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.

farmer

  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


 

Sustainable Supply Chains: No More Excuses

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377A question for forward-thinking business executives: if you could do something that would directly reduce more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally… wouldn’t you do it?

The answer: yes, of course you would!  That’s why you’re forward-thinking!

That’s also why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working in supply chains (for years) to improve the impacts of the global production and use of consumer goods.

Those impacts are huge. Really getting at them, unfortunately, has not been so easy. The excuse that we’ve heard over and over again boils down to “you can’t manage what you can’t see.”  Basically, while most companies’ impacts are in their supply chain, most businesses have very little knowledge of how those supply chains actually function.  And, the further up in the chains you go, the less visibility there is.

EDF has a lot of first-hand experience with this: after years of on-the-ground work with farmers, our Ecosystems team knows precisely how difficult it is to capture impacts at the farm level.  Despite the on-farm benefits of optimizing fertilizer use in cost savings, reduced greenhouse gases and increased water quality, fewer than 20 % of companies collect this data.

TSC2011lgHow do I know that statistic? Because The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has just released Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action, their first-ever impact report.  It’s full of stunning data about the huge weight that consumer goods place on people and the planet. Since it covers more than 80% of consumer goods product categories, it is the comprehensive way to understand environmental hot spots in global supply chains.

Which means the “no visibility” excuse is now officially over. Read more

Mothers and CEOs: Why Corporate Sustainability Reports Matter

Walmart has just released its report on Corporate Sustainability—the “Global Responsibility Report”.

Nicknamed the GRR, the joke around my office is that “GRR” sounds like a growl—GRRRR. But while its seventy-three dense pages might seem daunting, the GRR is anything but scary. In fact, from my perspective as both a mother and someone with unique access to the day-to-day workings of Walmart, I have to say that it’s a must-read.

Why? Because like all corporate sustainability reports, the GRR tells the story of how big business is—or is not—adjusting their operations to help the planet and its inhabitants.

And by inhabitants I mean you. And me. All of us.

Meet Super-Eco-Business-Mom When new mom JENNY AHLEN feeds her daughter, she may also be pondering this question: how do we feed a global population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050? That’s because Jenny is also EDF’s team lead for their partnership with Walmart, which gives her both a unique perspective and a unique power. She knows the stakes are high for the world her daughter will grow up in. But Jenny is in a position to do something about it. Thus, she spends her days working with the world’s largest retailer trying to figure out the best approach to “fertilizer optimization”: the science behind increasing yields while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production. How did Jenny arrive at this nexus of the nursery and contemporary eco-business?

To all the mothers of the world: like you, I want the best for my child. While there are many things we can’t control about our kids’ world, we do have power over things like what goes in and on their bodies, which toys can help them learn, and how to create a safe and loving environment for them to grow. Knowing what’s in these sustainability reports means knowing whether the stores and brands we choose every day are working with us, or making our job harder.

To all the C-suite executives: See above. Mothers everywhere are starting to demand both transparency and action around creating a healthier world for our kids. We are your customers, and we’re sending you a demand signal to make us happy.  Coincidentally, it can make your business more efficient, more profitable and more resilient—all things that your shareholders will love to hear. Believe me, you want to be able to issue a sustainability report that’s both real and robust.

So if the GRR is Walmart’s report card on global responsibility, how did they do?

There’s a lot in the document, but after a quick scan of the sections that fall within my area of expertise, I’d have to say: they’re making a lot of progress—probably more than most of their peers.  Two areas that stand out are:

  1. Climate Change:
  • In their direct operations, Walmart reports that their U.S. truck fleet efficiency has doubled since 2005, eliminating 650,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases since 2015. Those numbers are impressive.
  • Outside of their own operations, it’s now fairly well known that six years ago Walmart set a goal of removing 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from their supply chain. They not only achieved but surpassed that goal—36.5 million metric tons have been removed to date. That’s the equivalent of over 39 billion pounds of coal left unburned, and that is amazing. It proves that setting audacious goals can deliver real results.
  1. Transparency and Quality of Products:
  • In 2013, Walmart committed to “reduce, restrict and remove use of high-priority chemicals using informed substitution principles”. The GRR reports that they’ve achieved a “95% reduction by weight in Walmart U.S.”. Translating that into plain English, that means a lot of things you didn't want to be in your products have been taken out. This is a big deal—and the first time that a major retailer has attempted something so daunting.

With each of these accomplishments come questions—and a realization that significant work remains.  Those fleet numbers, for example, are focused only on the trucks they own. As the mix of online versus bricks-and-mortar shopping continues to evolve, is enough being done throughout their entire transportation system to optimize efficiency?

And in terms of the chemicals: how did they arrive at that number, and where are the names of the offending chemicals? My inside sources expect that both will be released soon—to which I say “we expect nothing less”. Like any parent, I won’t think enough has been done on this issue until I can buy any product on the shelf and not worry that it could have an adverse effect on my child. When will that day come?

In any case, the few examples I’ve cited are just the tip of the GRR iceberg.  I encourage you to find yourself a comfy chair, settle in, and explore it for yourself.

But as you read, try to remember that, just as no parent is perfect, neither is any one company. My takeaway is that Walmart is sincere in its efforts to tackle the extremely complicated job of helping to make the world a better place for our children. And their approach—employing science-based processes that are scalable and focused on areas core to their business—is precisely why Walmart can lay claim to being a leader in their field.

Mothers and CEOs, take note.


Follow Jenny Ahlen on Twitter – @JennyKAhlen


 

 

Walmart Makes Progress on Its Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Behind the Label_FIt’s been two and a half years since Walmart first committed to adopting a sustainable chemistry policy. Since then, consumers, companies and advocates have been watching the retailer with interest. Today, Walmart released its ninth annual Global Responsibility Report (GRR), which outlines its environmental and social activities for the past year. For the first time, this report includes information about the progress it has made against its Sustainable Chemistry Policy adopted in 2013, which aimed for more transparency of product ingredients and safer formulations of products.

According to Walmart, it has reduced the usage (by weight) of its designated high priority chemicals by 95 percent, a pretty sizeable number. Walmart has said that it will post more specifics in the coming weeks on its Sustainability Hub, including quantitative results on all aspects of the policy’s implementation guide and details about how they achieved the substantial reduction.

casestudy-walmartWhile this is a promising step in the right direction, the GRR doesn’t identify the high priority chemicals that have been reduced. It is difficult to fully appreciate Walmart’s accomplishments without knowing the names of these chemical targets. We expect that the names of the high priority chemicals will be revealed on the Sustainability Hub.

Walmart’s announcement marks the first time a major retailer has publicly measured and shared the progress it has made against its commitment on chemicals. This is especially important to EDF because we know through research and experience that shared stories about progress can prompt others to follow, to the benefit of public and environmental health.

We believe there are three key factors that have made Walmart's progress possible: 1) the existence and use of a 3rd party-managed chemicals database that can generate quantitative, aggregate information about the chemicals on Walmart’s shelves, 2) a policy that prioritizes specific chemical targets, and 3) a time-bound business commitment to track and share progress publicly (in Walmart’s policy they committed to start sharing progress in 2016). We look forward to the day these practices reflect the business norm rather than the exception.

Market leadership will always have an important role to play alongside policy in driving safer chemicals and products into commerce. EDF looks forward to the additional details forthcoming on Walmart’s Sustainability Hub.

Follow Boma Brown-West on Twitter: @Bbrown_west

Also of interest:

Why Google and the Rest of Corporate America Needs the Clean Power Plan

victoriaThe Clean Power Plan  (CPP) is topping the news as major coalitions of supporters have filed amicus briefs with the D.C. Circuit Court. With leading brands like Google, Apple, Adobe, Amazon, IKEA, Mars and Microsoft all stepping up and voicing support, you might wonder – what’s in it for them?

The plan, which will lower the carbon emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is a practical, flexible way for the U.S. to cut climate pollution and protect public health. President Obama has called it "the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”

It’s encouraging to see many states, cities, power companies, public health and medical associations, and environmental organizations continue to push for smart environmental policy. The full list of Clean Power Plan supporters is here.

We are particularly excited about the range of private sector support for the Clean Power Plan.

When it’s fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will create $155 billion in consumer savings—putting more money back into the pockets of customers. And, a successful Clean Power Plan will help companies meet their renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

What’s in it for Companies? The Clean Power Plan will provide:

  • Greater access to renewable energy sources. The Clean Power Plan will increase access to renewable energy by an estimated 30%. Google has already said the Clean Power Plan will help the company derive all electricity for its data centers from wind and solar.
  • Lower average electricity bills. In 2030, when the plan is fully implemented, electricity bills are expected to be about 8 percent lower than under business as usual.
  • Opportunity for job growth and investment. The CPP will drive investment in low cost clean energy technologies, creating quality jobs and positioning American business to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Longterm price stability on energy. Companies will be able to reduce risk from energy cost uncertainty, like volatile fossil fuel prices, and improve long-term forecasting and business strategy.

The 365 companies that have previously shown their commitment to the Clean Power Plan are a step ahead. But other businesses can still catch up. This is an unprecedented opportunity for companies to align their internal sustainability goals with climate policy.

Over the past week dozens of other private sector organizations have stepped forward to support the Clean Power Plan. Leading power generators, large electricity consumers and other iconic brands all recognize the broad, society-wide benefits of the flexible approach at the heart of the Clean Power Plan.

These companies have demonstrated that there is a new bar for corporate climate leadership: standing up for specific, impactful, cost-effective policy, and stating in the brief, “policies like those embodied in the Clean Power Plan—will create a virtuous cycle of accelerated innovation, further price declines, and additional [clean energy] deployment.”

What you can do

There is still time for your company to take this next leadership step. As the hearing on the merits of the Clean Power Plan moves forward this June, here’s what you can do:

  1. Call on your state to move forward with state planning efforts to advance rigorous analysis, climate protections and new economic incentives, pollution reduction progress, and regulatory stability.
  2. Follow the Clean Power Plan case and be ready to publicly join leaders like Google, Microsoft and others in the voicing your support
  3. Set public goals to shift your power consumption to renewable sources.
  4. Share best practices around corporate sustainability.

Private sector leadership can help shape the future of energy and benefit your company, the economy and environment. The Clean Power Plan helps assure that both business and the planet can thrive.

See all the briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan here.

The chorus of corporate voices supporting smart climate policy is getting larger and louder – it’s time to join in.

Storytelling for Sustainability – It’s Time for Corporate Leaders to Gather ‘Round the Campfire

Nancy Buzby Environmental Defense FundThe term ‘greenwashing’ might be officially outdated. In 2016 the number of companies making unmerited PR splashes over sustainability is far outweighed by those who are taking significant strides forward and not talking about it. When faced with the science of climate change and transparency into corporate accountability in 2016, sustainability is simply part of doing business.

Yet many leading companies still shy away from fully embracing their sustainability stories.  Excellent, groundbreaking work is happening across the private sector with no-one around to hear. To re-philosophize the old saying… if a tree grows in a deforestation zone, and no one is around to hear the re-surging wildlife, does it make an impact?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Corporate sustainability has reached new heights, driven new innovations and industries, and been embedded at the core of business strategy and systems, yet there are still barriers to sharing this information publicly.

Having just surfaced from taking a deep dive into Environmental Defense Fund’s 10-year history of working with Walmart, I’m particularly focused on all the great corporate sustainability stories that need to be told. I was also encouraged to see this theme emerge at the recent GreenBiz16 conference and in their follow up article.

Companies are effectively doing a disservice by not getting such messages out there. What if your company is "walking" more than it is "talking"?

Joel Makower, Chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz

As an environmental NGO that has partnered on the ground with leading brands for over 25 years, EDF is keenly aware that companies are often doing considerably more sustainability work than they publicize. Why is this? It could be out of fear of greenwashing; fear of financial stakeholders assuming that mindshare has been taken away from the next quarter’s earnings; or perhaps fear of being perceived as irrelevant to their target audiences.

Let me quickly debunk each excuse using the theme of transparency: Read more

Go Farther, Faster to Cut Truck Pollution

jason_mathersThe U.S. has put in place well-designed policies to cut climate pollution, and, with adopted and proposed policies, the nation’s 2025 climate reduction goals are within reach.  However, we are not there yet, and important work remains.

Big trucks have a critical contribution to make in cutting emissions now and well into the future. Cost-effective technologies are available to significantly reduce fuel use. Conversely, if we don’t take common sense steps today to cut climate-destabilizing emissions from this sector, climate emissions are projected to rise by approximately 15 percent by 2040. This is particularly problematic when you consider that the nation must reduce carbon emissions by at least 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 to prevent severe, potentially catastrophic, levels of climate change. Without further action to cut emissions from heavy-trucks, the sector would consume nearly 40 percent of our national 2050 emissions budget – a level that is clearly not sustainable. 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

Coming Soon: Solutions for Finding Methane Leaks Faster

Aliso-Canyon-still-sm

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.

porter-ranch-aliso-canyon-methane-gas-leak-3-1020x610

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

Walmart: The Awakening of an Environmental Giant

Just over a decade ago, EDF and Walmart launched a groundbreaking partnership—one that's delivering powerful results and helping to scale sustainability across the retail supply chain. 

Fred Krupp 6/15/04

About 20 years ago, I got on a plane to Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart. Buoyed by the success of EDF's pioneering partnership with McDonald's, which did away with the company’s polystyrene packaging and reduced waste by 300 million pounds in the first decade, and by our continued success with other leading brands, I hoped that the world's largest retailer might become our next big corporate partner.

Big companies can leverage big changes. Read more