AN INTERVIEW WITH FOUNDER CHRIS BENTLEY

As a fellow Boulder resident, I know Chris Bentley through his many community activities, including serving with me on the University of Colorado Deming Center for Entrepreneurship Board of Directors. Chris heads up Deming’s Sustainability Council, a topic that is also near and dear to my heart. Chris has been working on increasing the focus on sustainability in the pet industry for several years, so I was very encouraged when he invited me to the inaugural meeting of the Pet Industry Sustainability Council (PISC) during Global Pet Expo. I was impressed with the turnout for a first-ever meeting and even more excited when I heard details about their mission and vision.

1. What is the mission and vision of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition?

The Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition (PISC) is a playground for manufacturers, distributers and retailers to collaboratively navigate a clear pathway toward improved environmental performance in the pet industry.
The approach is threefold. The formation of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition directed by Harvard Sustainability and Environmental Management Graduate Caitlyn Bolton will navigate the sustainability needs of businesses and serve as a playing field for bottom-up and top-down innovation and collaboration. The Coalition will provide a web-based Toolkit that will serve as a roadmap to guide members toward greater sustainability achievements. An Accreditation and Leadership Award component based on voluntary action toward implementation will create trust-worthy standards and a universal sustainability language for the industry as a whole.

2. What are your criteria for joining?

One of the most impressive components of the Coalition is its mission driven focus as opposed to profit driven. “The membership structure will always include a free option in order to encourage collaborative participation from all interested parties, we have a ‘more the merrier’ attitude and understand that diverse perspectives accelerate innovation” (Caitlyn Bolton, Executive Director, Sustainable Pet Coalition).

We want to collaborate with any company interested in advancing sustainability in the pet industry regardless of their size, location or current sustainability status. For those
Upon returning I moved to Aspen in the mid-80’s and soon met John Denver. I really admired and participated in his work at Upon returning I moved to Aspen in the mid-80’s and soon met John Denver. I really admired and participated in his work at Windstar and was awestruck by the great green strides that Amory and Hunter Lovins were taking…and still are. I built a Biodome by my cabin in the mountains and grew vegetables, fruit and fish year ‘round in it. I also raised bees, chickens and guided over 50 pack trips on horses into the high country with folks like the Trump family and movie stars to show them the ‘real world’.

In Aspen I worked very hard for two years on creating a TV, radio, concert and newspaper series called “EcoLogic” that John Denver was going to host. But we were too early. ‘Climate change’ was barely on the radar yet. So instead, 23 years ago, I co-founded Aspen Pet Products and we built it into a pretty good size business before selling to Petmate. The reason I came back into the pet industry was specifically to help ‘green it up’. I feel this is my ‘biggest lever’ to drive significant change that will make my daughter…and her kids someday…proud of her Papa and what we are doing here.

3. Why would a company want to join the PISC?

Our collaborative approach leverages the knowledge and resources available in the industry as a whole and transforms this knowledge into the tools and resources companies need to implement real change. By creating a new platform for business-to-business communication and prioritizing cost-savings opportunities, we provide significant value for all members.

We believe that businesses have a unique opportunity to transform their operations to improve their environmental performance on a larger scale than we can as individuals. With the expected growth rate of the industry and over 40 reports now solidifying sustainability as a profitable pursuit for any business, now is the time!

4. What do you hope to accomplish in the next 3 years?

By partnering with the Outdoor Industry Association and others we are hoping to bypass the time and resource intensive beginning stages that many Coalitions face by adopting already established sustainability tools like the Higg Index. In the next three years we hope to have established the Coalition as the go-to-place for companies looking to implement sustainability. We will continually advance the Toolkit to reflect market and technology changes so that our members are continually improving their systematic sustainability strategies. Additionally we will have formed best practices to act as a standard for the industry as well as appropriate recognition for leading companies. Whether this is through accreditation, benchmarking or awards will be up to our members!

5. Why did you take the lead on founding this group?

I have been actively involved in environmental stuff my whole life. My parents were keen on teaching us kids about appreciating nature and my Dad was an architect designing LEED type buildings decades before that certification. After graduate school I hitchhiked around the world with my girlfriend for two full years. We mainly went to Third World countries and we wrote a thick journal chronicling the deforestation for firewood, dirtying of the Earth’s great rivers, unbridled air pollution and lack of understanding where this is taking us.

6. You recently hired an Executive Director, Caitlyn Bolton. Tell us about her and how is PISC able to fund this position?

Caitlyn happened to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. When I met Caitlyn she was working with our Toolkit partner Natural Capitalism Solutions as an Intern interested in implementing corporate sustainability. Caitlyn had just moved to Boulder after completing her Master’s Degree in Environmental Management and Sustainability at Harvard and spending five years in collaborative environmental project management around the U.S. I immediately latched on to Caitlyn because it was clear that she had business skills, strategic management know-how and an awesomely positive attitude. Because Caitlyn was already working part-time as an Intern, we were able to increase her to full-time at a relatively low-cost. Knowing that forming a Coalition was going to require extensive time and work, Only Natural Pet and “I and Love and You” put in $20k to get this off the ground and Natural Capitalism joined in for 10k. Caitlyn helped us to develop the foundations of the Coalition and our membership platform to bring on early Rock-Star Founding Members KONG, Cardinal Pet Care, and Planet Dog. The combined financial contributions of our team has made it possible to support an Executive Director enabling us to take this from an idea to legitimate action!
companies interested in leadership opportunities we have two paying membership levels. Founding and Gold Members who contribute financially also receive a variety of additional benefits including private consulting to help them integrate the Toolkit, logo space and special access to restricted Toolkit resources.

7. Sustainable business practices aren’t strictly philanthropic. What are some ways that companies save money through this effort?

Companies have a variety of motivators for pursuing sustainability. Some of our members pursue sustainability because they care about the world we leave behind for our children and grandchildren. Our members also implement sustainability because reducing resource use and increasing efficiency can also save money.

Sustainability isn’t just about protecting natural resources it’s also about protecting a company’s financial health. Though the supportive evidence for this statement may have been lacking 10 years ago, recent reports solidify the trend of increasing market value for those companies adopting sustainability into their business model. According to a report by Goldman Sachs: Companies addressing sustainability have higher share price growth than those who are not. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of investors seeking to incorporate sustainability factors into their investment decisions. The bottom line is simple, using resources more efficiently and using less harmful materials saves businesses money. Deciding where, how and when to use resources more efficiently is not quite as easy however, and that’s where the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition and Toolkit comes in.

8. How can a company join the PISC?

Join PISC by visiting www.sustainablepet.org or email cbolton@natcapsolutions.org for more information. Thank you!

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry. As a Managing Director at SDR Ventures Investment Bank, she is a registered Investment Banker and leads the team in executing pet industry transactions including M&A, capital formation and strategic advisory services. She is also the owner of BirdsEye Consulting, the consummate source for pet sector consulting expertise in licensing, executive recruiting, market research, and sales channel strategy. She can be reached at carol@carolfrank.com.