Q&A: Anne Alonzo, Corteva Agriscience
Anne Alonzo started work on April 20 as the senior vice president, external affairs and chief sustainability officer, right in the middle of a global pandemic. As a former CEO and president of the American Egg Board, she had previous stints with the USDA and Kraft Foods.
The Chicago native has been recognized for mentoring and supporting Latinos across the country, and was given the Chicago United’s People of Color Award, the Latina Leader’s “Maestro” Award, and the LATINO Brava (courage award).
In the works by more than 100 employees for more than a year, Corteva Agriscience’s 14 global sustainability goals were launched on June 1 and will be monitored and measured over the next 10 years. The company – which also celebrated its one-year anniversary on that date – has a presence in 130 countries. Successful Farming magazine caught up with Alonzo via videoconferencing call – her primary mode of communications these days.
SF: What’s it like to start in a new company in the midst of a pandemic?
AA: I think it’s accelerated my learning because I have no distractions. I am in front of this camera 10 hours a day, because everything’s “Zoomed.” I’m not traveling, and everybody’s available, pretty much. Nothing’s going to replace meeting people in person. And I can’t wait for that day. It’s amazing because I don’t think I could have done all this and gotten to know all the different players and people I’ve had to meet, if I hadn’t been right here. I’m always a glass-half-full kind of person. I’ve got to look at the better side of this.
SF: Have you even set foot in a Corteva building?
AA: When I was interviewed, I went to Delaware and I met with some of the leadership team and CEO Jim Collins, but I have not gone to the D.C. office, which is my office.
SF: What does sustainability mean to Corteva Agriscience?
AA: The discussion is enriching the lives of farmers now and for generations to come. It’s basically being beneficial, being helpful to the communities in which we work, to the farmers with which we work, and making a contribution to the planet. I think it’s very aspirational. We’re a unique company. We’re 100% agriculture and we take it very seriously – our role in the world and the kind of impact we make. The goals are laid out in pillars, and they encompass the land and the operations and the communities in which we work.
SF: How do you think farmers define sustainability?
AA: There’s an old saying that farmers are the original stewards of the land. They wake up every morning and think, “We’re trying to make this world a better place, we’re trying to feed people, we are the original stewards of the land.” And I think that’s what it means to them. It’s about their own work. It’s their own farm. It’s how they’re contributing. I believe that that’s how they look at sustainability.
SF: What is the ROI of sustainability?
AA: A big part of it is being more efficient. One of our goals has to do with greenhouse gas emissions and enabling farmers to increase their yields by 20% while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. This is our interest in climate change, but how do we get there? This goal really relates to the customer. Our role in this as Corteva is developing the technologies that are going to help them make their work beneficial and cost-effective and create savings.
And then there’s the measurement piece. The work we’re doing with Granular is very state-of-the-art and very futuristic. That's what I’m going to be watching carefully, because it’s really helpful to a farmer. How do you automate, how do you digitize all of this, so that it’s a little easier for them. That’s an area that I think is going to be really helpful going forward.
SF: How does the consumer view all of this sustainability discussion?
AA: I think the public is really paying attention to climate and environment and the farmer’s role. I think what this COVID-19 experience has indicated to me is how essential the farmer is. I mean, when you come across empty grocery shelves or you can’t get meat, or you can’t get eggs, I think it really underscores to me the importance of agriculture and farmers and how you really can’t take them for granted. We recognize what a jewel they are and how critical they are to food security and to our country.
SF: Why establish 10-year goals?
AA: I came in at a great time. I was not the architect of these goals. I came in to get the goals over the launch line. And I was very privileged to do that. We launched them June 1, and then we had a series of five town halls from all over the world. It was basically our one-year birthday anniversary. There was such excitement by everyone. What it really underscored to me was just how they were adapted as part of our DNA. These ideas are embedded throughout the company. We want to be aspirational but we also want to have these be achievable.
This is how they came up with the 14 goals. Some of them take a little while to devise. I think the key was to define them and to put them out there and make a public commitment and a declaration to the employees and to the public that this is what we’re going to do. What I’m really committed to do is to make sure that we make good on these promises. In the next six months we’re measuring and going across the company doing an inventory of what we’re doing today, and then we’re measuring these impacts.
We’re also integrating the sustainability goals into the business processes of the company. The whole idea is to embed our goals into the metrics of the company. I’ve got to tell you, with a company full of scientists and engineers, this is a really good process. We’re going to have our first sustainability report in June of 2021. We know we need to meet these commitments.
SF: Does sustainability resonate with farmers around the globe?
AA: Definitely. I have such a respect of folks, especially subsistence farmers, small holder farmers, and all the different challenges that they face in their job. I see our job is to help bring some of the assistance to them. So it’s tools, it’s solutions, it’s agronomic support, especially where there’s high food insecurity in these emerging economies. We have big footprints all over the world and I think it’s our duty and our responsibility and our privilege to help contribute to those communities where we have facilities and offices.
Name: Anne Alonzo
Title: Senior vice president, external affairs and chief sustainability officer, Corteva Agriscience
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Currently: Washington, DC
Education: MBA University of Chicago; JD from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago Kent College of Law
Family: Married to Wolf Wittke
Hobbies: Travel, reading, beach
Favorite quote: Character is destiny
Personal passions: Animals, elderly, and mentoring Latino youth