Powerful Business: The Lever for Change Across the Supply Chain

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
-Archimedes

Sometimes when a problem seems too big, too ugly and too complex to handle, you need a lever to help move things along.  All of the big environmental problems we currently face fall into this category.

When it comes to tackling our planet’s biggest problems, there is a full spectrum of approaches and many different leverage points. For me, the most important lever is business. A thriving planet and a thriving economy don’t have to be at odds. EDF is focusing on helping businesses make their supply chains cleaner, more efficient and more profitable.

Working with powerful business has been a cornerstone of EDF’s approach ever since we launched our 1st partnership with McDonald’s 25 years ago. Since then, we have kick-started market transformations in fast food with McDonalds and Starbucks, shipping with FedEx, retail with Walmart, and private equity with KKR. With each partnership, we’ve worked to create new, sustainable demand signals that extend across the supply chain. When powerful business speaks, suppliers listen. EDF is helping the most impactful companies commit to selling sustainably-produced products, encouraging every supplier and producer contributing to those products to also adopt more sustainable practices.

supplychainmapEDF is currently focused on cleaning up consumer product supply chains in three key areas: deforestation, fertilizer pollution and hazardous chemicals. By working with retailers and consumer products suppliers, EDF has the potential to effect real environmental gains. On farms across the United States. In forests in Brazil. In food and beauty products on store shelves. In the air we breathe.

Through our work with Walmart and The Sustainability Consortium, EDF has had the opportunity to look across incredibly large and complex supply chains, index the environmental “hot spots,” and work with key influencers on the chain.

Fertilizer Use

Nitrogen fertilizer use was one of those hot spots, giving EDF the opportunity to dig into greening the agricultural supply chain. Our work with Walmart to reduce 20 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain was a catalyst for focusing on optimizing fertilizer use. Now, by leveraging the power of businesses across the entire food supply chain, EDF and collaborators are on track to optimize 23 million acres of U.S. farmland by 2020.

Deforestation

Demand for commodities such as beef, soy, and palm oil are responsible for an estimated eighty percent of forest loss across the globe, and 12 percent of climate change. In response, major companies like Walmart, Cargill, McDonald’s and 260 others have made commitments to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain. We’re helping companies create the systems to understand where their products come from and achieve their commitments.

EDF’s solution orients supply-chain commitments at the level of Zero Deforestation Zones: entire political jurisdictions —nations, states or counties that are able to demonstrate reductions in deforestation and ultimately achieve zero net deforestation within their borders. Sourcing agricultural commodities from ZDZs has the benefit of reducing costs and complexity in monitoring supply chains. We are simultaneously building the demand for deforestation-free products from major brands and retailers and creating supply of Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZs) in first-mover states in Brazil.

Hazardous Chemicals

In the U.S., more than 10,000 additives are allowed in food during manufacturing, processing, packaging and transport. While many of these chemicals are essential to the modern food supply, we know far too little about the health risks they pose to the public. EDF is developing a systematic approach to addressing hazardous food additives that is firmly grounded in rigorous scientific and policy analysis. Drawing on multiple years of research on science and policy behind chemical additives and decades of successful partnerships with corporate America, EDF is currently engaged in getting companies to adopt policies for safer food and consumer products. Our goal is to define a pathway for business to send the demand signal to move chemicals of concern out of the marketplace.

EDF and our corporate partners are making great gains, but there is so much more to be done. We need to keep building and strengthening the business lever by getting more companies to actively send smart demand signals across their supply chains. It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for business. Everyone wins.

Pioneering a Portfolio Approach to Water Management with Walmart

By Kellen Utecht, Director of Sustainability, Phigenics

“Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it.” — Adam Smith

With California facing its worst drought conditions in its history, toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, and water costs rising 33% since 2010, water’s value – both its actual costs and our perception of it – has been transformed since Adam Smith’s time. Companies today have a vested business interest in managing their water consumption. Since 2011, businesses globally have invested $84 billion dollars in water management projects.

logo-walmartGiven that water for cooling makes up a significant portion of a building’s water use, adopting a portfolio approach to cooling water management program is one way companies can make meaningful impacts in reducing water consumption and improving energy efficiency.

Phigenics, an independent water management company, works with leading companies in diverse industries such as healthcare, universities, hospitality and retail to optimize water use in the built environment. In one powerful example, Walmart – with a portfolio of stores spread across the United States – made significant reductions in its water use and utility expense by implementing such a program. Read more

Why the Food Movement is Alive and Well

silverware 2 up closeMark Bittman’s recent New York Times op-ed, “Let’s Make Food Issues Real,” is a grim assessment of the current state of the food movement – in fact, he questions whether a food movement exists at all.

Bittman states that the lack of major change to government food policies means the food movement is not winning. “I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues,” Bittman writes.

I’ll take that bet. With the drought in California threatening the nation’s produce and the other impacts climate change pose to our food supply, I think it’s likely that the next group of presidential candidates will discuss food issues on the campaign trail.

But even if politicians take up the banner of the food movement, new legislation should not be the sole indicator of success. Food companies are increasingly making changes to their products, practices, and sourcing in response to consumer demand. State policies and federal agency priorities are also shifting. Read more

Consumers Get Their Say in Supporting Sustainable Products

Like teenagers, all ground-breaking products or ideas go through an awkward adolescent phase.  And, like teenagers, the only way products or ideas can move past the clumsy stage and blossom into a sought after, form-meets-function icon is through experience.  Meaning, real consumers have to put them through their paces: does this work? How could it work better? Revise, improve, re-test, repeat… that’s how you make something truly effective; truly great.

Sustainability-Shop bug_115x115

All this is by way of acknowledging a group of sustainable-minded collaborators on the coming-out party this week for Walmart’s “Sustainability Leaders Shop”, an online shopping portal that “will allow customers to easily identify brands that are leading sustainability within a special category”.  It is, literally, the very first time a quantifiable, science-based index of various products’ sustainable provenance is being placed in the hands of consumers at the scale that only Walmart can provide. Read more

Start Your Green Freight Journey with EDF

Many leading companies are creating business value today by cutting carbon emissions from freight moves. These companies, such as Walmart, Ikea, Unilever and Ocean Spray, are following a similar path, one we at EDF are calling the Green Freight Journey, a five-step framework for freight optimization projects.

Sign up to learn more about the Journey.

Define the path. Then take a step. Then take another.

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Companies start by taking the nebulous concept of sustainability and making it mean something specific and material to their company, for example, “we are going to use fuel more efficiently." They create specific metrics to track this objective, such as product moved per gallon of fuel consumed, or emissions per ton-mile.

Next, these companies develop pilot green freight projects to test out that objective, using the metrics they chose to evaluate the projects’ efficacy. The projects that deliver financial and environmental returns are scaled up and those that don't are redesigned or scrapped.

Leaders have a critical role to play in this process as well: they create long-term improvement goals for their company’s key metrics. This enables them to focus day-to-day on continuous improvement, and it inoculates them against the siren call of “big shiny object” projects – ones that might be good for a press release but won’t move the needle on their metrics.

By taking these steps, companies advance along their Green Freight Journey, and along the way, cut costs and emissions.

Now it’s your turn.

Every company that uses the freight system to move products to market has opportunities to reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions by taking a Green Freight Journey. Join me on January 14 at 12PM ET for a webinar that will introduce you to the Green Freight Journey framework, review real-world case examples and highlight tools EDF is making available to help companies progress on their journey.

During the webinar, participants will:

  • Be introduced to the steps of a Green Freight Journey and receive tips for success on each;
  • Hear real-world examples of companies that have cut emissions and costs by optimizing freight moves;
  • Review existing tools, including a green freight benchmarking survey and the EDF Green Freight Handbook; and
  • Learn how an EDF Climate Corps fellow helped Ocean Spray Cranberries identify new green freight opportunities.

Register here today for this informative webinar.

Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart shopper

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more

Gaining Momentum for Optimized Fertilizer Use in Agriculture

Jenny AhlenIn 2013, Walmart launched an initiative with the potential to optimize fertilizer use on 14 million acres of U.S. farmland by 2020. This was a great step in the right direction for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution by improving nitrogen fertilizer use. Momentum on this work grew in April when Walmart suppliers including Cargill and General Mills stepped up and made joint agricultural commitments at Walmart’s Sustainable Product Expo.

Now, a little over a year since this work kicked off, it’s great to see another major boost of momentum. On Monday, Walmart hosted their fall Milestone meeting, which included an announcement from United Suppliers to join the fertilizer optimization work – committing to enroll 10 million acres by 2020.

This is a big deal for two reasons. First, this commitment is significantly larger – more acres – than any other we’ve seen so far. Second, this is the first time a major agricultural retailer has joined this initiative.

Read more

Working Towards Zero-Deforestation: Lessons from Acre, Brazil

This post is our second in a series on how companies can reduce deforestation from their supply chains. Read the first post here.

What do companies, governments, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples have in common? Despite their differences, they share a common interest in reducing deforestation, which accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

UN Climate Summit logo

On September 23rd, leaders from all of these groups will meet at the UN Climate Summit in New York City to spark action on climate change issues including deforestation. The Climate Summit hopes to rally action around two forest efforts, creating incentives to reduce deforestation in tropical countries through REDD+ policies (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and eliminating deforestation from the supply chains of commodities such as palm, beef, soy and paper.

The Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)—a group of 400 companies with combined sales of around $3.5 trillion—has committed to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. However, CGF has also recognized that they cannot solve deforestation on their own, and have called on governments to make REDD+ a priority in a legally binding UN climate agreement in 2015

At EDF, we believe that REDD+ is the best way to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable economic development and that consumer goods companies are in a prime position to support REDD+ in the countries they source from.

Read more

Moving Beyond Commitments: Collaborating to End Deforestation

Deforestation can pose significant operational and reputational risks to companies, and we at EDF are seeing companies start to take action in their supply chains. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 12% of overall GHG emissions worldwide–as much global warming pollution to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world. In addition, deforestation wipes out biodiversity and ravages the livelihoods of people who live in and depend on the forest for survival.

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Unfortunately, it’s a hugely complex issue to address. Agricultural commodities like beef, soy, palm oil, paper and pulp—ingredients used in a wide variety of consumer products—drive over 85% of global deforestation. Companies struggle to understand both their role in deforestation, and how to operationalize changes that will have substantive impacts.

When the drivers of deforestation are buried deep in the supply chain, innovative and collaborative solutions are required. In the past several years, we have seen many in this space make big commitments toward solving the problem, but gaining transparency into tracking against these commitments has been almost as difficult as gaining transparency into the supply chains themselves.  For many companies, the hope for making good on their promises may come in the form of powerful partnerships.

Read more

Smithfield Foods, world's largest pork producer, works with EDF to cut emissions

Corn is a common hog feed.

First, the facts: We will have 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. That's 2 billion more than we have today – stretching Earth's land and water resources to meet nutritional needs in a dramatically changing climate.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency calculates that agriculture is the fifth-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 8 percent of total GHGs. Fertilizer use and soil management are responsible for half of those emissions.

Next, the challenge: Many farmers encounter difficulties in determining the precise amount of nitrogen fertilizer their crops need. It gets tricky. Using too little fertilizer can limit crop production. Too much fertilizer pollutes water and emits a potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The stark reality is that crop production must increase approximately 70 percent by 2050 to feed our growing human population. We cannot choose between agricultural productivity and sustainability – we must have both.

To address the challenge, Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, and its hog production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown, are working with grain farmers to reduce excess fertilizer on crops grown for hog feed. The project will help farmers save money on fertilizer, while maintaining high crop yields, improving water quality and reducing climate impacts. The initiative is the first of its kind among animal agriculture companies.

Read more