A new era of collaboration for sustainable agriculture

Companies have the opportunity to use their voice to draw attention to issues that matter to their business and to their customers.  Today, a handful did just that – by announcing their commitment to sustainable agriculture.Cornfield

Over the past several months, I’ve spent countless hours representing Environmental Defense Fund in a room with Cargill, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart, and World Wildlife Fund. This group makes up the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC) – a diverse coalition working to reduce the environmental impacts of commodity row crop production (i.e., corn, soy, wheat, etc.) throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

This isn’t just good news for the planet. Implementing on-the-ground solutions that reduce fertilizer pollution and improve soil health can also result in higher yields for farmers, reduced risk of supply chain disruptions for food companies and retailers, reduced air and water pollution, and improved transparency for consumers.

Why companies care about fertilizer and soil health

Farmers and food companies need fertilizer to grow their ingredients, but fertilizer in excess of the amount crops need can lead to water and air pollution and wasted money for farmers, who spend approximately half of their input costs on fertilizer.

Each year, fertilizer runoff contributes to an aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – an area the size of Connecticut that so devoid of oxygen, marine life cannot survive. And excess nitrogen fertilizer can lead to nitrates contaminating drinking water and water supplies – posing serious health risks to infants in particular.

Three pilot states

That’s why, along with a council of scientific and agronomic advisors, the MRCC will work with growers to help improve and implement conservation activities across three pilot states that are responsible for 44 percent of the corn, soy, and wheat production in the U.S.: Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

By vastly increasing the number of row crop acres enrolled in sustainability measures in these three states, farmers and companies can help protect food security and drinking water supplies, while improving efficiencies in their business operations.

The power of collaboration

Farmer organizations, environmental groups, food companies, state and local watershed organizations, and many others share these common goals – and much work is already underway.

That’s why the MRCC isn’t reinventing any wheels. It’s shining a spotlight on an important environmental issue that is often overlooked, while helping support and scale the various technical and regional sustainability efforts already in place.

When leading companies collaborate around a common goal, both business and the planet will thrive.

Conclusion

This work is hard and will take time, but I’m more hopeful than ever that one day my daughter won’t grow up to read about toxic algae blooms or dead zones in the news and I’ll know I had a small part to play in that.

 

When NGOs and Business Work Together, They Can Change the World

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFFull disclosure:  I’ve been a big fan of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer since my days as a graduate business student.  Lots of hours on group projects working on five forces analysis, you get the idea.  So it was especially rewarding to read their recent Fortune article looking at the actions behind the Change the World list of leading companies who are doing well by doing good.

Porter’s and Kramer’s Creating Shared Value approach is “moving into the mainstream and growing exponentially. Companies that adopt shared-value thinking remain committed (as they should) to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. But they’re moving beyond often-fuzzy notions like sustainability and corporate citizenship, and instead making measurable social impact central to how they compete.”

Sustainability as a fuzzy notion for business strategy?

I’m going to push back on that.

As the environmental NGO that spearheaded a first of its kind partnership with McDonalds over 25 years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has partnered with hundreds of leading companies to address sustainability in specifically non-fuzzy ways. We do it by following the science and making sure that every EDF+Business project drives measurable environmental and business results. Read more

For FDA reviews of “generally recognized as safe” ingredients, time is not an issue­­

Behind the Label_FIn our work with retailers and food manufacturers, EDF strongly recommends submitting all ingredients for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety review, especially those additives deemed ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS). This includes things such as flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and the like. If an unreviewed ingredient is identified in a recipe, we also recommend that the grocer or manufacturer require the supplier to send the ingredient through an FDA GRAS review.

One question we often get is, “Doesn’t that take a long time?” Quite simply, the answer is no. But some players in the food industry try to perpetuate that myth so they can continue to self-certify safety and bypass FDA’s scrutiny.

GRASIn the 2014 report, “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” more than fifty companies were shown to be deliberately avoiding FDA reviews of 275 chemical additives marketed for food uses. On their own, the companies determined that the substances’ uses were GRAS, without making the safety assessment of the chemical publicly available or submitting it for review by FDA. It’s tough to imagine how it could be “generally recognized” if the safety studies are kept secret.

One reason these companies gave for avoiding the agency’s review: FDA is too slow, resulting in delays in product marketing and sales.

So, are FDA reviews so long as to justify bypassing the agency? Read more

Walking the Walk: Companies Lead the Call for New Clean Truck Standards

A number of America’s most iconic brands helped pave the way for the new Clean Truck standards announced August 16th by the U.S. EPA and DOT. Nearly 400 companies, large and small, publicly urged strong, final fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks.

Through their action, these companies have reaffirmed a basic truth of business today: to be a “leader”, companies must align their sustainability goals and strategies with their external engagement on policy.

Tom Murray, VP, Corporate Partnerships Program

Tom Murray, VP, Corporate Partnerships Program

While there are many differences as to how these 400 companies intersect with heavy trucks—manufacturers make the trucks, fleet owners drive the trucks, brands hire the trucks to move their goods to market—they are all unified by one resounding theme: cleaner trucks are better for their business, better for our health and better for the planet.

Indeed, common-sense efforts to cut climate pollution have gone mainstream in business. Earlier this year Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and others raised the bar on corporate climate leadership by standing up for the clean power plan. Colgate-Palmolive, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nike, Starbucks and over 100 other companies built on this trend by urging “the swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan and other related low-carbon policies so that we may meet or exceed our promised national commitment and increase our future ambition.”

But this corporate support of the clean truck standards goes even further: it’s another step in the evolution of corporate climate leadership. This is beyond simply supporting good policy; a number of these companies are actively shaping it to deliver significant sustainability benefits. Among the companies that distinguished themselves in this effort are:

  • PepsiCo: the largest private fleet in the U.S. led the way in demonstrating the alignment between its sustainability objectives and its policy advocacy through an op-ed, and expert testimony.
  • Walmart, the 3rd largest private fleet in the U.S., was highly proactive and constructive in its engagement on the clean truck phase two program, supporting it with public statements, and expert commentary.
  • Cummins, FedEx, Eaton, Wabash National, Conway, and Waste Management joined PepsiCo in the Heavy Duty Leadership group that urged the EPA and DOT to: “Achieve Significant Environmental, Economic and Energy Security Benefits.”
  • Honeywell, Achates Power and a number of other innovators made clear that they were ready to meet the challenge of building more fuel efficient trucks.

There were hundreds more examples like these—each one of them a proactive leadership action that demonstrates the new frontier for corporate leadership.

Securing these protections was a real team effort.  The Pew Charitable Trusts organized a letter of support for strong standards signed by IKEA, Campbell’s Soup, and many others. Ceres brought forward a strong statement from General Mills, Patagonia and more. The Union of Concerned Scientists articulated how strong rules would benefit leading fleets, including UPS, Coca-Cola and Walmart. Together, these efforts marshalled an unprecedented level of corporate support for a critical piece of climate policy.

So, if your company is among the now hundreds of companies actively advocating for strong climate protection measures, thank you. We look forward to your continued leadership and engagement on other critical advances, including implementation of the Clean Power Plan and moving forward with reductions in methane emissions. We want to work with you to shape protective policies that also make business sense.

If, however, your company is still stuck at talking the talk, it’s time to start walking the walk when it comes to supporting common sense measures like the Clean Trucks program.

You’re falling behind the leadership pack in the one of the world’s most important races.

New Clean Trucks program: Business, Consumers and the Planet all Win

Across America, companies have reason today to celebrate an important step to drive cost and emissions out of their supply chain. The U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks. Once fully implemented, the new standards will cut over a billion tons of climate pollution and save hundreds of millions of dollars by 2035.

Jason Mathers, Senior Manager, Supply Chain Logistics

Jason Mathers, Director, Supply Chain

Every business in America stands to benefit.

Why? Because every business in America relies, in some form, on trucking services. Product manufacturers need trucks to get goods to market. Service and knowledge companies depend on trucks to deliver equipment and supplies. Retailers utilize trucks in distribution.

Retailers and consumer brands are among the top winners of strong fuel efficiency standards, as these companies account for a lot of freight movement. Companies that have undertaken detailed carbon footprint analysis often find, as Ben & Jerry’s did, that freight transportation can account for upwards of 17% of their total impact.

The new fuel standard means continued progress in tackling this significant source of emissions. This progress will reveal itself in lower carbon footprints for every product brought to market. It will be apparent through lower freight and fuel surcharge fees – saving large consumer brands millions annually. Read more