- Season: 5
- Episode: 7
Sustainability is more than a buzzword at Ferguson. It’s an integral part of the distributor’s business practices that touches on all areas of company operation. It’s also key to the organization’s community outreach efforts. Hear Kelsey Bergan, director of sustainability, and Denise Vaughn, SVP of sustainability and communications, address their key focus areas and share advice for other distributors who want to improve environmental efforts.
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Hello and welcome to the MDM podcast. I’m Editor in Chief Elizabeth Galentine. Joining me today are Ferguson’s Kelsey Bergan, director of sustainability, and Denise Vaughn, VP of sustainability and communications.
As you may have guessed from their titles, we’re going to chat on the important topic of sustainability in distribution. Welcome to you both.
So, I want to start with having each of you share a bit about your background. You know, how you came to Ferguson and your previous experience with sustainability.
Vaughn: It’s such an honor to be here, Elizabeth, thanks for reaching out to Ferguson. We’re happy to spend time with you today. So, I’ve said a lot recently, I feel like I blinked and then all of a sudden I hit 15 years with Ferguson. In March, I celebrated my 15-year anniversary. I joined Ferguson through higher education. Our CEO at the time was on the Board of Visitors where the University, of the University where I worked, and I was recruited to come over and lead the communications and PR efforts for Ferguson.
So ever since joining I was really active in our community relations and our community efforts. And then about a decade ago, was given the opportunity to develop and launch our Ferguson Cares program. So, we hired a very talented individual named Melissa Hazelwood and we have been rocking and rolling for, like I said, almost the last decade building the program. And we really feel that where we are in the United States, that, in North America, that we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the communities that we serve.
And then, almost four years ago, we expanded our footprint and started focusing on environmental sustainability. And that’s when Kelsey joined us. And she has done incredible work in a short period of time, and we’re super excited for everything that she’ll share with you and your listeners today.
So Kelsey, I’ll turn it over to you.
Bergan: Thanks, Elizabeth. The program really started with Denise, so it felt like she was a natural place to start. So, my background is in environmental science. I have over 12 years of experience in sustainability. And prior to coming to Ferguson, I was with Amtrak for years where I worked on their environmental and sustainability reporting. So, I’ve been with Ferguson for over three years. And one of the things I love most about working on sustainability challenges is how we get to collaborate with individuals throughout the business.
MDM: Excellent. Well, let’s dive into to talk about it. I understand that there’s three key focus areas, maybe the best way to start out is to walk us through that framework and how you established the program.
Bergan: Yeah, absolutely. So, we performed something called the materiality assessment when we established the program framework. So, our team analyzed sustainability issues relevant to our business and our industry. And we engaged with stakeholders to understand their views.
So, what we learned through this process was that while there are many key issues that are relevant to our stakeholders, there were three main themes. The first focus area comes as no surprise if you know Ferguson’s culture. Our associates are clearly our most important asset, and they’re how we deliver our value to our customers. So that’s our first focus area and an includes priorities like health and safety, inclusion and diversity, the development of our associates and investing in our communities. Our Ferguson Cares program — which we’ll go into a little more later — is a great example of our efforts in this area.
The second focus area of our program is efficient operation. We believe in continuous improvement at Ferguson and are always challenging ourselves to do better. So, initiatives that support this focus area include things like energy management, supply chain management, fuel consumption and emissions reduction.
One of my favorite improvements that we’ve made in this area is implementing pack-size packaging machines in our distribution network. They actually print to the dimensions of the packages that we’re shipping out and ensure that we don’t have to use a lot of void fill. So that prevents us from using too much cardboard or shipping lots of air. And it means that we can fit more packages per shipment and save fuel as well. So that’s a great example of how we’re improving our operations all the time.
The third focus area is one we’re still growing at Ferguson. And that’s sustainable products and solutions. We know that one of the biggest ways we can help reduce our environmental impact is by pairing high-quality and high-efficiency products with our customers. So, by offering our customers creative solutions, we can help them find the perfect fit while protecting our resources for future generations.
We’ve actually developed an online sustainability product training course. And that helps our associates be equipped with the knowledge they need to help our customers. So, in a nutshell, that’s what our program framework is made of, and some of how we implement it.
MDM: Denise, anything you would add on the background of just how it’s rolled out to internally? I love that you all have that, you know, online, sort of, I guess you could almost call it like onboarding to sustainability.
Vaughn: Yeah, Kelsey has done a phenomenal job, Kelsey and her team. Because sustainability isn’t a function, right? It’s not the responsibility of three, four individuals, it really takes the entire company working together. So, you know, we have some grassroots efforts going on within the company, and then we have more structured committees and teams. So, it’s, um, it is definitely a team effort. And as I said, Kelsey has done a great job bringing the necessary players to the table and really making incredible progress.
MDM: Well, you all definitely have a reputation for, you know, having really strong involvement with your, with your community everywhere where Ferguson is located. And I know that you’re really intertwining the sustainability efforts with that community involvement. Can you talk a bit about that?
Vaughn: Sure, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll kick it off, and then turn it over to Kelsey. But we believe doing good crosses all aspects of ESG, which we’re all hearing a lot more about ESG these days: so, environmental, social, and governance.
And at Ferguson, as Kelsey mentioned before, we prioritize the well-being of our associates in our communities. And that extends to health and safety, and physical and emotional well-being, social equity — anywhere where we feel that we can make a difference. And then we thought we’d prioritize and focus on reducing our environmental impact.
And always at the core of everything that we do is maintaining a profitable business built on integrity and trust. So, we believe, and good always comes from doing right. And that’s foundational to our business today, and in 1953 when we were founded.
We think doing good and creating a better world for future generations, as I said earlier, crosses every aspect of our business. And it’s so awesome, Elizabeth, to see our 30,000 associates engage in the community impact work that we do. Everybody is so passionate about helping each other and helping our communities that it’s incredibly rewarding. And this takes place at all levels of our organizations, in all pockets of the country. So, it’s great fun — really, really great fun to be a part of.
Bergan: And I would agree with what Denise said. It feels like the Ferguson Cares program and a lot of the doing good in our communities, it’s just woven into our company’s DNA. So, what I found is a lot of environmental efforts actually intersect with a lot of our community efforts.
So, for example, sometimes we’ll find ourselves with excess inventory and need a creative solution to avoid the landfill. So, our partner Good360 is a nonprofit organization that helps companies distribute highly needed product donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofits that need them. This year, I’m proud to share that we donated over $26 million in product, including baths, faucets and sinks and personal protective equipment, including hand sanitizer. So that’s a great example of how our efforts can help both the environment and our communities.
We also often receive pictures from nonprofits that receive our donations, and a few of them really stand out in my mind. The first is a nonprofit that was using the bath they received to create a hydroponic community garden. And by creating that setup, the nonprofit was ensuring their local community had access to fresh local vegetables, which helps with community health and nutrition, but also has a carbon footprint reduction benefit.
And another example that comes to mind is a donation of porcelain toilets that ended up being crushed to form a substrate for oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay Area. Oyster populations can help improve water quality for the community. So that was also really great to see.
The last point I’ll make on this is that we offer a volunteerism benefit through our Associates in Action Program. This program doubles the impact of our associates by providing monetary donations to eligible nonprofits and matching our associates’ volunteer time. A lot of our associates choose to log this time with nonprofits that are near and dear to their heart. And some of those are environmental nonprofits as well, whether they’re doing a community cleanup or helping to bring running water to a community in need.
MDM: How do you, I mean, it sounds like such a great network of partners, how do you select these organizations that you work with?
Bergan: The organizations that we work with through Good360 actually apply based on need. So, we pair the product with the individuals that need the most. And that’s one of the values that they provide. But we do have a lot of fantastic national partners that go through a vetting process with our Ferguson Cares committee that Melissa Hazelwood oversees. So that is certainly a really important part of our programs as well.
Vaughn: Elizabeth, it’s, it’s challenging, because there’s so many incredible organizations doing so much good in the world right now. And so, we really try to be strategic where we can make true impact. So, while we’d like to support everything that comes our way, we do have a structured process that Kelsey mentioned, where we talk to and vet organizations and really lean in where we feel that we can make the greatest impact.
MDM: That’s fantastic. You know, and you both touched on this a little bit. And I just like to hear a bit more about you know, what, maybe some examples of what you find to be most rewarding for you personally working on sustainability at Ferguson. But also, you know, you talked about this as well, what’s been rewarding as far as the company’s business objectives? Because that is always, of course, central to a company’s operations.
Vaughn: Oh, gosh, that’s such a great and a really tough question. Because there is so much that, that personally makes me feel proud. And I’m a firm believer that the work that we’re doing in the communities and the goodwill that we’re creating across the nation drives our business results.
So I think just this week, as I mentioned, I was traveling for work. And so, I wasn’t able to participate in a lot of the calls. But I’ve been following along and in some of our team’s chats and our email communications about what’s going on with natural disasters right now in the United States. So following the, you know, Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, and the Caldor Fire in California, we’ve got some amazing activities going on to help our associates.
And, and I will say, Ferguson really shines in times of crisis and chaos. And we typically follow an ABC model. And so, we immediately take care of our associates, followed by making sure that we get our business back up and running. And then we turn our support towards the communities where disaster has struck.
So right now, we’ve got associates that are displaced in both Louisiana and California. And the teams are working around the clock to make sure that they have the basic amenities that we need. We’re looking to make sure we can quickly get our locations back up or divert that business to a different location so contractors across the country can start that rebuild process, which is so important to families and economies.
And I think it kind of goes back to that question before where you asked about the intersection. So, these natural disasters to me personally are reminders of how important it is for us to continue everything that we’re doing, everything that Kelsey is leading, to reduce our carbon footprint.
Another example, Elizabeth, is Kelsey mentioned some of the work that we’re doing with access to clean water and proper sanitation. So, we were the first corporate partner to an organization called DIGDEEP. It is an incredible organization, very well run. And they are the only organization, the only nonprofit that’s focused on access to water, running water and proper sanitation in the United States.
So there’s, there’s so much that we — myself included — take for granted in terms of having hot or cold running water in our home. A bathtub or a shower, you know, to refresh in the morning or, you know, close out a tough day or, or the basic necessity of having a working flushing toilet. And DIGDEEP is dedicated to closing the water gap in our country.
And so, we’re incredibly proud of the work that they’re doing and our ability to partner with them. I had a really, really, really life-changing opportunity to volunteer on a situation on the Navajo reservation. And I will tell you, Elizabeth, the moment when that family turned the water on in their sink, their newly installed sink and, and there was an older woman, and she put her hands under the warm water. And I will never, ever forget her facial expression and just the glow and the happiness that came on her face.
And it’s, it’s something we all do every morning, you know, we brush our teeth, we wash our face, we wash our hands. And so, the work they’re doing is probably one of the most rewarding aspects. And then it doesn’t stop there. So, partnering with DIGDEEP, and IAPMO. They’re now working with the Navajo Technical University to go full circle. So, they’ve got the plumbing apprenticeship program. They’re bringing jobs, they’re bringing skilled trades, while they’re improving the economy.
I could go on forever. I’m just so passionate about that access to water and the work that’s being done. They started on the Navajo Nation, and now they’re expanding their footprint. So, we’re diving in with them now with the Appalachia Water Project, and more to come. Just super excited.
MDM: Kelsey, that’s gonna be a hard act to follow.
Bergan: Yeah, yeah, Denise put it so well. And I really applaud the hands-on work that she’s done in the field to help our communities. She really walks the walk, Elizabeth, and I love how committed our leadership is at Ferguson.
And I think what’s most meaningful to me personally, is being able to track our progress. So, over the past three years, I’ve gotten to see a lot of our associates connect to what’s going on in the world, in their local communities. And, you know, they see the forest fires. And they think, ‘Yeah, this is a part of climate change, and why it’s so important for us to reduce our carbon.’
So I love seeing the tons of waste reduced, the tons of carbon reduced, and the volunteer hours invested in our communities. And so, the measurable impact that we’re generating, our engaged leadership team, and making sure that our customers and associates know how committed we are to this. That’s what really makes me proud and engaged.
MDM: I think, you know, I’d like to ask you one last question to wrap things up. But this, in a way, I think this is kind of the most important question, because I would love to hear your advice for other distributors who are thinking of starting or developing more meaningful sustainability efforts of their own. I’m sure, especially people who maybe don’t have one at all yet, you know, it can sound overwhelming. And so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to spread this throughout distribution.
Vaughn: I think it’s a great learning opportunity, Elizabeth. And I would say, start with either investing in, in developing the skill set and the talent within your organization, or looking at a combination of bringing in outside talent. Kelsey has brought a tremendous amount of knowledge in the sustainability space to Ferguson.
And like I said, it takes everybody but it’s really important to have a super strong leader that can bring everybody together. And one of the beautiful things is the ideas never stop. Kelsey spends a ton of time researching what’s happening not only in our industry, but in other industries, and bringing these ideas to the table and saying, ‘Hey, what if we tried this?’ And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but somebody who’s waking up every day and this is all that they’re thinking about and they’re driving true change.
The next thing I would say is — and we touched on this a bit with materiality — but take the time to listen. Talk to your stakeholders, listen and learn what is truly important to them. And don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand where you can make a difference, and understand what naturally aligns with your business. Where you can have the greatest impact. And then engage the team.
Again, sustainability isn’t a function or the responsibility of one or two people. It’s the entire organization. And I think in Ferguson, we truly believe that people inherently want to make a difference. Whether it’s through environmental programs or social programs. People really want to do the right thing and they want to see change, and they want to help others.
So, what we’ve seen is that when we provide these opportunities, our associates turn out in droves. It creates engagement, it creates passion, it creates excitement. And its, sustainability is, it’s good for our business. It’s good for us as individuals, and it’s good for our planet. So, it’s a win-win for sure.
MDM: Yeah, I thought it was really interesting, you know that Kelsey’s background is in environmental science. I mean, Kelsey, did you ever think that you would end up working for a distributor?
Bergan: No, it’s funny you mentioned that. I was reflecting in the earlier question that you asked. And originally out of school, I thought I was going to work on environmental remediation, you know, like historically contaminated sites where you have to remediate the soil. It’s really interesting to see how the careers have grown in sustainability and how many opportunities there are, because all businesses are seeing that this really adds value. And so, I’m really grateful to be at Ferguson with a company that’s really committed and cares.
MDM: That’s fantastic. Well, thank you both for taking the time to speak with me today.
Bergan: Yeah, and I wanted to, I wanted to piggyback on one other thing that Denise said earlier, Elizabeth, which, if we were talking to other distributors starting sustainability efforts, I think we would really drive that sustainability is part of everyone’s job.
So, it’s how our real estate and facility team purchase designs and builds new DCs, for example. So, our Phoenix DC that we’re building, now it’s targeting LEED certification. And we’ll actually have onsite solar. So that’s a great example of how the real estate and facilities team has risen to the occasion and incorporated sustainability into their job.
And then, it’s also part of how our fleet team does their job and how they’re sourcing vehicles. So, whether it’s incorporating hybrid technology, or piloting electric vehicles, it’s just become a part of how we do business. So, it’s also part of how our sourcing teams hold their conversations with suppliers, how our associates are helping customers. And together we’re all able to have that great impact.
MDM: That’s a really good point because I mean, it definitely comes back to, you know, the value system of the company and when you, and as you can tell how, how it’s permeated throughout Ferguson, it really shows up in all areas of the business. And I just appreciate you all taking some time to walk us through what you, what you’ve been doing, and, you know, what your, what you continue to do.
Bergan: Thank you so much.
Vaughn: There was a pleasure to spend time with you today. Thank you for thinking of Ferguson.
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