Walmart, Target and McDonald’s Catalyze Sustainability. Join them.

Source: Walmart Sustainability Hub

By: Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business Supply Chain, Environmental Defense Fund and Sheila Bonini, Senior Vice President, Private Sector Engagement, WWF – ‎World Wildlife Fund

Imagine, for a moment, what it would mean if the world’s biggest brands couldn’t access the key ingredients for their products. What if Starbucks had trouble sourcing coffee? What if Coca-Cola couldn’t access water? As the predicted effects of a changing climate such as droughts and rising temperatures become a reality, these “what if” questions raise serious concerns for global supply chains.

Such issues were foundational for last week’s Walmart Milestone sustainability summit at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Our two NGOs work with Walmart as it pushes to fulfill its ambitious climate commitments.

One of those is Project Gigaton, which in its two-year lifespan has avoided 93 million metric tons of emissions toward the one billion ton goal. It may be the company’s most ambitious sustainability initiative, and we — along with dozens of other advocacy groups — have taken a keen interest in this initiative.

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What the World Needs Now? Spotify for Sustainable Supply Chains

Businesses today are taking basic services and turning them into well-designed, convenient user-friendly experiences. You see it every day with companies like Spotify and Seamless. Or Netflix, which is suggesting I watch The Great British Baking Show, based on my family’s viewing-history.

Now, imagine the possibilities if we applied this business model to sustainability.

The Supply Chain Solutions Center does just that. Launched today in partnership with over 10 leading environmental NGOs, this innovative platform puts resources and expert advice at the fingertips of sustainability professionals.

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Is Your Fortune 100 Company One of the Nearly 40 Percent that Lack a Climate Target? If so, Read This. Then Call Me.

Taken on Nov. 19, 2018 from my San Francisco apartment rooftop

I have helped Walmart, Starbucks and other companies get started with sustainability. I can help you too, using all the lessons I’ve learned from them.

I don’t want to sound like just another environmentalist waving my hands, jumping up and down that we need to act to reverse climate change NOW. The truth is simply this: I know it can be done, sustainability targets create business value and companies stand to lose big financially if they don’t act.

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5 ways companies can act on the latest dire climate warnings

Oh what a week it has been!

Trying to turn away from the political polarization and fracturing civility in this country, I looked elsewhere in the news and found something even worse…dire warnings for our planet.

Two reports in the news this week ring the alarm bell on climate change. The first report is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries. As the New York Times reports, it “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.”

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Breathless in China: Walmart, sustainability and why you should care

Photo: Walmart China

I am just back from a week in Beijing, where Environmental Defense Fund was part of Walmart’s announcement of a new goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its China supply chain. Had I not been there in person, I’m not sure I could have accurately comprehended how essential that this goal – a 50 million metric ton (MMT) reduction by 2030 – must be followed by swift implementation.

That’s because every day in Beijing felt like the worst day in San Francisco, my home, when last year’s horrific wildfires made our eyes and lungs burn. “Normal” in Beijing means not being able to see down to the end of the block, and sharing the crowded streets with commuters, parents and children all covered by facemasks.

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I’m lovin’ it: McDonald’s exemplifies a sustainability leader

McDonald’s – the world’s largest restaurant company – recently announced new climate goals,  which were quickly followed by many comments like this one, from Axios:

“These are concrete targets, but they’re not as of yet backed up with specific plans of how to get there.”

Axios is right. These are concrete targets (and they’ve been approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative).  Here are the details: by 2030, McDonald’s is pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their restaurants and offices by 36 percent, and reduce their emissions intensity (per metric ton of food and packaging) across their supply chain by 31 percent. The company estimates these reductions will prevent 150 million metric tons of C02 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere. That’s huge – it’s the equivalent of removing 32 million cars from the road for one year.

But I want to challenge Axios in saying that the company has “no specific plans” to get there.

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3 reasons to be hopeful about our planet in 2018

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
-Martin Luther King

Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don’t!

There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year – and if the following developments don’t make you feel better, I’ve prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.

Don’t get me wrong, I know full well that 2017 was a hard year for the planet. I’ve lost count of the hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires—many linked to climate change—that rained upon us.  It was a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 enormous weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage (not sure how to calculate the emotional cost).

And don’t get me started on Scott Pruitt’s dramatic and dangerous dismantling of the EPA.

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5 steps that will make your business more climate resistant

No business is immune to the devastating effects of climate change anymore, as we saw from the onslaught of extreme weather events in 2017. Disasters brought more than $300 billion in damages this year, a 60-percent increase over 2016, Swiss Re reported last week.

As every business leader has long known, storms, flooding, wildfires and other calamities all threaten to disrupt their operations and growth, and can even affect an entire supply chain.

What’s new is that shareholders and potential investors are also now aware of the risk that extreme weather and natural disasters pose to “doing business as usual.”

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of companies are factoring resilience to climate change into their operations. It’s about the bottom line: Making a company more resilient is an investment in business continuity, shareholder value and overall performance.

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We’re thankful for…companies setting climate goals!

Target has joined other retailers on the right path to developing a robust science-based policy for tackling greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and supply chain, creating more momentum toward action on climate by leading companies.

At COP23 in Bonn, Germany, we heard leaders at some of the world’s largest companies share their commitments to step forward on climate issues. This year we’ve also seen American companies like Mars Inc., Walmart, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Amazon set ambitious goals during a time when our government is stepping back. At EDF+Business, we see time and time again why our world needs healthy environments and healthy businesses in order to truly prosper.

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Corporate America’s “moon shot”: Walmart’s Project Gigaton

 

At a time when leadership from the federal government is decidedly lacking, the launch of Walmart’s Project Gigaton is a cause for celebration. It is proof that companies can step up to advance solutions that will help business, people and nature thrive.

Just like Walmart itself, this is big.

The world’s largest retailer has launched an initiative to remove 1 gigaton (that’s 1 billion tons — billion with a “b”) of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its supply chain by 2030. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of removing the annual emissions of Germany — the world’s fourth-largest economy — from the atmosphere. This audacious goal is impressive; it’s corporate America’s “moon shot,” and it shows real leadership.

Why? Because, according to The Sustainability Consortium, the modern supply chain is responsible for 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of all water use and 66 percent of all tropical deforestation. And with the global population projected to swell to 9.5 billion consumers by 2050, it is clear there is not just a crucial opportunity for businesses to meet growing global demand, there is also a real need to protect the planet. Embracing sustainable practices is no longer an option for business. It is an imperative. The planet needs fast action at a massive scale.

So do forward-looking CEOs. Shareholders are rewarding resiliency when companies climate-proof their global operations. And customers, especially millennials, expect sustainability to be baked into the things they buy. In short, business is looking to drive bottom-line value, including growth, with sustainability.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Which explains the significant Project Gigaton commitments being made by companies like Unilever (20 million metric tons of GHG reduction) and Land O’ Lakes (20 million acres sustainably farmed) and commitments made in the past six months by Apple, Amazon, Google, PepsiCo, Smithfield Foods and others.

Execution and delivery

But setting goals is just the first step. The execution and delivery must follow to complete this journey.

Which brings me back to this moon shot: Walmart cannot do this alone. Project Gigaton will take a village — in this case, the tens of thousands of companies that make up Walmart’s global supplier network — to make this goal a reality. And that’s a good thing: Eliminating GHG emissions at this scale will reverberate across entire sectors and industries. It will be the change to “business as usual” that’s long overdue.

That’s all fine and well, rhetorically. But what if you’re a CEO or CSR exec who’s facing the hard reality of “Where do I start”?

Some new research by Environmental Defense Fund starts to sketch out a roadmap to success — and illustrates the need for supply-chain partners to get on the bus. While we’re just at the beginning of a deep dive into the sustainability of the U.S. retail supply chain, our initial findings show two things:  the complexity and emission hotspots of box chain retailers and three clear, initial areas of focus:

  1. The supply chain is the largest source of emissions. If there was any doubt left, put it to rest: 80 percent of retail emissions occur in the supply chain; 12 percent are associated with the use and disposal of products and 8 percent come directly from retail operations — mostly buildings and facilities.
  2. Grocery is a huge hotspot and opportunity. Are you a retailer? Food company? Agricultural service provider? Farmer? Nearly half — 48 percent — of supply-chain greenhouse gas emissions come from the grocery category, which encompasses everything from fresh meat, veggies and dairy, to bakery, dry goods, beverages, snacks and frozen products. Together, these and other products emits 1.7 gigatons of GHGs (there’s that billion thing again). In other words, food production — and food waste — is definitely a place to make your numbers — and to make a difference. (Talk about low-hanging fruit!)
  3. Electricity is the biggest activity that contributes to emissions. From factories to farmhouses, whether powering a business or refrigerating an item at home, using electricity is the largest activity that produces emissions for consumer packaged goods production. Think about that: by tackling electricity use, whether from conservation or renewable energy, business leaders can not only run a more efficient operation, they can also engage their customers on which products to buy and how to best use them. That’s good business.

For those who have been paying attention to these issues for decades, these big opportunities won’t come as a surprise. But they help sharpen the focus for supply-chain professionals searching to answer the question of where to put effort and investment to get the most emissions-reduction results. Scale and speed are necessary. Knowing where to focus is critical. The EDF research is in the early stages and we plan to release the full results later this year.

In the meantime, kudos to Walmart. As suppliers make commitments for Project Gigaton that will drive reductions from factories to farms to forests to fleets, it will become imperative to identify hotspots to enable the largest impact. That’s exactly what drives innovation and the environmental impact we need.

The supply chain may be complicated, but the rewards are well worth it: thriving companies, thriving communities and a thriving planet.

Jump on the Project Gigaton moon shot. It’s leaving the launching pad, with or without you.


Follow Elizabeth on Twitter, @esturcken


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