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“We want to empower a plant-based revolution”

Hi, We Don’t Have Time. We’re Oatly.
Since we’re new to We Don’t Have Time, we thought it might be appropriate to take a moment to introduce ourselves to your community, and to talk about how we work towards a more sustainable world.
So what is Oatly? Well, we’re a company founded in Sweden, and we are the world’s original and largest oat drink company. We have grown rapidly, and our products are now available in grocery stores, cafés, coffee machines and elsewhere in more than 20 countries.
That’s the short answer. But it’s not enough, since we want to achieve so much more than just sell stuff. So we decided to sit down with our Chief Sustainability Officer Ashley Allen, to elaborate a bit on this.
“We are trying to drive a systemic shift in the food system”, says Ashley Allen, Chief Sustainability Officer at Oatly.

Hi Ashley. Please tell us, what kind of company is Oatly?
“That’s a good question, and never an easy one to answer. Oatly is a purpose-driven company that doesn’t do things the way most other companies do things. We’re not okay with the status quo, so as a company we are trying to drive a systemic shift in the food system. We want to enable our customers and consumers to make a change by switching to plant-based foods and engaging with plant-based foods in a way that helps them improve their lives and improve the planet.”
Improve their lives in what way?
“Our mission as a company is to help bring people moments of joy in their daily lives without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process. We are introducing them to a new way of eating, and doing so in a way that also gives them more information about the impact of what they eat. We want our products to make a positive difference in the world.”
How do we measure this impact?
“The food system is responsible for about one-third of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock is the largest contributor within that sector. So what is the impact of someone switching from a traditional dairy product to Oatly? That’s the metric we’re working on and championing. This is what has led us to publish the Product Climate Footprint, or PCF, for many of our products. And also our work to compare the impact of Oatly with the impact of cow’s milk.”

A film for Oatly’s “Normalize It” campaign, which calls for the EU to create equal opportunity for children in schools to choose plant-based drinks if they can't or don't want to drink cow's milk.

Not to brag, but … or, maybe we could actually brag a little. Our brand is pretty fearless. We know that many people find our way of communicating entertaining, but we also know that it sometimes upsets people, particularly companies in the dairy industry. What do we want to achieve with this form of communication?
“Oatly’s voice and brand identity is so much a part of what we are as a company. It is our brilliant creative department, or as we call it, the Oatly Department of Mind Control (ODMC for short), that develops strategies for how to get our message across in the most effective way and spark a conversation. From my perspective, on the sustainability side, it is about recognizing that there is an urgency to help people make the shift from animal-based products to plant-based products, and to identify what our role is to help push it forward. Some of the ways we do that are by raising the issues, giving people opportunities to talk about them, and providing people with the information and data they need to understand what are the climate, environmental and social impacts of animal-based products versus plant-based products. An example of this approach is our campaign Hey, food industry, show us your numbers.
Pushing other companies and other sectors to be transparent about the climate impact of their food or other consumer products, that’s the call to action we’re aiming for. Some companies will feel challenged by that. But what we’re aiming for is to give people access to better information about what they eat and what they buy.”
While many companies have set 2030 goals, Oatly is aiming for 2029. Can you tell the readers about these ambitions?
“Yes. We took a look at our growing business across the entire value chain, from the raw materials that go into our products, how those are grown and produced, all the way to how we interact with customers and consumers and drive the conversation. In each of the stages of that long value chain, we identified what’s most important for driving our sustainability impact. We came up with three important pillars of sustainability action.”

“One is about driving a food system shift. We work with our suppliers, and in particular oat farmers, on re-imagining how the food system works, how we can incentivize regenerative practices in farms, and how we are picturing a farm system that is better for people and planet. We have launched a number of partnerships with farmers in some of our key markets, and we are working with those farmers and the oat mills to identity what regenerative sustainable practices can be used, and how we at Oatly can incentivize those to happen.
The second pillar is about setting an example as a future company. This ranges from operating our factories efficiently and cleanly, to making sure we are safe and inclusive for our employees around the world. For instance, we have been expanding our sourcing of renewable electricity, which has been a challenge, since we have opened factories in regions of the world where renewable energy isn’t always as accessible as it is in Sweden. We have also been working with the factory teams on how to use energy and water more efficiently and generate less waste.
The last pillar is about empowering a plant-based revolution. What role can we at Oatly pro-actively take to drive forward the conversation around plant-based products to help enable people to make the shift, and to bring transparency to the industry? We have just launched the labeling of climate footprints for some of our products in North America. That continues to push the conversation with policy-makers and governments on what role that kind of labeling can have in the consumer products industry. Another example is our campaign “Hey Bundestag” in Germany, where we are engaging with the German parliament to try to see how we can make this kind of labeling become more mainstream.”
During Oatly’s campaign “Hey Bundestag” in Germany, we were engaging with the German parliament to try to see how we could make labeling a product’s climate footprint become mainstream.

There are agricultural subsidies currently going the wrong way, supporting the status quo, instead of supporting the green shift. How can we at Oatly help change that?
“We are always looking for ways to level the playfield for plant-based products in comparison to animal-based products, or a broader range of products, and to advocate for these when we engage with policy-makers. It’s not always about subsidies, it can also be about outdated guidelines for what kind of products can be available in certain locations, like in schools, or about what certain products can and cannot be called.”
Ashley, come to think of it. We haven’t introduced you properly, which we really should do, considering your background. You were formerly Climate Change Foreign Affairs Officer at the US Department of State. And before that, you served as the Deputy Associate Director of Public Engagement at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Going back longer, you have also been the Acting Division Chief and Climate Change Specialist at USAID. That’s a decent CV, and probably helpful when trying to push for systemic changes in the food sector, right?
“I think it is helpful in the fact that I bring with me an understanding of how policy and political systems work, and also where policymakers, regulators, and other government workers view these issues, and at what level they come in to look at companies’ actions on climate change or companies’ actions related to policy and governance. The perspective I really try to bring in is the importance of cooperation between companies, government entities, and NGOs. The way we bring about change is by stepping outside of our usual boundaries and looking at how we can collaborate across different sectors.”
Talking about collaboration: This is our first story published on We Don’t Have Time, where we now have our own partner profile page. What are we actually doing here, and why?
“Our partnership with We Don’t Have Time presents us with a fantastic opportunity to connect with like-minded people and organizations that are tackling the climate emergency, and share our work with a broad range of inspiring business leaders, academics, activists, policy makers and so on. Its focus on climate solutions across all sectors, not just food, means we are able to engage with wider audiences, including speaking at events like Climate COP 27. We’re excited to see what we can achieve by working together!”.
  • Daniel Kronenberg

    12 w

    No mention of Blackstone?

    • Sarah Chabane

      13 w

      Welcome to We Don't Have Time, it's great to have a frontrunner like you on board! You have definitely inspired thousands to eat more plant-based food and have made a tremendous impact thanks to your engaging campaigns

      • Douglas Marett

        13 w

        Great to have a sustainable purpose!!!

        • Tabitha Kimani

          13 w

          Welcome. You are doing an amazing job to influence change to healthy diets.

          • Evangeline Wanjiru

            13 w

            Welcome on board Oatly!

            • Patrick Kiash

              13 w

              Welcome to wdht family,it's great to read a very well detail article about you, your vision and your mission to partner with like minded people and organizations tackling the climate emergencies. You are truly in the right place.

              • Ingmar Rentzhog

                13 w

                Warmly welcome to We Don't Have Time @oatly! We are glad to have you here!

                Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
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