Even if Amy Norris wasn’t chief legal counsel for Clif Bar, she’d likely be one of the organic food and beverage company’s customers. As a trail runner, avid skier, and speed hiker, Norris embodies the athlete on the iconic Clif Bar wrapper, exploring different climates and terrains in her life outside of the office. The fact that she ended up spending half her legal career at a brand built for people with active lifestyles isn’t just happenstance—it’s destiny.
“The focus on the planet and the environment aligned with my own values,” Norris recalls about her arrival at Clif Bar, where she was hired as associate general counsel in 2008 before getting promoted to her current position in 2012. In particular, she praises the company’s business model centered around sustaining five aspirations that start inward and extend outward to the world as a whole: Clif Bar’s people, its business, its brands, its community, and the planet.
But Norris has always had a passion for environmentalism. She graduated from the University of California San Diego with a degree in anthropology and an informal minor in environmental conservation. Shortly after graduating, she joined the Peace Corps and resided in West Africa for a year, where she teamed up with community health workers in international development. After a few years in the Peace Corps, she contemplated her next step, and law school seemed like the most impactful choice.
Her early legal career—while valuable—had less of a focus on the outdoors and well-being of the planet than her past and future work would. First came a stint as an associate attorney at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, followed by the same position at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton two years later.
“I was doing a little bit of everything,” Norris says when comparing her time as an external lawyer to her current work as an in-house counsel. “I was a generalist. I think a lot of times when you work for a law firm, you always wonder whether they took your advice and how it played out, but you’re not privy to that kind of information.”
By 2008, Norris was pregnant with her second child and looking for a change of pace. Her interview with Clif Bar helped her realize that she wanted a more advisory role within a company, something different than being a generalist. “I was seen as a partner,” Norris says about her first position of associate general counsel. “I thought it would be interesting to see the effects of giving advice from start to finish.”
From day one, Norris’s job involved not only avoiding the highest level of risk, but also helping facilitate other departments in their work. “It means understanding the business and involves a lot of listening and brainstorming on how to get to an acceptable level of risk,” she says. “As a department, we really want to give the decision-making authority to our business partners, so we identify one set of opportunities, challenges, and risks, then try to provide the perspective that is rooted in the law.”
Clif Bar has seen significant growth since its founding twenty-five years ago, a reflection of its place in the ever-expanding US food-bar industry. One of the company’s strategies for growth is a commitment to transparency regarding its products and ingredients, many of which are organic. However, Clif Bar takes this dedication one step further by taking an active role in the politics surrounding organic ingredients.
“One large company initiative is sourcing organic ingredients and growing the organic market,” Norris explains. “There is a lot of policy work we are trying to do, particularly with the farm bill in Congress on how to get more funding for organic research.”
“One large company initiative is sourcing organic ingredients and growing the organic market. There is a lot of policy work we are trying to do, particularly with the farm bill in Congress on how to get more funding for organic research.”
To supplement that, Clif Bar has employees advocating for organic seed and working directly with local farmers. The company is also making a multi-million dollar endowment to universities across the country to encourage organic research at US land grant universities.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison was the initial recipient of the first endowed chair focused on plant breeding for organic crops. Dubbed the UW-Madison Clif Bar and Organic Valley Chair in Plant Breeding for Organic Agriculture, it’s the first of five organic research chairs to be led by Clif Bar. Norris says the company is also working with other organizations to raise an estimated $10 million by 2020 to fund chairs dedicated to organic plant breeding.
But organic foods are only one of the cornerstones of the company when it comes to environmentalism. “We’ve also done a lot of work on climate action. One of our big focuses is on renewable energy. One of the ways we do that at our own HQ is through solar panels that provide the hot water in the building,” Norris explains. Clif Bar is working toward 90 percent diversion at its headquarters and supply chain facilities by 2020.
The marriage of environmentalism and food continues at Clif Bar’s sustainable bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, which spans 300,000 square feet and employs biophilic design. The idea behind the innovative design concept is to create a space that connects humans with nature. By doing so, Clif Bar hopes to have a staff that is more creative, more fulfilled, and happier, which only reinforces Norris’s emphasis on the unique company culture. “There was an intense focus on the employees and creating an environment, where they were happy and wanted to come to work,” she says. For Norris, it’s been that way for the
Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is
One of the initiatives that Amy Norris loves about Clif Bar is the company’s commitment to environmentalism. This manifests itself in projects outside of the Bay Area, such as the sustainable bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho. Opened in August 2016, it employs a biophilic design across 300,000 square feet. Here are just a few of its features that make for a better planet:
- Thanks to the purchase of renewable energy credits from an Idaho wind farm, 100 percent of the electricity will be generated from renewable energy
An outdoor patio filled with drought-tolerant, native plants. Among the vegetation are 570 trees and 5,700 shrubs and grasses.
Organic whole-grain snack bar for kids
Hybrid cooling towers, which help the bakery use about one-third less water than traditional bakeries
Indoor walls made from recycled barnwood and natural stone
Givens Pursley LLP:
“It is very fulfilling to work with great lawyers like Amy Norris and the whole Clif Bar legal team while the company takes on exciting challenges like building a new bakery in Idaho.”
—Deborah Nelson, Partner