3 Ways NGOs Can Help Sustainable Supply Chains Grow

Maggie headshotEarlier this week, a former sustainability executive with McDonald’s delivered a wake-up call for environmental groups, listing “5 ways that NGOs stunt sustainability.” In this article, Bob Langert explains the ways that nonprofits are failing to help companies turn sustainability commitments into on-the-ground results. In the context of sustainable palm oil, he notes:

“You can’t just go after big brands and expect them to manage a supply chain that has them seven stages removed, starting with the smallholders, to mills, then plantations, to storage facilities, refineries, ingredient manufacturers and then product manufacturers, then into a final product a retailer sells, such as ice cream, a granola bar or shampoo — with palm as a minute ingredient.”

He’s right – sustainability in supply chains, especially in agriculture, is incredibly complex.

So how can environmental groups effectively champion sustainability progress throughout global supply chains, from the C-suite to crop fields?  Here are three ideas EDF has learned from deep, on-the-ground partnerships with leading brands.

  1. Get your hands dirty

In the interest of transparency, EDF and Langert go back 25 years to EDF’s first ground-breaking partnership with McDonald’s to phase out the Styrofoam hamburger clamshell. That project began when EDF staff attended McDonald’s Hamburger University, where we learned all the nitty gritty details of what makes the hamburger business tick. That insider knowledge was the foundation for understanding what strategies would work for McDonalds and for the environment.

Similarly, prior to launching our collaboration with Smithfield Foods, I spent a lot of time in eastern North Carolina, visiting grain buying locations and learning about the company’s operations. That knowledge was essential in developing a program that benefits the environment, Smithfield’s business, and crop farmers.

  1. Let science be your guide – and keep it simple

Langert notes that environmental groups tend towards “complexism” – in other words, making everything far too complicated.

Agricultural ecosystems are intricate, and sometimes we err on the side of asking too much in terms of the data that must be collected by corporations and farmers in order to measure the impacts of sustainable agriculture initiatives. But we’ve learned that there must be a balance between scientific rigor and the feasibility of data collection, or else you’re likely to end up with no data at all.

Environmental groups can and should harness science to make sustainability easier for corporations and farmers. For example, the NutrientStar program assesses the effectiveness of nitrogen efficiency tools and products on the market – all based on science. NutrientStar makes it easier for farmers to figure out what will work for their operations, and for food companies to decide what to promote to crop growers in their sourcing regions. That makes implementing sustainable sourcing projects easier, and also generates better results for the environment.

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  1. Keep your eyes on the prize

EDF’s sustainable sourcing initiative is working toward an agricultural system in which sustainability is business as usual. We want to transform the entire food supply chain, not just niche markets.

When EDF announced this vision, critics said it would be impossible, given that most food companies don’t have a line of sight to grain growers. In the past few years, we’ve proven that this argument doesn’t hold water.

It’s in food companies’ interest to better understand their grain supply chains, both to meet their customers’ demands and to manage costs and future risks to their supply chains – especially those posed by climate change. With modeling developed through our collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, we are helping food companies better understand where their grain comes from and its environmental impacts and risks.

We’ve also found that companies do have the ability to assist farmers in adopting more sustainable practices – especially when you get farmers’ existing support system involved. By engaging farmers’ trusted advisors, such as agricultural wholesaler United Suppliers, and connecting those advisors to demand from food companies, we’re seeing tangible improvements from Campbell’s Soup, Unilever, Smithfield Foods, Kellogg’s, and a host of other companies.

While we still have a ways to go to reach our goal of sustainability as business as usual, we’ve seen action from companies and farmers throughout the supply chain who are willing to lead the way. That gives me hope that the prize is within reach.


Follow Maggie on Twitter – @MaggieMonast


 

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.”

Dynamic power sector voices are supporting the rule as well. Three advanced energy associations, representing a $200 billion industry, have stepped up to intervene in defending the Clean Power Plan. Numerous major power companies are also defending the rule in court: Just today, Dominion Resources filed a brief endorsing the Plan's "flexible, accommodating" approach.

In fact, leading companies argue that inaction on climate will “subject companies to unacceptable risks” — risks that force businesses to bear economic and social disruptions to their operations due to the uncertainty of future energy resources. Companies who support the Clean Power Plan are major energy consumers and purchasers; planning for future energy resourcing is critical to their long-term business strategy.

Sixty percent of the largest U.S. businesses have established public sustainability and clean energy goals. That’s fantastic, but literally billions of kilowatt hours are still needed to meet renewable energy goals. Companies no longer want to rely on unstable fossil fuels. They are looking to the Clean Power Plan to spur investment and increase reliability, energy efficiency and low-cost clean energy options. Kudos to the industry leaders that are standing up to outdated views and the false choice between business and the environment.  Real corporate sustainability leadership takes courage and a willingness to support the smart policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people and the planet rely on.

I’m looking forward to seeing more businesses follow their lead.


EDF is tracking all Clean Power Plan case resources here.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @TPMurray


 

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

Coming Soon: Solutions for Finding Methane Leaks Faster

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Infrared footage of the leak from the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility

After more than four months of spewing potent methane pollution, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak has finally been plugged. But now the state of California and the utility that owns the site, SoCalGas, are left with the responsibility of ensuring a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.

While Aliso Canyon has captured the attention of the nation, it’s important to remember that there are smaller—and far more prevalent—leaks happening throughout the country’s oil and gas supply chain every day. In fact, those emissions add up to more than 7 million metric tons of methane pollution every year.  That equals over $1 billion worth of wasted natural gas at 2015 prices.

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Map of leaks around the Porter Ranch area

Methane leaks aren’t just wasteful—they have real impacts on communities. In Wyoming, for example, oil and gas pollution has driven up respiratory illness and smog levels to rival those in famously polluted Los Angeles. In California, residents living near the Aliso Canyon leak have already experienced headaches and vomiting; the long-term health impacts of their exposure to these leaks are a big unknown.

While solutions to detect leaks—like the infrared cameras that made the Aliso Canyon geyser visible to the world—are readily available today, a group of technology developers and oil and gas companies are collaborating with EDF to develop even more cost-effective–and automated–technologies to dramatically speed up leak detection. 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.

A strong climate deal makes dollars and sense for American business

VictoriaMills_287x377_1The chorus of business voices calling for climate action has grown steadily in size and strength in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks. Now that COP 21 is finally here, companies have pumped up the volume even more, with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a wave of new commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Championing a Low-Carbon USA

In today’s Wall Street Journal, over a hundred U.S. companies placed a full-page advertisement calling for a shift to a low-carbon economy. The ad’s message is simple: failure to act on climate change puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right action now will create jobs and boost competitiveness.

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Click for full ad in PDF

Companies as diverse as Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont, eBay, General Mills, Ingersoll-Rand, Microsoft, Owens Corning and Pacific Gas & Electric signed on to the ad, which encourages the U.S. government to:

  1. Seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
  2. Support action to reduce U.S. emissions that achieves or exceeds national commitments and increases ambition in the future
  3. Support investment in a low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors

These companies recognize that their efforts alone can’t solve an issue like climate change. Businesses need governments around the world to act as well. By setting ambitious goals and providing regulatory certainty, governments can unleash the power of the marketplace to deliver the necessary reductions in emissions, while also boosting competitiveness and economic growth. Read more

How helping a multi-billion dollar company (aka Walmart) is like raising a child

When it comes to Walmart meeting its greenhouse gas goal, parenting and sustainability have more in common than you think.

Notes from the Nursery/Eco-Business Nexus

I’m proud to say that Walmart just announced that they’ve not only hit but surpassed a goal that was, at the time, considered nothing short of audacious: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 20 million metric tons (MMT) in just six years.

So why am I proud? Two reasons.

First, I’ve worked alongside them every step of the way. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been Walmart’s lead partner throughout this process, and as a Supply Chain specialist for EDF, I know first-hand the massive amount of research, measurement, innovation, collaboration and communication that has gone into bringing this goal across the finish line.

Second, I’m a brand new mother – and as I stare down into my 5-month-old daughter Helen’s eyes, there’s nothing I care more about than ensuring she grows up in a world that is on course to thrive—both economically and environmentally.  Walmart’s achievement gives me hope for both.Helen and Jenny

So, yes, I’m proud. Because while it may seem that my two unique perspectives—one from the nursery, one from inside the halls of the world’s largest retailer—are worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common. Read more

Walmart Vaults Past Fleet Efficiency Goals Ahead of Schedule

It’s one thing to reach a goal, stop and toast your success. But in the case of Walmart’s announcement yesterday, the finish line became a mile marker and now the company is looking at how much farther it can go.

In 2005, we worked with Walmart to set its first long-term freight goals – to increase its fleet efficiency by 25 percent by 2008 and then to double it by 2015. Walmart cleared the first goal with room to spare and announced yesterday that it has not only doubled fleet efficiency but is now on track to go further – and in the process, will avoid almost 650,000 metric tons of CO2 and save nearly $1 billion in this fiscal year alone.Trucks-Walmart

It’s a testament to the holistic approach Walmart’s taken to improve the efficiency of its fleets. The Walmart sustainability team started by choosing a specific metric of cases shipped per gallon burned in 2005 – shipping the most cases of goods the fewest miles using the most efficient equipment – and then attacked the problem from all sides to get it done.

As companies work to increase the efficiency of their freight moves – taking steps on their Green Freight Journey – it’s tempting to choose one area to work on at a time. But by choosing a few key areas to focus on – developing innovative solutions for loading, routing and driving techniques, and collaborating with tractor and trailer manufacturers on new technologies – Walmart was able to bolster freight efficiency along its supply chain at multiple points. Read more

Climbing Toward Corporate Sustainability, Even Walmart Can’t Do It Alone

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377Ten years ago, the CEO of Walmart and the president of Environmental Defense Fund hiked together on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Along the way, Lee Scott of Walmart (now retired) and Fred Krupp of EDF talked about climate change and the environmental challenges of our time. They also talked about ways that Walmart could drive positive environmental change in its product lines and operations.

The hike turned out to be the start of a ten-year journey of collaboration between Walmart and EDF, one that has helped define a new model of corporate sustainability.

In a speech that year, Lee Scott laid out three aspirational goals:

“Our environmental goals at Walmart are simple and straightforward:
1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

These goals are both ambitious and aspirational, and I’m not sure how to achieve them…..at least not yet. This obviously will take some time…”

Lee Scott, Oct. 23, 2005

Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the 21st Century Leadership speech, EDF is taking a moment to take stock of how far this journey has taken us and the distance left to travel.

First, what have we achieved? Here are three of our proudest accomplishments:

EDF and Walmart - removing 20MMT of GHG from its global supply chain

Click to enlarge

1. Today, Walmart is announcing that it will surpass its aggressive goal of reducing 20 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain. In total, Walmart will reduce 28 MMT of GHG from its supply chain by the end of 2015. To achieve this goal, Walmart tackled a diverse range of projects: from helping end consumers through improving products like LED light bulbs; to creating a Closed Loop Recycling fund, and changing food date labeling to reduce waste; and working with EDF to conserve fertilizer use on over 20 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Overall, the 20 MMT reduction of GHG from Walmart’s supply chain is the equivalent of getting almost six million cars off the road.

Yes, EDF pushed Walmart to set this goal; but we also worked side by side with them to achieve it. It is this type of long-term collaboration that drives results at scale, an achievement foreshadowed by EDF president Fred Krupp when he said, "When you can get big companies to do important things, you can change the world."

2. In 2013, Walmart put a chemicals policy in place that is phasing out chemicals of concern in over 100,000 home and personal care products like laundry soap and shampoo. Private brand products now list all of their ingredients online so consumers have more transparency into what chemicals they are using in their home and on their bodies.

3. EDF and Walmart helped create the Sustainability Index, a tool powered by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) that has evaluated billions of dollars of products on Walmart shelves. To date, 70% of Walmart suppliers have filled out the Index. Read more

Cameras, Drones and Lasers: How They're Tackling Oil and Gas Pollution

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Heath Consultants' methane-measuring drone

Dr. Jason Gu was still a graduate student when he developed the technology behind SenSevere, a start-up that creates laser-based gas sensors for use in heavy industry and power plants. Today, he’s working to apply this technology to methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, making him one of the many entrepreneurs developing solutions to tackle the problem. His fascination with innovation isn’t just making his clients more efficient—it may also be saving the planet.

The hidden cost of methane

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a powerful pollutant responsible for a quarter of the global warming we feel today. The oil and gas industry releases 7 million tons of it into the atmosphere every year through emissions from oil and gas fields and associated pipelines, resulting in over a billion dollars’ worth of wasted American energy resources. And, toxic chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen, can accompany methane emissions, posing a potential threat to public health.

“The industry is beginning to become more sensitized to the fact that methane is an aggressive greenhouse gas,” said James Armstrong, president of Apogee Scientific, a Colorado-based methane mitigation company. For more than 15 years, Apogee has manufactured a methane detection system that uses a vacuum and infrared sensors and can be mounted to trucks, ATVs and helicopters to identify leaks in the field. “If you find the leaks and repair them, you’re not only helping the environment…you’re extending the resource.” Read more