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Translating a career into sustainability

Molly Laverty

Molly Laverty (MBA ’19) pursued an MBA to strengthen her business acumen and bolster her knowledge and confidence for the next stage in her sustainability career. The online MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, which she was drawn to because of its focus on sustainable enterprise, proved to be a transformative experience.

During 10-plus years in the sustainability field, Laverty has worked closely with stakeholders across various agricultural sectors. Today, she serves as the senior manager for environmental, social and governance (ESG) at Del Monte Foods, one of the U.S.’s largest producers, distributors and marketers of premium quality, branded food products for the U.S. retail market. Laverty is committed to strategically managing Del Monte Food’s environmental sustainability goals and impact to drive the company’s mission of nourishing families with earth’s goodness forward.

From translator to sustainability specialist

Laverty’s path towards a career in sustainability was not straightforward. Having earned an undergraduate degree in Spanish literature and anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, her first job was a translator for a coffee roaster. Assisting the Portland-based company in buying beans from Latin American growers, the job brought together her love for travel and culture.

Molly LavertyHowever, as Laverty spent more time on the coffee farmers’ land, she could see the effects of climate change were severe and impacting the livelihoods of those who made their living in agriculture. During her conversations with coffee growers, she realized farmers are stewards of the land and adopting sustainable growing practices to build resilient farms was a top concern for those she worked with.

As she continued her job as a translator, Laverty began to understand the systemic inequities that exist in commodity supply chains.

Smaller growers are often squeezed by big producers on the price of their harvests, she says. “They are really at the mercy of what the global supply chain is doing. If there is a frost in Brazil, creating scarcity, the coffee price might go up.”

To champion better relationships with farmers, Laverty moved into a new role as manager of sustainable coffee supply and procurement. Her mandate: “How can we use our leverage as a large buyer to help them?” She realized that the solution was two-fold. Part of it is paying higher prices for commodity goods, but there was an additional need for educating larger growing groups and cooperatives on hedging.

After a couple of years, Laverty shifted to become director of sustainability at Farmer Brothers, a coffee company in Texas. She strengthened relationships with coffee farmers and growers to promote fair trade and sustainability within the coffee supply chain. She achieved this through direct trade relationships, offering both a price premium and educational benefits to farm partners. The technical assistance trainings both fortified local farming communities and increased the quality of the coffee supply.

The inflection point for pursuing a MBA

Around this time she embarked on her MBA studies at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Because she felt so dedicated to her work, Laverty did not want to put her career on pause to go back to school. The online MBA@UNC program gave her access to a great graduate business education. “I did not want to choose between my job or an MBA; I wanted to do the two in tandem,” she says. “I had some reservations about the online program because of the connections you create. But the online program does a good job of bringing students together, so I felt I got that community experience.”

Although the course is delivered online, the MBA includes residential modules known as Summits. One highlight for Laverty was a Summit in Helsinki, Finland. “It was an incredible opportunity to come together with my classmates,” she says. It also aligned with her career aspirations. “Finland is a country with a big sustainability focus. It was inspiring to be able to meet real companies who are starting their businesses with a fully sustainable mindset.”

One reason she was attracted to UNC Kenan-Flagler was because of its leadership in sustainable enterprise. She learned how to pursue business opportunities that serve a triple bottom line of profit, society and the environment.

She contributed to the Business School community with her corporate sustainability background, a rare profile among her classmates. “That was something I brought to the table. A lot of business is focused on the financial bottom line, but I was able to show my classmates in a real context how to build a healthy and sustainable business. I also opened their eyes to the fact that sustainability isn’t just greenwashing, it’s a real thing companies are doing.”

Path forward at Del Monte Foods

Molly Laverty in a cropAs senior manager of ESG at Del Monte Foods Inc., Laverty is continuing her work with agricultural communities, while also engaging in the opportunity to focus on pushing the company’s overall corporate sustainability goals forward.

“There are so many opportunities to drive change across our industry when you get into topics – supply chain efficiencies, responsible packaging decisions and the benefits of cover cropping – and being at a company that is shifting how we operate to meet today’s challenges is inspiring,” she says.

Through partnerships and innovation, Laverty has been instrumental in the company’s work to eliminate food waste across processes and products. Most recently, she’s been working on solutions to reincorporate excess food back into Del Monte products through a process called “upcycling.”

By salvaging nutritious ingredients, Laverty says, “we can create delicious food that is beneficial to people and the planet.” There are already several products in the Del Monte Foods portfolio that contain upcycled ingredients, including Farmhouse Style and Petite Cut Green Beans and the Fruit Infusion fruit cups.

Laverty has also proven the financial aptitude she gained during her MBA to negotiate with senior executives at Del Monte Foods, such as the chief supply chain officer, to win funding for her ideas. “My undergraduate degree was very qualitative, so I was hesitant about the quant classes,” she said. “But actually, the finance and accounting classes were some of my highlights of the MBA because they challenged me to come out of my comfort zone.”

Now, she is continuing to extend herself beyond comfort with a new focus on optimizing the entire supply chain and guiding strategies to help the company achieve its goal to be a net-zero business by 2050. “What’s next for me is pulling together a working task force to set a plan to achieve our science-based carbon reduction targets and tackle some of these environmental challenges,” says Laverty.

As for her MBA@UNC, she says: “I had the best time in the program, and it will help me take my career wherever I want to go.”