and/or governance. There are so many terms floating around, like CSR, responsible business conduct, future-proof, thriveability... Whatever term you prefer, it needs to be relevant to your core business and your key stakeholders. Most likely, this will be a function of the industry, the cultural/national context and the conviction and focus of senior leadership. So before communicating your sustainability efforts externally, first consider what sustainability means to you. For which parts of sustainability do you care most deeply? Why did you get started with organic flowers? What made you integrate sustainability into your business model?

Tip #2: Focus on what matters

Sustainability is multi-faceted, so your sustainability strategy probably is as well. But while all those facets may be relevant and understood by people within the industry, they won't all be equally relevant for different stakeholders. So when communicating your sustainability strategy, think first and foremost from the perspective of your audience. For different target audiences, focus your sustainability story in different ways. While keeping the overall story the same, differentiate the key topics to highlight for different audiences. Not everyone knows as much about sustainability issues in horticulture - or whatever sector you're in - as you do.

Unilever uses a very powerful analogy to further strengthen its sustainability communications: the sword and the shield. The sword is a strong message that you pro-actively want to share with your target audience. And which is very relevant for that target audience. The shield contains other topics which you are working on in your sustainability strategy, but which are less relevant to your audience, or less easy to talk about as an individual brand or company.

For example, for Lipton's sustainability strategy includes both social and environmental elements. In consumer communication, the social elements are emphasized like a sword. Most consumers realize that picking tea leaves is hard work in tough locations, so this context helps Lipton tell its story about the programs it has in place to make life easier for tea pluckers. The improvements Lipton is making to reduce pesticides is more like a shield. Something to work on very actively, but as most consumers are unaware that nearly all tea in the world contains pesticides, communicating about this as an individual brand is more challenging. So while this may be a great topic for a sustainability website or report, we'd not recommend putting that same story on the pack.

Tip #3: Some stories are better told together

Some topics are difficult to raise, even if you feel it is high time the world knew about the issues and your solutions. This is where sector-wide collaboration and communications may be needed. Just like for tea, for the horticulture sector, pesticides might be such a topic. As an individual grower of flowers, this is a topic you might be able to raise with expert buyers in retail. But with consumers, this is not so easy. If you try to mention this on your packaging, consumers might just link your name to pesticides in general, rather than the reduction you've achieved. To raise awareness of the issues around pesticides, it would be better to collaborate. With industry bodies and certification providers, but potentially also with NGOs and consumer organizations.

Tip #4: Always be honest

Good communications about your sustainability efforts and performance can build trust in your organization and its products. But even if you're selling plants and flowers, and you'd like to make the world a greener place, what you're communicating has to be true. Only balanced communications - sharing both successes and challenges - builds trust. If what you're sharing is not true, then it's merely greenwashing. That word might have a nicer connotation for the horticulture sector than for others, but it will simply erode trust.


Transform your sustainability reporting to a tool for a positive future

Let's talk about how to transform reporting from a burden into a tool to build a better future. Our earlier posts zoomed in on materiality, but in the end, it's all about creating that better future. Here's our take on how to get more out of your reporting efforts. Just in time for the people in the midst of planning the next sustainability reporting cycle for their organization.

Every year, the reporting cycle returns and, every year, it turns out to be a lot of work. So it should raise questions around whether it’s worth the investment. Does the report itself add value to the company’s strategy and the sustainability efforts for a better future? Does it serve a strategic purpose beyond compliance with regulations and the accountability expectations of our stakeholders? For a strictly “by-the-book” type of reporting process, the answer to these questions is probably no.

Why? First, sustainability reporting suffers from a strange dichotomy. While sustainability is all about the future and long-term thinking, most corporate reporting is all about the past and has a horizon of just one year. Second, most companies do not use the reporting process to really connect the present performance to the future they to build and be part of. With our tips below, you can overcome this dichotomy and transform the reporting process into a powerful tool. So here we go!

Report the past in the context of the future

Start from the world you want in the future! In what kind of world does the company want to operate five to ten years from now? Instead of only looking back, we strongly recommend starting your sustainability report from the long-term vision and mission of the company. The report then gives an account of where the company is on your envisioned path

What does your company have to do to achieve that vision? How are your efforts to get there evolving? When you start from the vision and these questions, you report in the context of the future. This is a much more useful perspective for the company and for the report readers.

Focus on what's material for the future

Take your materiality analysis beyond the report! Most reporting frameworks include a so-called materiality analysis to identify the sustainability topics to be included in the report. The “by the book” analysis is mostly about what stakeholders want to know or what the company considers key risks, based on past performance and fears for the future.

To raise sustainability to a higher level, go beyond and ask: “what are the key topics we need to manage strategically to create value for the company and society?” Involve senior management in this analysis. Not only will the materiality analysis then inform the sustainability report content, but it will also provoke a strategic discussion and add a new perspective on what matters. That's the moment for sustainability (reporting) to enter to the board room.

Focus on what's material for the future

Involve your stakeholders in value creation! Stakeholders are vital to really create value for the company and society, so don't just engage them for selecting material topics for the sustainability report (as most reporting guidance recommends). Again, frame this step in the reporting cycle at a strategic level rather than the limited scope of reporting. And then continue the conversation from there.

Don’t limit the role of stakeholders to helping you choose your material topics. Really listen to what matters to them, what their goals are and jointly explore the world you want to build and the path you envision to get there. Only then can you find opportunities to collaborate and co-create on joint goals to make both your company and society stronger.

With these tips, we trust you can make your report a tool for positive change in the future, rather than just a report on positive change in the past. Let us know which of the tips you found most useful!

This blog post is part of a series on sustainability reporting and materiality. It is co-authored by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace and Nelmara Arbex of Arbex & Company. At GRI, they worked together on the creation and stakeholder engagement around GRI’s G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. They now collaborate to support companies with strategic sustainability challenges, materiality analysis, and communications.


Scoping Mission of the Colombian Coal Sector, report for the Dutch Parliament

Responsible coal mining has become a major topic on the Dutch political agenda. For at least the next 15 years, coal will continue to be an important contributor to the country’s energy mix. Hence, the Dutch government is keen to support and strengthen responsible practices in the coal supply chain, in particular in the main sourcing country, Colombia.

At the request of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Colombia, The Terrace and BSD Consulting were selected to do a “Scoping Mission of the Colombian Coal Sector”. The objective was to understand the situation on the ground in the coal mining regions of Cesar and La Guajira, where the operation of large-scale and open pit coal mining destined for export is concentrated, and to define the outline of a possible contribution of the Netherlands.

Our team travelled to Colombia to visit the mining regions and to speak to all relevant stakeholder groups (Colombian government, mining companies, labour unions, local communities, NGOs etc.). Over 50 interviews were undertaken to ensure that the defined proposal for a Dutch contribution is adjusted to Colombian reality and to local stakeholders’ needs. Many concerns were expressed regarding a large variety of social and environmental issues, influenced by a difficult political context with 50 years of internal conflict.

The Scoping Mission has concluded a contribution by the Dutch government to take on the social, environmental and labour challenges in the coal mining areas is feasible and desirable. This should be done in close cooperation with relevant Colombian stakeholders. The Scoping Mission recommends a contribution based in four possible work streams:

a. Mediation of a dialogue to solve conflicts between stakeholders;

b. Through continuous dialogue, encourage the Colombian government to be more proactive in addressing social and environmental challenges in the coal areas;

c. Support reliable and independent data collection of environmental and social impacts caused by local industrial development;

d. Support thematic projects that address pressing challenges in the mining region (e.g. to improve water management).

The final report has been sent to Dutch Parliament by Minister Ploumen (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation), in preparation of the Minister’s visit to Colombia in late November. The report “Scoping Mission: Understanding the Context of the Colombian Coal Sector” can be downloaded here.