Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?

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

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.

Old Excuses on Policy Advocacy Don’t Work Anymore

I admire corporate sustainability leaders who, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, know how to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I’m optimistic about our future when I see courageous leaders at companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Mars and others lead the way by looking beyond short-term profits for long-term success and publicly advocating for the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Yet, there are too many companies that still rely on old excuses when asked to take a public stand on energy and environmental policy.

To be a bold leader in the 21st century requires a strong voice on the most pressing environmental issues of the day. It’s no longer good enough to put a green label on a product or declare in an annual report that your company is making the world a better place. It’s time to take the next leadership step.

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At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we like to call the next step of sustainability leadership the business policy nexus. It simply means that your company has aligned your sustainability goals and strategies with your external engagement on policy.

If your company isn’t operating in the business policy nexus, it’s time to retire the following excuses and go public in support of forward-facing environmental policies:

Excuse #1 "We're not political."

Companies can no longer be silent on issues like the environment. Customers expect the brands and companies they love to stand for something and to show leadership on issues that matter to them.

In previous decades, this excuse might have sounded more like, “we want Democrats and Republican to buy our products.” However, this recent working paper by researchers at Duke and Harvard suggests that C.E.O. activism can sway public opinion — and even increase interest in buying a company’s products.

Corporate neutrality on the issues that matter may be outdated. If you don’t believe me, maybe ask Paul Polman of Unilever or Indra Nooyi of Pepsi or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Their corporate voices ring loud and clear when it comes time to stand up for the environment.

Excuse #2 "It's not part of our core business."

In a 2015 article the head of government relations for one of the world’s biggest companies told the Guardian: “There’s a reluctance if a regulation doesn’t get into your core competency to get into somebody else’s backyard. It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that you stick to your knitting.”

The earth is everyone’s backyard. And the state of our environment affects every business.

Just take a look at the companies who have backed the Clean Power Plan. “Clean energy” isn’t the core competency of global giants like Amazon, General Mills, Nestle, or Levis, but these companies and many others made their corporate voices heard for the good of business and society.

Excuse #3 “Our government affairs team deals with policy.”

Some corporate leaders have been passing the buck to other departments, other industries and other leaders for too long.

You have a responsibility to inspire everyone in your organization to maximize the triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.

Leaders find it easy to measure profit; measuring social and environmental impact is a little harder. Without good data, no one in a company feels comfortable taking the lead on policy.

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This is where an NGO like EDF can help make a difference. EDF has built a framework for corporate sustainability success that encompasses science, strategy, and systems to create measurable environmental and business benefits. Your organization can use this framework to become a sustainability leader and confidently stand up for smart climate policy that addresses your future business risks.

The old excuses don’t work anymore. So stand up for change and advocate for policies that will help us overcome the most serious environmental challenges we face. The issues are too important; the consequences for little or no action are too serious.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @tpmurray

Further reading:

It's Earth Week: Make Your (Corporate) Voices Heard

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFThis Earth Week, I want to continue the call for a new type of corporate leadership – one that allows both the planet and business to thrive.

It’s time for corporate leaders to ramp up their sustainability goals, embed sustainability across their business strategy, and most importantly, look at the positive momentum they can drive beyond the walls of their own operations. What lies beyond those walls? Their supply chain, their partners, their competitors, their consumers, and yes, even policy.

And it’s time, this Earth Day, for corporate leaders to use their voices to amplify support for smart climate and energy policy.

Today 110 companies came together to to celebrate the historic Paris Agreement, encourage investment in the low-carbon economy, and reinforce support for the Clean Power Plan. These companies know that U.S leadership is critical to making the pledges of Paris a reality and to enable the transition to a thriving, clean energy economy.

I’m encouraged by the commitments that these and other corporations have made so far this year, but also recognize the need for more private sector leadership to make progress on climate action.

Now is the perfect opportunity to step forward and align your internal sustainability strategy with your external engagement in policy, and there are many key areas that need your support. Read more

The Bar for Corporate Leadership on Climate Has Been Raised

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFAs the legal briefings pile up over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), I’m inspired by the growing number of companies and business organizations standing up for the most significant step in U.S. history toward reducing climate pollution.

The bar continues to rise for companies that want to lead on sustainability, and it’s great to see companies aligning their corporate sustainability strategy and policy advocacy. Today’s corporate-led amicus briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan and smart climate policy are the latest example.

IKEA, Mars, Blue Cross Blue Shield MA and Adobe (collectively called Amici Companies) praised the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as a viable solution that will create market certainty and directly benefit their organizations. “It is important to the Amici Companies that they reduce their carbon footprints by procuring their electricity from zero- and low-emitting greenhouse gas (GHG) sources, not only to be good stewards of the environment, but to also because it preserves their economic interests.”

Tech industry leaders Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft (collectively called Tech Amici) also threw their weight behind the plan, saying, “delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.”

These leading companies represent half a trillion dollars in revenue, demonstrating robust business sector support for the Clean Power Plan. Their filings continue the important momentum started in July 2015 by 365 companies and investors that sent letters to governors across the U.S. stating their support as being “firmly grounded in economic reality.” Read more

Three Ways to Step Up Corporate Sustainability Leadership

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFAt COP21, the governments of almost 200 nations spoke with one voice to fight climate change. Global corporations played a critical role in making this breakthrough moment possible. Now it’s more important than ever that US business leaders continue to lead, sending a powerful message to the world about our commitment to a thriving, clean energy future.

So what can forward-thinking companies do to show leadership on climate and position their firms to succeed in the low-carbon future? Here are three ways that corporate leaders can step up their sustainability efforts in 2016:

1. Set public, science-based emission reduction goals that extend beyond your operations and into your supply chains

business leverageCompanies around the world are increasing their climate leadership and ambition. Announcing big numbers is no longer enough. Greenhouse gas (GHG) targets must be based on what science tells us is required to limit warming and stabilize the climate.

One major corporation that has actively engaged its supply chain is Walmart. Working closely with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the world’s largest retailer exceeded its 5-year goal and reduced 28 million metric tons of GHG from its global supply chain and product life cycles. EDF was on the ground, providing the science and uncovering the GHG hotspots in Walmart’s supply chain. By sending the right demand signals, Walmart was able to engage its vast network of suppliers to unlock innovation and drive emission reductions, proving that big goals drive big innovation.

In addition, Kellogg has announced it plans to cut GHG emissions by 65% across its own operations, and for the first time, work with suppliers to cut supply chain emissions by 50% by 2050.

Leading companies recognise that today’s environmental challenges are too big to tackle on their own. Taking a systems-approach means looking beyond the four walls of your company, collaborating with key supply chain partners, and sending a clear demand signal for sustainable products and practices across your supply chain. Read more

KKR Expands Its Green Portfolio by Shepherding Green Solutions

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


We’re proud to see the Green Portfolio Program, an initiative we helped kickstart in 2008 with private equity firm Kravis Kohlberg & Roberts (KKR), evolve to identify and implement more efficient practices in its portfolio companies that drive business value and reduce environmental impacts. Last week, KKR relaunched this initiative as the Green Solutions Platform (GSP), expanding its mission to include companies outside of its private equity portfolio, as well as a wider range of business and environmental benefits.

kkr_logo_13932KKR announced a shift in its investment strategy in its latest ESG report, and the relaunch of the GSP gives us a first glimpse into what that means in practice. The GSP’s scope has expanded beyond finding energy, water and waste reductions – what KKR refers to as “eco-efficiency projects” – to include portfolio company projects that can drive both top-line and environmental gains (“eco-innovation”) and companies whose core business drives a positive environmental impact (“eco-solutions”).

Much like GE with its Ecomagination product line or social enterprises focused on delivering renewable energy or clean water, the GSP’s new direction has the potential to support business activity that, by its nature, curbs climate impacts and creates value for communities and companies alike.

In just eight short years, 27 KKR portfolio companies reported that they achieved nearly $1.2 billion in avoided costs and added revenue, and avoided more than 2.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, 27 million cubic meters of water use, and 6.3 million tons of waste through eco-efficiency efforts. We’re heartened to see an already-forward looking firm push its boundaries further in the pursuit of greater environmental gains, and look forward to seeing what innovations emerge from the Green Solutions Platform.

Corporate America Steps Up During Climate Week

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The combination of the Pope’s visit, Climate Week NYC and news of China planning a national cap and trade program has made last week huge in terms of support for climate action. But it’s also been a week of great sustainability news coming out of corporate America, and I’m excited to see the momentum building.

  • Companies publicly stating aggressive, science-based sustainability goals? Check.
  • Big brands supporting the Clean Power Plan? Check.
  • Business committing to set an internal price on carbon? Check.
  • Increasing commitment to sourcing 100% of energy from renewables? Check.

Like I said, it’s been a really good week. After 18 years as a sustainability advocate, I’m encouraged to see companies continuing to step up their leadership on climate— making public, science-based commitments and increasingly creating an environment where denial and delay by private and public sector leaders is no longer acceptable. Many of the companies who have made commitments, (this week, before this week, and hopefully leading into COP21), are demonstrating that tending one’s own sustainability garden is necessary but no longer sufficient—corporate leaders of today and tomorrow need to collaborate with each other for greater impact and assert public policy leadership as well. Read more

The Clean Power Plan is Out – Time for Business to Focus on the Certainties and Weigh In

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFCommuting home from work last week and listening to the radio, I heard the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) described as a big deal for our company, our nation, and our planet. When so much of the initial news coverage about the CPP was focused on uncertainty, it was terrific to listen to Ralph Izzo, CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) focus on the certainties.  According to Izzo, the science is in on climate change, the CPP creates business opportunities for PSEG and others, and the future for PSEG and utilities in general will be increased reliability, more energy efficiency, and increasing energy from carbon-free sources.

For nearly 25 years, EDF has partnered with leading companies to accelerate environmental innovation in their products, operations, strategies, and supply chains.  In fact, it was EDF’s early partnerships with McDonalds and FedEx that first attracted me to the organization.  While we’ve made considerable progress working with business, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach the low carbon, clean energy future mentioned above.  To get there, we need more aggressive private sector leadership and strong support for solutions like the CPP.

Business weighing in on Clean Power Plan

 

What’s next with the CPP?  It’s time for business to focus on the certainties and weigh in… Read more