Sometimes my blog posts are premeditated, other times I wait for inspiration. I try to incorporate all the aspects of living abroad- the social, touristy, cultural and historical portions. So far in the collection of posts about Sweden I’ve touched on Stockholm and the Swedes in general, its neighbor to the south Denmark, and a bit about the Wallenberg Fellowship and some of the events in which we’ve participated. Beginning in July, my schedule will be filled with considerably more traveling. I’m aiming to visit most of Scandinavia, a Baltic country, as well as partake in a long distance trek in northern Sweden. There will be ample documentation and reflection for those portions of the trips. But as I thought about how travel will dominate the latter blog posts from Sweden, I realized that, perhaps, a vital component to this entire experience hasn’t been given it’s warranted attention. That missing element is Electrolux, the global household appliance company where I am interning and spend most of my time.
One of the reasons I was initially hesitant about applying for the Wallenberg Fellowship was that the internships tended to be in corporations and financial institutions. My cynicism towards those enterprises and an unwillingness to compromise on my core ethical values made me wary about the opportunity. The more I read about Sweden, however, I realized how different its business culture is from the U.S. It is just as, if not more, innovative and ruthless (in the sense of only the strong businesses survive) but at the same time there is an unrivaled amount of attention towards sustainability in all aspects of their business and significantly more resources and autonomy towards their employees. When I spoke with Pia, who was the recruiter who helped place us all in these positions, I tried to be clear about the type of company I was looking for and the values that I’d hope they’d share. After a few other opportunities didn’t pan out, we settled upon the Food Foundation at Electrolux. I work directly with the head of the foundation, Ingrid, and Malin who is the director of social responsibility on the Sustainability team.
In late August this year, Electrolux will celebrate their 100 year anniversary. They’ve gone from a primarily vacuum cleaner company with salesmen who went door to door to a global household appliance company with a variety of other companies that fall underneath their umbrella (e.g. frigidaire in the U.S.). About three years ago, the company decided to reevaluate its sustainability policy. They wanted more clear directives and specific targets. Eventually, they settled upon the three pillars of ‘Better Solutions’, ‘Better Operations’, and ‘Better Society.’ Better solutions is focused on improving product efficiency without sacrificing performance as well as making better use of resources. Better operations addresses health, safety, ethics, and the environmental footprint of the operations facilities. The last pillar is better society which looks at elements outside of the company itself including promoting sustainability and being a force for good. The Food Foundation was born out of this idea of being a force for good.
Founded in 2016, the foundation has grown rapidly. The team itself remains strong but their global reach and the amount of initiatives has increased impressively. Our two main partners in this endeavor are WorldChefs and AIESEC. WorldChefs is a collection of chef associations from around the world and with them, we’ve formed our Food the Planet Partnership. More on that shortly. AIESEC in a huge organization that provides interns, both on a volunteer and paid basis, to companies located all over the world. We currently have over 60 working in our Stockholm office but the foundation has tapped into this network to help promote our Food Heroes initiative. In addition to these main partners we fund different proposals submitted by Electrolux employees, seek out new foodtech startups to partner with or invest in, and constantly look for new ways to expand our reach.
As I guess is fitting in Electrolux, we also have three pillars. They are awareness, education, and support. The awareness side of mostly handled by the sustainability communications team who uses our social media channels to share both the work of the foundation and the overall leadership of the company in the field of sustainability. Support, which is the area that is perhaps the least developed thus far, is aimed at helping those in need. We’ve had meetings to try to decide just what that might look like, whether it is humanitarian aid, food or monetary donations, or volunteering. One implementation will be a donation platform for all Electrolux employees that should be launching in time for the 100 year anniversary. Employees will have the ability to support the Foundation’s initiatives, certain sponsored ones where the company will match funds or those of their own choosing.
The education pillar is the one in which I am most involved. Our two biggest projects fall under this category. The first, as I mentioned before, is the Feed the Planet partnership with WorldChefs. They have a Food Waste Challenge where they encourage kitchens to sign up and use their excel sheet tracker to analyze and cut down on waste. We’ve been in contact with Winnow, an up and coming foodtech company that uses artificial intelligence to recognize what food is being thrown out so that is doesn’t have to be entered manually. I was present for a demonstration of the new product and was quite impressed. The other part of the Feed the Planet Partnership is the Better Future program. This is run by my colleague, Cosimo, who lives in Brazil. It involves training unemployed folks from surrounding communities how to work in a professional kitchen. Right now this program is operating in three countries but by the end of this year, it should be in six and next year even more. Personally, I think this is our most exciting and impactful program. I’m working with Cosimo to research how this program might be brought to Charlotte, North Carolina after the Electrolux Professional side of the business is spun off next year.
The other side of the education pillar is the Food Heroes program. During my first (virtual) meeting with Malin and Ingrid, they mentioned this program after hearing about my international education experience. The Foundation has developed a curriculum to teach children about sustainable and healthy eating choices. Our goal is to reach 30,000 kids all over the world by using the network of AIESEC interns. It is a fun, interactive curriculum that is part of the United Nations World’s Largest Lesson. Anyone can go online and become ‘trained’ in the curriculum in order to bring it to their local community or school. The more Food Heroes, the better. My role with this project has been to adapt the curriculum for an older audience. Right now it is geared towards 7-12 year olds and our goal is to have a separate educational lesson for those aged 13-18. We’re incorporating more informative material while still attempting to keep it entertaining. I’ve developed this activity or game that will involve planning a grocery list within a certain budget while balancing price constraints, environmental impact, and health concerns. We’re hoping to test it in July.
Aside from these two main projects, I assist with a variety of other things. During my first couple of weeks at Electrolux, I was evaluating proposals and creating a standard format to be used. Most of them arrive in powerpoint form and we’ve learned that the board (who approves any spending) prefers more concise materials. Instead, a brief document that highlights costs, impact, KPIs (key performance indicators) helps the proposals to be processed more quickly. A new and exciting item that I’ve begun work on is with the innovation team. I shadowed them for a day this past week and learned about how they’re developing a strategy for what the future kitchen might look like. The walls of the room where they meet are covered by post-it notes like a business version of A Beautiful Mind. They’ve discussed all types of future products incorporating things like AI and big data. After just a day with them, I told Tove, who leads the team, that I was hooked. As a forward and visionary thinker, this was a great fit. Currently, I’m researching our competitors and analyzing their different approaches to sustainability to see how we might find a competitive advantage or niche.
In just six weeks I truly feel like I’ve learned a ton. My knowledge of sustainability from a corporate perspective has increased exponentially. I’ve seen firsthand how a foundation is growing from its infancy. I’m surrounded by a push for innovation that puts an enormous amount of emphasis on the concerns for the planet that, frankly, the U.S. is only just beginning to wake up to. The next month before I take some time for vacation will be a continuation of these projects. I also plan to prepare a briefing of my perspective on the foundation and present some ideas that I have for the future. With such a flat hierarchy as part of the business culture, those suggestions, even coming from an intern, will be welcomed.
Until next time,