The Natural Products Expo: JEDI in the natural products industry and Van Jones on how it has a ways to go

The second of 6 blog posts from inside by Ben Brown and Terry Gips from the Alliance for Sustainability (www.afors.org

Natural Products Expo Virtual

Perhaps the most talked-about theme during the four days of the Expo was JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion). Consumers and businesses care about sustainability, but only recently has JEDI become acknowledged as a key element of sustainability, and the industry has a long way to go to fully integrate it.

CNN commentator Van Jones gave a keynote sharing his thoughts on JEDI in the natural products industry. Referencing his time working with kids in Oakland, he mentioned the phrase “green jobs not jails,” which reflected his disappointment that the industry hasn’t done more to embrace JEDI and is still largely exclusionary towards people of color. He questioned how it’s possible to bring about a revolution to green if only half the population is part of it? 

Van noted how creative people are in the natural products industry and how they, as entrepreneurs, were solving incredibly complex problems. So it came as a surprise to him that so little was being done to advance JEDI across the industry to help solve our social problems: “I sometimes feel that people got more sympathy for critters in the Arctic than for people.” 

While Van is undeniably right, that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made, which was proven at the Expo. There are companies like PCC working to advance the Justice for Black Farmers Act and Ben and Jerry’s taking social justice stands internally and in their marketing campaigns. There’s also a rise in the amount of businesses building JEDI into the cores of their company, helped by organizations like the JEDI Collaborative and One Step Closer.

Van challenged the industry to step up while acknowledging this isn’t something that can be solved overnight. He emphasized that it needs to happen because it’s a mutually beneficial endeavor – when there is a diversity of opinions and comfort for every single person in the workplace, it leads to cultivating an organization far more productive than could have ever been imagined before, producing positive results in company culture and the books along the way. Ideally, when we look back in ten years, we will be able to see the same progress in relation to JEDI as is seen in something like upcycling.

Next: How Natural Product companies are proactively addressing the climate crisis

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