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Business with Purpose


Dec 18, 2019

Well, friends…the day is here. Chipotle Mexican Grill is on the Business with Purpose Podcast, and I cannot contain my excitement! If you know me at all, you know I’d take meeting for burritos over meeting for coffee any day. And of course, we’d get chips and guac too! Not only am I a fan of Chipotle’s food, I also love their mission and purpose. The care about sustainability and use real, clean ingredients while supporting local farms worldwide. Join me as I hear more about this from Chipotle’s Director of Sustainability, Caitlin Liebert. She’s responsible for creating and implementing the company’s sustainability vision and strategy in more than 2,500 restaurants all over the world. We’re not just talking material waste reduction; this also means tackling energy management, water stewardship, and more! Hit that play button to hear more about Caitlin’s beginnings with Chipotle and the initiatives she’s led to take Chipotle to the next level!

4:45 - The Caitlin 101

  • Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Caitlin is a Cleveland sports fan like me! Go Browns! She always wanted to attend Dartmouth College and when she didn’t get in after an early-decision application process, she decided to make the most out of a start fresh at a university she knew nothing about. She had a great four years at The University of New Hampshire and after graduating, moved back to Cleveland with a plan to pursue sports marketing.
  • Caitlin was recruited straight out of college to work in sports marketing with the PGA Tour. She knew immediately that it wasn’t the right job for her. A few weeks later, her mom told her that she’d seen a marketing position at Chipotle in Cleveland.
  • Even though Caitlin had no interest in working in the food industry and was still set on the sports marketing industry, she applied after some encouragement from her mom.
  • Chipotle flew Caitlin out for a day-long interview at a regional office in D.C. By the end of the day, it was clear that Chipotle was the right company for her. The rest is history and Caitlin has worked for Chipotle for the past thirteen years!

8:25- Starting Sustainability

  • Caitlin eventually moved to Boston and helped open up the New England market. After three years, she had an opportunity to start the Sustainability Department. She moved to Denver for nine years before moving to Orange County, CA when the company relocated.
  • Chipotle has a mission to cultivate a better world, and Caitlin’ and her team’s job is to help fulfill that promise on the environmental side of that mission.
  • The Sustainability Department is responsible for waste, energy, and water while also cultivating a better world in the way Chipotle grows and raises food, supporting the next generation of farmers, and even benefits they offer employees.
  • Caitlin and her team also write the Chipotle Sustainability Report that is published every two years. They set “aggressive industry-leading but attainable goals” to continue improving the way they approach food, animals, people, and the environment.

10:29 - Setting the Standard

  • Chipotle has been a unique leader by setting the standard for the way similar restaurants approach sustainability and health. In 2015, Chipotle announced that they were going completely non-GMO.
  • Steve Ells founded Chipotle in 1993 with a vision to drive sales with flavor. He began to learn about how animals are raised, and that the quality of an animal’s life impacts the way the meat tastes. The idea of food with integrity started early.
  • Food with integrity has grown to changing how people eat fast food. From that foundation, Chipotle can continue to make strides in cultivating a better world.
  • A clear vision and the ability to make a positive impact in the community attracts the best talent; people who are passionate about their work.
  • Chipotle also partners with local food supply chains to source ingredients from local farmers. It’s incredibly impactful when a large corporation is passionate about offering local, organic ingredients, and animal welfare meat at an affordable price point. The accessibility of the quality of food that Chipotle offers is very unique.
  • Younger generations seem to be embracing the idea of both delicious good and sustainability. You don’t have to choose between good food and supporting something positive; Chipotle is providing both!

18:48 – Defining and Achieving Sustainability

  • Sustainability does not currently have a precise definition; it can mean different things to different people and various industries. One of Chipotle’s biggest goals has been to divert half of their waste by 2020.
  • One of the biggest challenges in sustainability is that disposable waste is a component of the restaurant industry. Many customers want to take their leftovers home or order “to go.” Chipotle is working on sustainability by considering where disposable waste comes from, how it’s used in the restaurant and where it ends up. It’s a huge challenge but the mentality at Chipotle is innovative and creative solutions that have never been done before.
  • Multiple times a year, Chipotle actually audits their waste (all of it) to determine what percentage is cutlery, straws, gloves, etc. They found that their biggest waste comes from plastic gloves employees use to prepare food. While they’re working on a straw-less lid and compostable straw options, they knew the biggest priority was finding a solution for gloves.
  • They looked to see if anything else in their restaurant was made out of the same plastic material as the gloves, which lead them to realize their next biggest waste were plastic trash bags.
  • Chipotle asked the makers of the gloves and the trash bags if they could use those materials over again. Chipotle innovated the first-ever circular economy system where their used gloves are incorporate back into the trash bags used in their restaurants.
  • Chipotle took it one step further to try and bring other industries and companies on board to do the same thing!

28:09 – Advocating Their Values

  • Chipotle works hard to ensure their efforts are not just “greenwashing” (using misleading information about how a company's products to make people believe they are more environmentally sound when they’re really not).
  • The challenge is so massive to improve the sustainability of the planet and Chipotle wants to work together with other companies to help achieve that.
  • We also need a shift at the consumer level for businesses to also take more responsibility for their outputs.
  • Regulation is currently increasing around waste, and hopefully that will continue with government mandating and business responsibility.
  • If we’re more aware of what we have and taking care of what we have, we can use and reuse and waste less.
  • If you can understand where what you buy comes from and the impact it has, the consumer level of awareness and passion to make good change will shift.

36:05 – Find out how Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol (from Taco Bell!) has dramatically increased Chipotle’s stock prices. Tune in to hear more about how this change has affected Chipotle’s drive toward sustainability. 

43:04 - Getting to Know Our Guest

Find out something you’d never guess about Caitlin (hint: she’s got an amazing project on deck), her favorite thing to order on the Chipotle menu, and what it means to her to run a business with purpose (you’ll want to hear what she thinks about the power you have as a consumer).

30:47 – Sustainability in the Next Decade

  • Caitlin hopes to see a shift from a disposable economy to a reusable economy. We need drastic changes to continue maintaining the planet as we know it.
  • Brands without purpose will not fare as well as brands with purpose. I think that it will become more and more obvious

Memorable Quotes:

13:21: “Food for us is the gateway by which we can help really make incredibly positive impact, not just in the communities that we operate which are many, but also in our supply network.”

29:21: “I’m working in one little corner of the world and while it is a massive (challenge) we can all work together to help improve the sustainability of the world.”

31:34: “I think brands without purpose will not fare as well as brands with purpose. I think that it will become more and more obvious that we all need to do our part to work together to help solve the tremendous challenge of climate change and sustainability as a whole.”

About Caitlin Leibert - Director of Sustainability, Chipotle Mexican Grill

As Head of Sustainability for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Caitlin is responsible for creating and implementing the company’s sustainability vision and strategy in more than 2,500 restaurants worldwide. From waste reduction, to energy management, to water stewardship, Caitlin works to minimize Chipotle’s impact as a company and plays a key role in developing new practices. She also serves as Executive Director of the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, Chipotle’s 501(c)3. Caitlin started her career at Chipotle in 2007 as a marketing strategist in northern Ohio and later went on to oversee marketing in New England before moving to Denver, Colorado in 2011 to start Chipotle’s sustainability department. Caitlin received her BA in journalism from the University of New Hampshire where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She then went on to earn her Masters in Sustainability Leadership from the University of Cambridge in the UK in 2016. She was appointed to a two year term on the Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Council for the City of Denver. She currently resides in Orange County, California.

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