Food for thought from an agricultural sustainability leader

“I have the best job,” marvels Linda Froelich, Global Sustainability Director and Responsible Care Coordinator of FMC Corporation. With the support of FMC’s executives, Linda has turned this West Philadelphia-based agricultural services company into a leading voice in the corporate sustainability arena. Her team has advanced ambitious goals and targets and produced best-in-class sustainability reports that investors praise for their transparency and clarity. This fall, as Linda prepares to retire from FMC, she is sharing insights from her career with students in Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program. Her new seminar course, ENVS 677: Sustainable Agriculture and Product Stewardship, covers the most salient aspects of the field in which she has made her career. “The topics in this course are ones that I have been passionate about for a long time,” Linda says. “Namely, how to ensure a safe, secure food supply for the world’s growing population in a sustainable way.”

Linda Froelich, Master of Environmental
Studies instructor

Over the years, sustainability has become increasingly important and is now considered “table stakes for companies, meaning, if you don’t have a sustainability program, investors will take their assets elsewhere,” Linda notes. Indeed, she recently participated in 25 meetings with FMC’s largest institutional investors. “They asked great questions about our environmental metrics, reporting frameworks, safety measures, and diversity and inclusion practices,” she recalls. Linda’s course at Penn will introduce students to the increasingly sophisticated aims of corporate sustainability programs like hers.Linda holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY, and a Master of Science in biology and plant pathology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has worked at FMC for her entire career, moving from research to development to broader leadership roles. In 2009, Linda became Product Stewardship Manager for FMC’s global Agricultural Solutions business. She was then tapped by the CEO to help create a formal sustainability program at FMC, and Linda has led the program full time since 2013. In this role, Linda oversees FMC’s citizenship initiatives around the world, many of which are informed by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals such as Zero Hunger (Goal 2) and Life on Land (Goal 15). Linda has also participated in FMC’s work to strengthen communities in Philadelphia. The company donates leftover food from its cafe to local food banks and is the main sponsor of the Philadelphia Science Festival. “One of my favorite parts of the Festival is the fun games we have that teach kids how their food is grown. It’s such a great experience because a lot of people in Philadelphia have never had the opportunity to leave the city and have never seen a farm or an orchard,” Linda says.

In Sustainable Agriculture and Product Stewardship, students will examine agricultural practices in the context of global humanitarian and ecological goals, while considering the perspectives of growers, consumers, and other stakeholders. As the course title suggests, they will also study the stewardship of agricultural products from factories to farms. “We’ll talk about training growers how to use the right amount of products at the right times, calibrate their equipment, and use integrated pest management, not just synthetic pesticides,” Linda notes. As an active leader in corporate sustainability, Linda looks forward to providing students with a contemporary window into the field and insight into its future. For example, they will discuss how companies are responding to the ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets laid out in Europe’s Green Deal and preparing for similar measures around the world that are likely to follow. They will also discuss how the current protest movement is prompting companies to elevate racial justice as part of their sustainability portfolios.

Linda co-taught a different MES course last year, Corporate Sustainability Management and Communication, and found the students “extremely smart, mature, and motivated. They asked great questions and kept an open mind.” She is eager to see the nuance and intelligence that MES students bring to her new course and looks forward to lively debates during class. Students will be graded in part on how well they formulate and argue evidence-based opinions about the complex topics they are engaging, such as the merits and downsides of organic versus conventional farming methods. Linda says she wants students to “get comfortable with the process of thoroughly investigating topics and becoming fluent in them. That is a really valuable skill, personally and professionally.”

The course emphasizes communication skills and will culminate in a final project that students will present to their classmates. “In our work, the written or spoken word is the final product,” Linda explains. She adds, “Whenever an engineer tells me they’re not a writer, I say, ‘Let’s change that because you have great information, but you need to distill it, so people outside your sphere can grasp why it’s significant.’” The best sustainability reporting, Linda notes, is informative, easy for everyone to understand, and enriched by compelling stories.

Teaching in the MES program has been “such a joy,” Linda reflects. “It’s stimulating and uplifting to be with such phenomenal students of all different ages.” Though Linda started teaching in the MES program last year, she has sung its praises for much longer and has hired multiple MES graduates for her sustainability team. All have since advanced to broader roles. “MES is a well-rounded program, and the courses are rigorous—which is a good thing because these jobs are not easy!” Linda laughs. On the other hand, she concedes, sustainability jobs are gratifying. “I get to collaborate with people in board rooms, on the shop floor, and everywhere in between to make positive change,” Linda says. “And every year, we set the bar higher. The European Union aims to be climate-neutral by 2050, and I suspect that other regions will follow suit at some point. There has never been a more exciting time for students to launch a career in this field.”