You’ve set your sustainability goals. Now what?

I’ve never run a marathon, but I imagine it would be a very praise-worthy experience.

First, you sign up, feeling that initial rush of “wow, I’m actually doing this” adrenaline. That's followed by everyone's favorite part: telling people. You’re instantly flooded with responses like “Good for you!” and “You’re such an inspiration!”. But then, the glory starts to fade and you realize it’s time for the hard work. Months of training, time and dedication (and probably pain) are needed before you can cross the finish line.

We’re seeing a similar process happening in corporate sustainability around setting climate goals. It’s inspiring work to see companies set targets. Take for example evian, which announced its ambition to be Carbon Neutral globally by 2020 during the Paris Climate Summit in 2015.

But getting kudos for setting a goal is just the beginning. The rest of the story, often the most important and tricky step is figuring out those middle miles – determining how exactly these goals can be met. As consumers, it’s the hard work being done to deliver on a goal that we should be celebrating even more.

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Here’s what the last 5 years of corporate sustainability in China has looked like. What’s next?

As a kid, one of my favorite things was a Moon Cake, which I'd get to eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival in China (taking place next week). It's a day of celebrating family reunion and harvest, where the entire country throws parties, comes together and gives homage to the full moon. I’ll always jump at the opportunity to eat a Moon Cake, but this time there’s something else worth celebrating this year: the progress being made on corporate sustainability in China.

This year marks the 5th year anniversary of expanding EDF Climate Corps into China. What started as 6 fellows in 5 companies, has grown to nearly 60 fellows into over 20 companies. With that we’ve seen tens of millions of dollars in potential savings from energy efficiency improvements. But before I jump into how corporate sustainability in China has advanced, let me tell you why we made the decision to expand there.

EDF Climate Corps: welcome to China

As the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the U.S. are receiving increased attention on their cooperative efforts to save energy and curtail climate pollution. EDF has set a goal to help China with its rising CO2 emissions. So we thought: what better way to do this than enlisting the help of bright, young, talented graduate students?

Manager, EDF+Business

In the five years since we first brought EDF Climate Corps to China, I’ve watched as the scope and breadth of projects – by both multinational and Chinese-owned companies – has evolved alongside the nation’s sustainability efforts. I’ll show you how.

The evolution of corporate sustainability in China

In our first year, the companies we worked with were for the most part after one thing: energy audit projects in factory settings. It was about plucking the low-hanging energy fruit at one specific site (upgrading lighting or air compressor systems, etc.). And I should note, it was only multinational companies we were working with – headquartered in the U.S., with factories overseas.

Fast forward to today, while factory-based energy efficiency projects are still in our pipeline, they’re no longer the main focus. More companies are making larger sustainability goals, looking to pursue projects beyond energy efficiency.

I’ve identified a few trends in China’s corporate sustainability landscape:

  1. Improving energy efficiency and scaling solutions. Energy efficiency remains and important and effective way to reduce carbon footprints. But instead of one-off projects, it’s about scaling opportunities both across portfolios of factories and sharing with other companies in similar industries. The results bring enormous ROI, and give a competitive advantage to companies. Pacific Market International (PMI) hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to improve the energy efficiency of one of its glass suppliers. The fellow developed an energy management strategy, which included recommendations to reduce energy use, such as optimizing washing and dying processes, that can be scaled across the entire manufacturing industry.
  2. Setting ambitious targets. More companies are concentrating their efforts around data collection, analysis, verification, and reporting. More data is critical for identifying reduction opportunities, managing suppliers and communicating sustainability efforts. This year, MAHLE hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to build the framework for its first-ever sustainability report, which included specific energy reduction goals, covering categories such as: product innovation and development, energy saving and green production, employee care, and social responsibility.
  3. Complying with China’s environmental policies. In recent years, China’s political landscape around climate has become much more stringent, giving companies a choice: work with it, or be fined. Working with policies can reduce costs, avoid risk, demonstrate leadership, and attract stakeholders. This year, an EDF Climate Corps fellow recommended an environmental engagement plan for IKEA’s suppliers to mitigate regulatory risk – mainly around areas such as coal burning, GHG emissions, wastewater treatment, and solid waste – across its entire supply chain in China. We also hosted two webinars on environmental law interpretations and corporate compliance that garnered a lot of interest from our hosts (a recording for this year’s webinar can be found here for those that are interested in learning more).
  4. Adopting green supply chain initiatives. Companies are looking to reduce the emissions of their global supply chains, and they’re working with their suppliers to do so. This is true for both small and medium-sized manufactures, as well as multinationals. As part of its Project Gigaton (reducing GHG emissions in its supply chain by one gigaton), Walmart enlisted two EDF Climate Corps fellows in its Global Sourcing division to identify products that have the potential to reduce significant GHGs. Walmart now has a better understanding of what products need to be upgraded, how to reach its reduction goals and how to incentive more suppliers to participate in the effort.

As I enjoy my Moon Cake next week for this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, I'll be celebrating the long way we've come in corporate sustainability over these past five years. But, I'll also be thinking about the long road ahead of us.


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At GCAS, Walmart and Unilever show leadership on forests: 3 big reasons to join them

Walmart and Unilever made big news at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit. With forest loss still on the rise (the highest levels of tropical tree cover loss occurred in the last two years), these two consumer-product giants just committed to taking big, concrete steps toward addressing the complex reality of global deforestation.

At the center of their commitments are critical actions in support of jurisdictional approaches, which encourage companies that source deforestation-related agricultural commodities to collaborate with local governments, communities, and producers in their sourcing region. Through these collaborations, jurisdictional approaches ensure that local laws, regional efforts, and corporate policies work in concert to reduce deforestation across entire landscapes.

Companies with forest goals coming due – and there are hundreds of them – should take note, for three big reasons:

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How innovations can help your company meet Scope 3 emission targets

Recent research on corporate sustainability indicates that companies still have a long journey ahead in order to meet their sustainability goals. Only four percent of companies recently surveyed by Bain & Company feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47% feel that they’ve failed altogether.

Theresa Eberhardt, Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

These numbers might seem discouraging to some, but not to me. I’ve been in the sustainability space for over five years, working primarily in supply chains, and over this time, I’ve learned that the first step to success is acknowledging where you’re starting from. I’m also encouraged by EDF+Business, which has been helping companies meet their supply chain goals for over 25 years. These numbers show me that more and more companies are doing the hard work of evaluating and reporting on their own operations and supply chains. If you’re a sustainability officer at a large multinational corporation, we know that this can be a daunting task. However, you should relish the fact that you have the opportunity to make meaningful change on a huge scale. It just takes some focus, and the right business strategy.

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Food and agriculture companies: a challenge from a millennial mom

As a working mother, I often have to multi-task. Recently, as I watched my toddler push his food around his plate, I caught up on last week’s news that Fortune had released its annual “Change the World” list of top companies using the profit motive to help the planet and tackle social problems.

About 10 percent of this list consists of corporate leaders who are thinking critically about the challenge to feed our world in a sustainable way without destroying our planet, including companies like Kroger (#6), Walmart (#16), Tyson Foods (#44), McDonald’s (#50) and PepsiCo (#57). These companies know that a thriving community requires a fed community.

While I’m thankful to Fortune for sharing best practices from these incredible, game-changing companies, I’m also painfully aware that the corporate sector at large has a lot more work to do: a recent survey by Bain & Company found that only four percent of companies feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47 percent feel that they’ve failed altogether.

Speaking as both a mother and a sustainable supply chain specialist, that’s simply not good enough. We are already facing the massive challenge of producing even more food with fewer inputs. We are already facing increasingly variable weather.  And in just a few decades, our planet will be home to 2 billion more people to feed.

What’s my point? Next year, food and agriculture companies, I want to see more of you on Fortune’s list. So to help you on this quest, I’m officially issuing you a two-part challenge:

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How Google, BlackRock, Hilton are doubling down on sustainable business

If you were asked five years ago "What types of companies are thinking about – and acting on –sustainability?" you would likely answer with the usual suspects: Patagonia, REI, etc. Less likely on your radar, I’d venture to guess, were players like TPG Capital, Novartis or Caterpillar. Today, companies across all sectors are re-envisioning what it means to be sustainable, and EDF Climate Corps is helping them do so.

Last week I attended my 7th EDF Climate Corps training – the annual kick-off to the summer fellowship. I left the reception with the feeling that this year would be different than previous; partly due to my new role as manager of the program, but more so from the conversations I had with this year’s cohort of 115 EDF Climate Corps fellows. There was a shared feeling that the mindset around corporate sustainability has changed from a nice-to-have to a must-have. And it was inspiring to hear how this group of determined, talented individuals plans on helping some of our country’s largest businesses meet and strengthen their climate goals.

It’s inspiring people like these – coupled with the broader trends at play – which give me so much confidence in the EDF Climate Corps model to help more companies tackle larger, more impactful and more innovative energy-related projects. Here’s why:

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How an Indonesian coconut plantation inspired Mars’ “aha moment” on sustainability

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the seventh in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

You likely know Mars as the company behind leading brands like M&M’s®, PEDIGREE® pet food, and UNCLE BEN’S® rice. For those of us in the field of corporate social responsibility, Mars is also well-known for its environmental leadership.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation plan lays out the company’s commitment to procure 100 percent renewable energy, reduce 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its direct operations by 2040, and reduce indirect emissions throughout the value chain by one-third by 2030 – and two-thirds by 2050.

As Mars’ chairman Stephen Badger wrote in a Washington Post editorial last year, the company’s carbon footprint is the size of a small country. The company’s goals are therefore nothing short of ambitious.

But if anyone can help the company meet those targets, it is chief procurement and sustainability officer Barry Parkin, who believes that big goals drive big innovation.

I recently spoke with Barry about how Mars plans to tackle its climate goals, how being a family-owned business shapes its approach to sustainability, and how his time on the British Olympic sailing team influences his day-to-day job. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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Racing to meet your 2020 deforestation goals? Here's help.

Many companies set goals to achieve zero net deforestation by the year 2020. That date may have seemed like a long way off when they were planning, but with now less than 20 months to go, it’s not surprising that companies and NGOs are looking for ways to drive forward progress, faster.

That’s also why the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA) is meeting in Ghana this week.  The TFA is a group of governments, NGOs, and private sector actors committed to making the 2020 goals a reality. One of the things they’ll surely be discussing is the recent field trip that Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) organized to a cattle ranch in Brazil (as part of TFA’s Latin America convening in March).

If you are on a corporate sustainability team that is racing to meet those 2020 goals, you’ll be interested in the three, big takeaways from the trip:

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Deforestation-free supply chains: 4 trends to watch

Aerial Photography – The River

Hundreds of companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains by 2020, but the political landscape and market conditions are shifting as the deadline draws nearer. Here are four emerging trends that these companies – as well as the governments and civil society organizations engaging with them to zero out deforestation – should be taking into consideration as 2020 fast approaches.

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Walmart: What’s Next for Project Gigaton

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

What can happen when the CEO of the world’s largest retailer says publicly that making the world better is more important than sales? The answer: a gigaton.

I was able to attend Walmart’s annual Sustainability Milestone Summit for the first time last month in Arkansas, and as EDF+Business’ new lead on climate change and energy issues in the supply chain, I have to say it was an incredible experience. At work was a tangible display of EDF+Business’ supply chain theory of change – that some companies have the power to move markets, and if they choose to, can use that power to accelerate progress on climate change.

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