Leading the Charge in Sustainability

Published on : 4/6/24
  • Chris_blog.pngName: Christopher Merchant
    Title: Sustainability Performance Specialist
    Segment: Transversal
    Years with Sodexo: 2 ½
    Areas of expertise: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Data Analytics, Waste Management, Program Development, Emissions Reporting and Forestry

    As a sustainability advocate and leader, Christopher Merchant plays a pivotal role in advancing Sodexo's commitment for a Better Tomorrow. As a Sustainability Performance Specialist, he brings expertise and passion to embedding sustainability across various facets of our operations and is transforming our approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR). From sustainable agriculture and food systems to waste management and forestry, Christopher's work is instrumental in driving positive environmental impacts. Join us as we delve into Christopher's knowledge, passion and dedication for sustainability.

    Interviewer: What drives your passion for CSR and sustainability work?

    Christopher Merchant: I grew up in the Midwest and both of my degrees come from Midwest schools. The Midwest has a very unique relationship with human-environment interactions, especially industry-environment interactions, so I've grown up seeing a lot of that. We've experienced a lot of drastic weather changes due to climate change, like warmer winters. There’s also been a lot of high-profile cases of pollution, especially the waterways in Michigan. Locally, we have a lot of waste management issues as well, so I've grown up very much steeped in the problems facing the planet. With the Midwest being kind of a deindustrialized space, I've seen a lot of that harm from waste and pollution affect communities.

    My passion comes from seeing how the communities I grew up in and around have adapted to environmental issues and how they’ve been able to overcome them. That’s why in my current career, I continue to push for positive change and try to work toward a better future for myself, my community and the planet. I draw my inspiration from the resilience and innovation of these communities, driving my commitment to shaping a better future for all.

    Interviewer: Do you engage in volunteer work related to sustainability in your free time?

    Christopher Merchant: While I have volunteered in the past, my current focus lies in community engagement and homelessness initiatives. I'm all about taking a holistic approach to social and environmental responsibility. It's not just about ticking boxes; it's about really making a difference in people's lives and in our communities.

    Interviewer: What CSR project stands out as the most satisfying or impactful for you?

    Christopher Merchant: Well, I'd say it's a tie between two projects. The first one that comes to mind is the renewable or regenerative agriculture policy we collaborated on with the Good Eating Company. Agriculture has always been a deep interest of mine, something I've focused on since my school days. Delving into that policy and seeing it evolve over time has been incredibly rewarding.

    The other project that stands out is our annual emissions reporting for North America. It might not sound as glamorous, but it's incredibly impactful. Without this report, we wouldn't have a clear picture of how well we're living up to our commitments. It's a project with far-reaching effects, touching on our environmental responsibilities in a significant way.

    Interviewer: How can Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Commitments aid clients in reaching their sustainability goals?

    Christopher Merchant: The intrinsic link between Sodexo's Better Tomorrow Commitments and client sustainability goals is clear. By reducing indirect emissions and direct emissions through on-site services, Sodexo facilitates progress toward client sustainability targets, particularly in energy use and sourcing. 

    Interviewer: What steps should companies take to drive us toward a healthier planet?

    Christopher Merchant: That’s a question at the heart of sustainability discussions, isn't it? From my perspective, there are three crucial steps companies must take: acknowledging historical environmental impacts, embracing a transition to sustainable business practices, and prioritizing environmental and social alignment.

    Firstly, they need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the impact their operations have had on climate change and the environment over time. It's about owning up to our past actions.

    Secondly, businesses must realize that sticking to the status quo isn't an option anymore. We need a fundamental shift in how we do business, placing environmental and social considerations at the forefront. This means prioritizing a transition to more sustainable practices such as investing in sustainability teams, committing to net zero emissions, and assessing and reducing pollutants beyond regulatory requirements.

    Lastly, companies should focus on improving the quality of life for their employees. By ensuring a high standard of living for their workforce, they contribute positively to the communities they operate in, enhancing their social impact. It's about recognizing that the well-being of employees is intertwined with the company's overall sustainability efforts.