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


 

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:

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

How 10 Years in the Trenches with Walmart Built an On-Ramp for the Future

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377I'm really proud of the tireless and innovative work that EDF's Corporate Partnership team has done with Walmart. It's been a successful 10-year journey  and I've done a lot of cheer leading over the last decade.

But now I'd like to look forward. Because we still have huge environmental challenges to tackle, and we're still looking to powerful businesses, like Walmart, to model the way toward a sustainable future.

Through our work with Walmart, McDonald's, FedEx and others over the past 25-years, we've seen a framework for corporate sustainability leadership emerge that other companies can use, across industries and around the world.

For EDF, this framework is critical to spreading environmental and business benefits throughout the corporate sector. By sharing best practices, EDF can have impact that extends far beyond the individual companies that are our partners. Read more

Dream Conversation: Paul Polman (Unilever) and Doug McMillon (Walmart) at a Paris Café

In the wake of the COP 21 talks in Paris, I’m heartened by what appears to have been a strong business presence there. Does the agreement go far enough? It’s a start. Which then got me day dreaming about the ideal, “what’s next” conversations that I hoped were taking place (along with really good coffee and pastry, of course!).

So, without further ado, here is my dream COP 21 conversation (entirely a figment of my imagination, of course. But hey—a girl can dream, can’t she?):

The scene: a bustling Café in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.

5238558290_fdbe123f99_oThe players: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart. Both men sip espressos.

Doug:  May I join you?

Paul: Doug, great to see you!  Have a seat!  How are you?

Doug (sitting): I’m exhausted. I never realized how much of a circus these global meetings are. Hey, congratulations on the Times article! Man, that’s showing ‘em how business can lead on sustainability.

Paul: Thanks—and look who’s talking! Congrats yourself on reducing all those CO2 emissions. How many million metric tons again? Twenty?

Doug: It was actually twenty-eight, thank you very much! It all just goes to show you: set a BHAG, and big innovation follows.

Paul: “BHAG”?

Doug: A BHAG— a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal. Our 20 million metric tons pledge in 2010 was a BHAG. So was your pledge to halve Unilever’s environmental impact by 2020. I bet when you made that you didn’t know exactly how you were going to get it done, am I right? And yet, you’re on your way—and already seeing results? 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

How Campbells is Helping to Make Sustainable Growing the New Normal

There’s a lot of momentum in the sustainable agriculture world. We helped Walmart discover that fertilizer runoff is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, and they’re now working with suppliers to improve the way grain is grown across the U.S. That’s because half of all fertilizer applied to crops runs off the field, leading to water pollution, aquatic dead zones that kill marine life, and contributing to climate change – since the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff converts to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Major food companies are also recognizing that increased weather variability from climate change can cause supply chain disruptions, that their customers are demanding transparency for how their food was grown, and that it’s in their best interest to meet retailers’ demands for sustainably grown grain.

Campbells

That’s why Campbell’s Soup has focused on growing its vegetables as sustainably as possible, and why its Pepperidge Farm subsidiary is now investing in wheat sustainability in their Ohio and Nebraska sourcing areas.

My colleague Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at EDF, recently interviewed Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to get his take on this unprecedented momentum. Below are the highlights of their conversation on why his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, what they’re hearing from customers, and about why sustainable grain is becoming the new normal. Read more