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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MSB Hosts Talk On Environmental Sustainability in the Chocolate Industry

Peter Blommer (CAS ’85), the vice chairman of the Blommer Chocolate Company, discussed his company’s legacy of sustainability that began with his grandfather’s extensive travels to cocoa’s origin countries in the late 20th century in a conversation hosted by the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business on March 20.

“He understood what the challenges were at origin, and he felt that industry had a responsibility to invest back,” Blommer said.

In the discussion moderated by Georgetown professor of operations and information management Vishal Agrawal, Blommer discussed the sustainability programs his company has implemented and the evolution of sustainability practices within the cocoa industry.

“It was in our DNA as a company, but it evolved, and I think that’s probably the case in general for sustainability today: it’s an evolution,” Blommer said. “We become more knowledgeable and more creative and sophisticated in our approach.”

Blommer detailed two factors that motivated the cocoa industry’s initial sustainability efforts in the early 2000s: the release of a 2000 BBC documentary about child slavery in the cocoa industry in West Africa, and concerns over supply chain quality and viability. Following the documentary’s release, major companies in the cocoa industry signed on to the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aims to end the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Additionally, a drop in cocoa quality in 2005 despite the recent conclusion of the Success Alliance — a multi-year program aimed at training farmers to improve yields and quality — led Blommer’s company to develop more extensive sustainability programs for the supply chain.

Georgetown University | Peter Blommer (CAS ’85), vice chairman of the Blommer Chocolate Company, discussed sustainability practices in business.

“Around 2000, the industry realized there needed to be a more robust and comprehensive approach to sustainability as we really looked at the scope and challenges of the supply chain,” Blommer said.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors, as well as between competitive companies, is necessary to make progress, especially considering the myriad of systemic issues that hinder sustainability efforts. These issues include high levels of poverty in the countries that produce products as well as a lack of resources available to workers involved in production, according to Blommer. As a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, an organization composed of cocoa companies working toward sustainability in the industry, Blommer said it has proven beneficial to work with his direct competitors in pre-competitive collaboration. This allows competing companies to work together by avoiding the economic parts of their business, which enables the industry as a whole to improve its practices.

“There are so many challenges that no one company, no one industry, no one sector can do it on their own,” Blommer said.

Current sustainability programs at Blommer Chocolate Company target issues including education, social services, access to health care, productivity, economic control and women’s empowerment, according to Blommer. On the environmental side, Blommer has supported efforts to improve crop yields to prevent further deforestation and fight the effects of climate change.

Blommer also discussed the different ways companies initiate sustainability practices, whether due to company values or because of external pressure from political leaders and nongovernmental organizations.

“When you bake it into strategy, then it becomes essential to business,” Blommer said. “It’s not a question of, ‘Do I make that investment in a year?’ It’s a given. It’s built into your core values and your culture.”

The conversation was a part of the Stanton Distinguished Leader Series, put on in collaboration with the McDonough Business of Sustainability Initiative. The intersection of business and sustainability forms the focus of several academic programs and degrees in the MSB, including the aforementioned initiative as well as the Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability Management degree (MS-ESM). Agrawal, who is also the co-academic director of the MS-ESM degree, said that the program, McDonough’s newest offering in the area of sustainability, was inspired by companies’ demand for talented graduates who can take a science-based approach to sustainable business practices.

“This program is fairly unique in that no such program exists that is a true melding and integration of environmental science and sustainable business,” Agrawal said in an interview with the Hoya.

Blommer highlighted how recent graduates can effect change in their organizations.

“You may not have the decision-making rights or the loudest voice, but what you’ll find is that the decision-makers don’t have knowledge. They don’t have specific knowledge, they don’t have the best ideas,” Blommer said. “They need people who do to arm them, to inform them, to help make the business case, to help provide the data for that catalyst, so then they can go and drive it in the organization.”

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    Bill RyanDec 27, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    Well said and done Peter Blommer. A sweet business can sour if the origin of basic raw materials are not nurtured and improved. The cocoa farmers must be educated and given the opportunity for a reasonable quality of life.