Why it’s time for businesses to think past the pandemic


Tim Faveri, Maple Leaf’s vice-president of sustainability and shared value, left, and Carol Wilding, president and chief executive officer of Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario.


Sustainability through evidence-based accounting practices are more critical than ever, says president and CEO of CPA Ontario

Eat meat. But only in moderation.

This gastronomic call to action may not seem particularly revolutionary these days, until you consider its unlikely source: Maple Leaf Foods Inc. For more than 100 years, the venerable consumer packaged-meats company, headquartered in Mississauga, has put pork and chicken on millions of plates.

Maple Leaf hasn’t merely rebranded itself to address consumer demand by appearing more Earth-friendly, it has pivoted hard, refocusing its priorities on sustainability. While sliced sandwich meat, bacon and hot dogs are still on offer, so are new products that leave a lighter, greener footprint: organic chicken, plant-based Lightlife sausages, and Maple Leaf 50/50, which combines 50 per cent meat with 50 per cent plant protein.

The company also proudly declares itself the “world’s first major carbon neutral food company,” with a vision “to be the most sustainable protein company on Earth.”

“We’re on a purposeful journey to raise the good in food,” explains Tim Faveri, Maple Leaf’s vice-president of sustainability and shared value. “There are a lot of companies out there that have a social purpose, but I think very few have a purpose based on sustainability.”

It’s no longer merely a warm-and-fuzzy way to stand out, sustainability is necessary for creating a business environment that allows companies to thrive long-term.

Learning from forward-thinking corporations such as Maple Leaf is more important than ever as other organizations transform themselves to meet today’s challenges. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that global disruption has shed light on where companies are most exposed. There’s a realization that customers want businesses to be more transparent, ethical and sustainable. Employees care about these values too.

Carol Wilding, president and chief executive officer of Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, agrees that seismic shifts in society have rocked businesses. The early days of the pandemic, when everyone was just trying to survive, are over. When she talks to Canadian CEOs and chief financial officers, she says the conversational tones have changed.

“Now leaders and CEOs have to say, ‘Okay, I can’t just think about the pandemic. I have to think about post-pandemic, and what the long game for my company is going to be,’” she explains. “The momentum (to change) is there.”

For Maple Leaf, its transformation was hard won. After a listeriosis crisis in 2008, Maple Leaf joined the ranks of companies such as Nike, Nestle and IKEA that made fundamental shifts in response to crisis. After Maple Leaf fixed its critical problems by closing or modernizing its plants, and divesting its bread, pasta, feed and rendering businesses, it finally embarked on becoming sustainable.

Finding a way to navigate transition isn’t easy, particularly during uncertain times when no clear path is in sight, Wilding says. That means expertise and insights from chartered professional accountants are more critical than ever. CPAs have the deep knowledge, skills and experience to analyse and measure the impact that environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors have on businesses. Their data analytics horsepower, risk management knowledge and sound judgement help businesses pivot to weather any crisis, on any scale.

“This explains why Maple Leaf Foods hired a CPA to bridge and translate between the sustainability and finance areas of their business,” Wilding says.

“CPAs really are the trusted business partner with their senior teams. It’s not enough to be innovative. You’ve got to know how to build business and scale – and that’s precisely what CPAs offer.”

After 2014, Faveri and his team visited Britain to talk to thought leaders and major retailers on how it could revolutionize the protein market in Canada. “We went there with the hypothesis that the term ‘sustainable meat’ was a complete oxymoron. Look at all the issues associated with meat production,” he says now.

But not one of the experts said the hypothesis held water. In fact, meat can be sustainable. But it must be safe, highly nutritious, involve high-level animal care, and have minimal impact on the planet. “But most importantly, the world has to eat less of it,” Faveri explains.

Coming home, the team knew it was time to develop a strategy that revolved around evidence-based accounting expertise to put the company on firm footing. Today, its sustainability pillars inform every aspect of the company’s dealings, from its carbon-neutral plants, to its investment in plant-protein products.

The new focus has paid off. When the 50/50 product launched right before the pandemic hit, packages flew off the shelves, Faveri says.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.