Welcome David Darr: Vanguard Renewables New Chief Sustainability Officer

David Darr Vanguard Renewables Chief Sustainability OfficerDavid Darr joined Vanguard Renewables as our Chief Sustainability Officer earlier this year. He brings with him a wealth of experience from working with farmers and food companies across the country to support sustainable and regenerative farming practices for American dairy farmers.

As the new year approached, David took time to sit down with me to discuss his background and what his goals are for this new endeavor.

With that, I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my conversation with David, and to share his background and how he plans to shape his role at Vanguard Renewables.

I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!

Meet David Darr

Billy Kepner: How did you get involved in sustainability?

David Darr: For a lot of us in sustainability, who have been in it for 15 years or more, sustainability was more of something like “other duties as assigned.” We were tasked with trying to figure out if it was something real and significant as it relates to business – or if it was a fad.

As we were thinking about it, and as the U.S. agriculture industry thinks about the opportunities for a focus on social, environmental, and economic value for what we do and the people we work for, it aligned strongly with me personally. It aligned very closely with the cooperative nature of the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), and in many ways aligned with the values of the U.S. dairy industry.

So, I’ve been passionate about sustainability, food, agriculture, and dairies since I first had the opportunity to start engaging in the space. For the last 15 years, I have had the chance to work on and lead sustainability initiatives with dairy farmers, major dairy brands, and processors not just across America, but around the world – and help set a sustainability strategy for the dairy industry here in the U.S.

BK: What are you most excited about by joining Vanguard Renewables and why are you making this leap from the DFA?

DD: Well, for me, I’ve been “talking the talk” on dairy sustainability for the last 15 years. I have been encouraging and creating opportunities with farmers; working across the DFA’s manufacturing plants, fleets, and businesses to create opportunities and establish strategies around sustainability.

The exciting thing for me in this transition is having the ability to pivot more deeply to “talk the talk and walk the walk” around sustainable opportunities for agriculture and dairy. I am excited to have a direct role in an organization that’s making significant progress in developing projects, establishing partnerships and relationships that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, supporting farmers and communities that they work with, and producing renewable energy for our communities and our country.

BK: In this new role, what is your vision? What do you hope to accomplish, and what do you see as potential challenges?

DD: I love the building and creating process, and I have had the opportunity to create and build several programs, businesses, and initiatives within DFA. ( DFA has nearly 20,000 employees, over 80 manufacturing plants, and is owned by 12,500 dairy farmers across the United States.)

The most significant pivot point for me is coming from building and creating within a multi-billion dollar company with 20,000 employees to doing that with a company with 80 employees and counting. I’ve worked closely with the Vanguard team over the years and am excited to continue cultivating those relationships. At the DFA, I led a segment of the Start-up Accelerator Program, so I understand how to continue to build, create, and grow – and I am excited about that opportunity.

BK: Why does a company that works in sustainability need a CSO?

DD: Companies that do it right know that sustainability isn’t just a role or title, but something that becomes integrated with their values and culture. This role has the opportunity to impact all departments and segments of our business and those businesses we are operating with. Whether in investor or lender relations or other areas, we know that the financial community looks at companies with an eye on environmental, social, and governance practices. We know from an HR perspective that in companies where sustainability is a core part of their values and culture, employees will buy into that and want to work for companies that are thinking about the planet and our communities. When we look at business development opportunities, bringing a long-term focus on solutions and partnerships where sustainability can be a part of that can have a significant impact.

Having this new role at Vanguard focused on sustainability will be impactful and is more than just a report that somebody does once a year or a page of a document – it will become part of the ethos of our company as we continue to grow.

BK: Finally, David, what’s your background? How did you get here?

DD: I’m just a farm kid from Ohio who was an economics major in college and went right to work for the DFA. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked. I was there for 20 years, and starting as an economist, there was a meeting on sustainability, and they said, “can you go cover that?.” and my passion for helping farmers turned into a career. In addition to my sustainability role at DFA, I also oversaw several other significant areas of the organization. In that role, I wore a lot of hats.

I’m excited about this position at Vanguard because it will give me greater opportunities to focus and have the guard rails be a bit narrower. I’ll be able to push just a little bit harder on things specifically related to our planet and our communities.

David Darr Vanguard Renewables Chief Sustainability OfficerAbout David Darr:
Chief Sustainability Officer, Vanguard Renewables

David Darr is the Chief Sustainability Officer of Vanguard Renewables and has been passionate about sustainability, food, and farming his entire life. Mr. Darr has over 20 years of experience working with dairy farmers around the country to implement sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

Most recently, Mr. Darr served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer for the Dairy Farmers of America

Mr. Darr holds both a BS and MS in Agriculture Economics from Ohio State University and an MBA from Rockhurst University.

About Vanguard Renewables:

Vanguard Renewables is an award-winning national leader in the development of food and dairy waste-to-renewable energy projects. The Company, based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is committed to advancing decarbonization by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farms and food waste and supporting regenerative agriculture best practices on partner farms. Vanguard Renewables owns and operates six anaerobic digester facilities in the northeast, is now developing or building more than 100 sites nationwide and plans to build more than 150 facilities in the top U.S. markets by 2025. Please visit vanguardrenewables.com to learn more.