Why the world's largest pork producer is breaking new sustainability barriers

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; and publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards.

This is the second 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.

As head of the Smithfield Foods’ sustainability program, Stewart Leeth focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development.

EDF has been collaborating with Smithfield for several years now to help farmers optimize fertilizer applications to grow grain for animal feed – and I’m inspired to see the progress that has been made in this arena. But I think this past year was likely the busiest ever for Stewart and his team at Smithfield after they made an industry-leading commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Cyber Monday you’ve met your match. What China’s consumerism means for our planet.

Happy Cyber Monday everyone.

For those of us who didn’t break the bank on Black Friday, we’re filling up our online shopping carts with Cyber Monday sales – seeing if we can break new records of consumerism. I know I am.

Last year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest day in the history of U.S. e-commerce, totaling $3.45 billion in online purchases. That’s an enormous amount of money. But it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion spent on China’s Singles Day – a recording-breaking day for sales.

What started as an anti-Valentine’s day holiday for single Chinese people, Singles Day makes our Black Friday and Cyber Monday look like any ordinary day of shopping. Singles Day has become the world’s largest online shopping holiday. When you look at China’s population, it’s no surprise they out-shopped us. The economy will be made up of 500 million middle class consumers in the next five years – an exploding population – all of which are embracing the convenience and material abundance of consumerism.

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Beyond supply chains: tackling deforestation through collaboration

Supply Chains: vital to tackling deforestation…

Leadership within corporate sustainability continues to reach new heights as companies innovate to catalyze more progress.  Early sustainability efforts focused on philanthropy. Next, companies embraced the business value of engaging in operational efficiency, such as efficient use of water or energy.

The current wave? Supply chain engagement: realizing that the bulk of their environmental impact comes from outside their operational walls, leading companies are reaching back across the chain to suppliers and producers to drive improvements.

Companies and non-profit partners still have a lot of work to do to determine how to adequately engage in continuous improvement across a supply chain and measure performance in a transparent way. But even if they solve this puzzle, it isn’t sufficient to tackle our biggest, hairiest environmental problems—like deforestation.

In the deforestation space, direct supply chain engagement is vital to manage corporate risks and catalyze improvements. But any company that attempts long-term supply chain engagement on their own typically creates a situation in which individual farms are reducing forest loss, but the landscape around them is still filled with rapid deforestation. Imagine "islands of green" in a sea of deforestation.

…but what's the next step?

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Scope 3… the serious path towards sustainability

More and more companies are making public commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions outside of their own operations. Why? Because compared to scope 1 and 2 emissions (from direct activities), avoiding scope 3 emissions can have the greatest impact on a corporate footprint.

The numbers are clear: the majority of GHG emissions come from indirect activities, both upstream and downstream, in the supply chain. In fact, for most of consumer goods products manufacturing, scope 3 emissions account for over 70% of overall GHG emissions. Included is everything from purchasing raw materials to end of life treatment.

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With Paris in doubt, Tyson Foods is the latest business to lead

What comes to mind when you think of Tyson Foods? Maybe it’s their eponymous brand’s wide array of chicken prepped in every shape and size. Or your morning ritual breakfast sandwiches by Jimmy Dean. Or even Hillshire Farm’s folded lunchmeats beneath the classic red container lids.

Most likely, the word “sustainability” doesn’t pop into your head—but that’s about to change.

Last week, Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat producers, announced the beginning of a collaboration with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) and outcome-based water conservation targets for their entire supply chain.

Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

This announcement comes at a time when U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement is unlikely. President Trump’s stance on climate change is disconcerting to say the least, but the ambitious goals made by corporate leaders (like Tyson) give Americans something to be proud of. The future is in sustainability, and business is on its way there.

Tyson aims to work with WRI in order to ensure that every step of their supply chain–from the suppliers for the materials and ingredients to the farmers who provide the chicken, turkey, cattle and pigs–meets their environmental targets. More and more companies are setting supply chain goals that address the sourcing of raw materials, which can be the hardest to influence, but the greatest source of impact.

This announcement follows several recent actions made by the company showing their commitment to improve the sustainability of its supply chain, including the recent hire of their first Chief Sustainability Officer, Justin Whitmore, and the elimination of antibiotics in their own brand of chicken. These initiatives are not only a significant step for Tyson Foods, but also the animal agriculture industry in general.

As one of the largest animal agriculture companies in the world, Tyson has the opportunity to act as a role model for other companies, large and small, within the animal agriculture sector to begin adopting similar sustainable initiatives.

Major companies like Walmart, PepsiCo, Nestle, have all set targets to reduce emissions from their full supply chains. EDF has worked with a number of other food and beverage companies and retailers to set supply chain sustainability goals, including Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer.

Tyson’s commitment reaffirms the notion that addressing the entire supply chain has officially become mainstream. We hope to see other major meat producers, such as Hormel, Perdue and JBS, follow in their footsteps.


Follow Theresa on Twitter, @te_eberhardt


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U.S. out of Paris? Time for companies to find the next LED lightbulb

As I’m writing this blog, the news is breaking that President Trump may pull out of the Paris agreement. Which makes my story about Walmart and product innovation all the more relevant.

My relationship with Walmart started over six years ago, working towards their 20 MMT greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal. After some trial and error, and an exhaustive scan of greenhouse gas hotspots, it became clear that we would need to attack every point of the product lifecycle (including things like fertilizer optimization for crops and factory energy efficiency). Little did we know at the time that promoting energy-efficient products to Walmart shoppers–particularly LED lightbulbs–would prove to be so important to reach the goal in 2015.

As Walmart sets out on its next ambitious goal to remove 1 gigaton (aka 1 billion tons) of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) from the supply chain, I can’t help but wonder what the next game-changing product will be?

I don’t think the solution will be as easy as another LED lightbulb, but rather a series of disruptive innovations around how products are designed, sold and treated at the end of use.

Design: how to reduce impacts from the start 

Last month’s event focused on climate impacts, which largely come from the materials and processes used to manufacture and transport products.  Design changes can play a big role in reducing those impacts. It can also transform products into circular products, with their materials being recaptured by the economy or the planet to live another life as a component of a new product.

Point of Sale: how products are sold

The face of retail is shifting – not just from brick-and-mortar stores to online retail, but from an economy dominated by retail-to-customer relationships to one with more peer-to-peer transactions – just look at Airbnb and Lyft. This “sharing economy” has the potential to displace the number of new items needed as people increasingly use what has already been manufactured, sold and used. This can have big environmental benefits – sort of like eliminating food waste, but for general merchandise.

It hasn’t really taken off yet for retail, but companies like POSHMARK and ThredUp – where you can buy and sell fashion – and Spinlister – where you can rent someone’s bike – are working to change that. This will become more prevalent over time, especially as millennials have shown a preference for owning less things.

End of life: how to extend the life of a product

The sharing economy has the potential to delay a product from coming to its end of life as quickly, but once it does, innovative companies like Stuffstr can help consumers better manage what they do with their products by making resale, donations, recycling just as easy as throwing things away.

And, Stuffstr isn’t just an innovation that benefits end-consumers, but one that can help retailers understand how consumers use, and part with, the products they buy – creating opportunities to stay relevant as the sharing economy continues to grow.

What Now?

It’s clear that Walmart’s goal will catalyze innovation in how we think about products and their use. The GHGs that go into creating, selling and disposing of products is too great to ignore. I look forward to seeing which Walmart suppliers step up to the challenge.

 


Follow Jenny on Twitter, @JennyKAhlen


Additional Resources: Supply Chain Solutions Center


 

There’s no avoiding it, business must lead on climate

A few weeks ago, I attended the Earth Day Network’s Climate Leadership Gala in Washington, DC.  Each year the event brings together more than 300 leaders from business, government and the NGO community to celebrate achievements in working towards a clean energy future. This year’s top honor, the Climate Visionary Award, was presented to Unilever CEO Paul Polman for his commitment to fighting climate change.

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFBold, passionate leadership like Polman’s is essential to tackling climate change while helping to create an economy that benefits us all. He understands that it’s not a choice between business and the environment. In fact, a thriving economy depends on a thriving environment.

Corporate sustainability leadership is now more important than ever. It’s clear that the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll-back environmental protections have thrust U.S. businesses into a critical leadership role on clean energy and climate change. (In fact, I’ll be talking with business leaders later today about how they are “responding to the new norm” at the Sustainable Brands Conference.)

Over the past 25 years at EDF we’ve seen corporate sustainability go from simple operational efficiencies to global supply chain collaborations; now it’s time to go further. Business must continue to raise the bar for sustainability leadership.

How?

  1. Set big goals, then tell the world

Thinking big and setting big goals, are required to drive big innovation and big results.  Many large companies have demonstrated that if you commit to aggressive, science-based, sustainability goals, you can deliver meaningful business and environmental results. For example, Walmart, a longtime EDF partner with a track record of setting aggressive yet achievable climate goals, has recently set its sights even higher by setting a goal to source half of the company’s energy from renewable sources by 2025 and by launching Project Gigaton, a cumulative one gigaton emissions reduction in its supply chain by 2030.

And Walmart is not the only one. Other companies are stepping up as well – especially around commitments to go 100 percent renewable. Whether its online marketplace eBay committing to 100 percent renewable power in all data centers & offices by 2025, Tesco, one of the world’s largest retailers, announcing science-based targets and committing to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 or AB InBev committing to 100 percent renewable power, companies from diverse industries are taking a positive step forward.

While setting goals is a great first step, companies also need to communicate about the goals and progress. Not only does this increase transparency into a business’ sustainability efforts, it lets the world know that sustainability is core to its business. Publicly committing to sustainability goals sends a strong signal to suppliers, shareholders and customers.

  1. Collaborate for scale

In December 2016 I wrote about Smithfield Foods, the world’s number one pork producer, and its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2025. The commitment was important both because Smithfield was the first major protein company to adopt a greenhouse gas reduction goal but also because the reductions would come from across Smithfield's supply chain, on company-owned farms, at processing facilities and throughout its transportation network.

Smithfield understands that some environmental challenges are too big to handle on their own, and they know collaboration is the key to deliver impact at scale.

Other companies are also looking beyond their own supply chain and forming mutually beneficial partnerships. Take the recent partnership between UPS and Sealed Air Corporation, for example. The two companies have announced the opening of a Packaging Innovation Center in Louisville, Kentucky where they will solve the packaging and shipping challenges of e-commerce retailers but also drive new efficiencies while minimizing waste. This is a critical issue that is material to both their businesses, and by joining forces, are finding ways to solve an environmental challenge while improving their bottom lines.

  1. Publicly support smart climate policy

I can’t stress how critical it is right now for business leaders to move beyond their comfort zones and make their voices heard on smart climate and environmental policy. If you want to be a sustainability leader, continuing to hoe your own garden is no longer enough.  You need to align your strategy, operations, AND advocacy.  We know that environmental safeguards drive innovation, create jobs, and support long-term strategic planning.

The good news is leading voices are chiming in, from CEOs signing an open letter to Trump to more than 1,000 companies signing the Low-Carbon USA letter, in favor of environmental policies.

Some companies like Tiffany & Co. are also taking a public stand on their own. The company used its usual ad position in the New York Times to tell President Trump directly that Tiffany is backing policies that will lead us to a clean energy future.

The Way Forward

Taking the leadership mantle is never easy, but now is the time for every corporate leader to get off the sidelines and into the game. There’s plenty of room for more leaders like Polman who are ready to address climate change head-on, creating opportunities for economic growth, new jobs, and a cleaner future.  Will your company be next?

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @TPMurray

Upping the ante on corporate climate leadership – by a gigaton

With the Trump Administration pulling back on federal climate action, I am heartened to see that U.S. businesses are starting to assert their leadership role in the fight for a cleaner, safer world. Bold leadership is an essential factor for business today — and no company is delivering on this more than Walmart.

The world's largest retailer recently announced Project Gigaton, arguably one of the most ambitious efforts to reduce climate pollution by any U.S. corporation.

With Project Gigaton, Walmart and its suppliers are committing to a ‘moon shot’ goal – removing a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from the company's global supply chain by 2030. That's more than the annual emissions of Germany. It's the equivalent of taking 211 million cars off the road every year. In a word, it’s transformational.

Breaking the mold together, then and now

Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund

Eleven years ago, I traveled to the top of Mount Washington with then Walmart CEO Lee Scott, and we talked about the company's vast potential to drive environmental progress. Since then, an amazing ripple effect has spread across the entire retail sector. Working together, EDF, Walmart and others have gathered commitments for optimized fertilizer use on 23 million acres of U.S. farmland; eradicated 36 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions across the retail supply chain; and improved the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of everyday products like shampoo and laundry detergent. This work is invisible to most, but massive on an environmental scale, and nothing less than trailblazing for how business leadership and legacy is measured.

For the last quarter century Environmental Defense Fund has proven the power of business-NGO partnerships to create wins for both business and the environment. Walmart’s willingness to challenge itself and its supply chain to do better has meshed perfectly with EDF’s pragmatic approach to forging innovative solutions.

Back in 2005, it was uncommon business news when Walmart announced aspirational goals to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and environment. Neither Walmart nor EDF knew how we’d achieve those goals, but we set off on the journey together and found success along the way.

Walmart is in it for the long haul

For leading brands like Walmart and their suppliers, long-term economics will always outweigh short-term politics. Staying the course on sustainability is motivated by competitiveness, innovation, job creation and consumer demand. Smart business leaders understand that a thriving economy depends on a thriving environment. This is not an either/or choice. By 2050, we will have 9.5 billion global consumers, all demanding more food, goods and services. The commitment to Project Gigaton signals Walmart’s readiness to plan accordingly.

The Project Gigaton challenge is massive, but by working collaboratively, our confidence for success is high. The modern supply chain is responsible for 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80% of all water use and 66% of all tropical deforestation.  This is not a goal that Walmart can do alone. It takes committed collaboration: of NGOs, partners, and an extensive network of suppliers – many leading brands in their own right – to drive reductions from factories to farms to forests, fleets and beyond.

Creating long-term prosperity for business and the environment requires long-term commitment from both business and NGOs. Together, EDF and Walmart have already climbed one mountain, and now we are ready to ascend even steeper peaks. The planet is counting on us.


Follow Fred on Twitter, @FredKrupp


 

Corporate America’s “moon shot”: Walmart’s Project Gigaton

 

At a time when leadership from the federal government is decidedly lacking, the launch of Walmart’s Project Gigaton is a cause for celebration. It is proof that companies can step up to advance solutions that will help business, people and nature thrive.

Just like Walmart itself, this is big.

The world’s largest retailer has launched an initiative to remove 1 gigaton (that’s 1 billion tons — billion with a “b”) of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its supply chain by 2030. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of removing the annual emissions of Germany — the world’s fourth-largest economy — from the atmosphere. This audacious goal is impressive; it’s corporate America’s “moon shot,” and it shows real leadership.

Why? Because, according to The Sustainability Consortium, the modern supply chain is responsible for 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of all water use and 66 percent of all tropical deforestation. And with the global population projected to swell to 9.5 billion consumers by 2050, it is clear there is not just a crucial opportunity for businesses to meet growing global demand, there is also a real need to protect the planet. Embracing sustainable practices is no longer an option for business. It is an imperative. The planet needs fast action at a massive scale.

So do forward-looking CEOs. Shareholders are rewarding resiliency when companies climate-proof their global operations. And customers, especially millennials, expect sustainability to be baked into the things they buy. In short, business is looking to drive bottom-line value, including growth, with sustainability.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Which explains the significant Project Gigaton commitments being made by companies like Unilever (20 million metric tons of GHG reduction) and Land O’ Lakes (20 million acres sustainably farmed) and commitments made in the past six months by Apple, Amazon, Google, PepsiCo, Smithfield Foods and others.

Execution and delivery

But setting goals is just the first step. The execution and delivery must follow to complete this journey.

Which brings me back to this moon shot: Walmart cannot do this alone. Project Gigaton will take a village — in this case, the tens of thousands of companies that make up Walmart’s global supplier network — to make this goal a reality. And that’s a good thing: Eliminating GHG emissions at this scale will reverberate across entire sectors and industries. It will be the change to “business as usual” that’s long overdue.

That’s all fine and well, rhetorically. But what if you’re a CEO or CSR exec who’s facing the hard reality of “Where do I start”?

Some new research by Environmental Defense Fund starts to sketch out a roadmap to success — and illustrates the need for supply-chain partners to get on the bus. While we’re just at the beginning of a deep dive into the sustainability of the U.S. retail supply chain, our initial findings show two things:  the complexity and emission hotspots of box chain retailers and three clear, initial areas of focus:

  1. The supply chain is the largest source of emissions. If there was any doubt left, put it to rest: 80 percent of retail emissions occur in the supply chain; 12 percent are associated with the use and disposal of products and 8 percent come directly from retail operations — mostly buildings and facilities.
  2. Grocery is a huge hotspot and opportunity. Are you a retailer? Food company? Agricultural service provider? Farmer? Nearly half — 48 percent — of supply-chain greenhouse gas emissions come from the grocery category, which encompasses everything from fresh meat, veggies and dairy, to bakery, dry goods, beverages, snacks and frozen products. Together, these and other products emits 1.7 gigatons of GHGs (there’s that billion thing again). In other words, food production — and food waste — is definitely a place to make your numbers — and to make a difference. (Talk about low-hanging fruit!)
  3. Electricity is the biggest activity that contributes to emissions. From factories to farmhouses, whether powering a business or refrigerating an item at home, using electricity is the largest activity that produces emissions for consumer packaged goods production. Think about that: by tackling electricity use, whether from conservation or renewable energy, business leaders can not only run a more efficient operation, they can also engage their customers on which products to buy and how to best use them. That’s good business.

For those who have been paying attention to these issues for decades, these big opportunities won’t come as a surprise. But they help sharpen the focus for supply-chain professionals searching to answer the question of where to put effort and investment to get the most emissions-reduction results. Scale and speed are necessary. Knowing where to focus is critical. The EDF research is in the early stages and we plan to release the full results later this year.

In the meantime, kudos to Walmart. As suppliers make commitments for Project Gigaton that will drive reductions from factories to farms to forests to fleets, it will become imperative to identify hotspots to enable the largest impact. That’s exactly what drives innovation and the environmental impact we need.

The supply chain may be complicated, but the rewards are well worth it: thriving companies, thriving communities and a thriving planet.

Jump on the Project Gigaton moon shot. It’s leaving the launching pad, with or without you.


Follow Elizabeth on Twitter, @esturcken


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From row crops to rainforests: how agriculture affects us all

Happy Agriculture Day! Whether you have a special interest in agriculture or not, we’re guessing that—as a human being—you probably have an interest in food

But, on this Agriculture Day, we want to recognize and celebrate the farmers and ranchers while acknowledging the fact that we all play a part in the growing of food. In just a few decades, there will be two billion more people to feed on the planet. As a global community our challenge is to feed this growing population sustainably without depleting the soil, polluting our water and worsening global warming.

The statistics are eye opening. Global food production accounts for:

  • 33% of the world’s GHG emissions
  • 70% of the world’s water consumption
  • 80% of deforestation worldwide
  • 50% of global top soil loss

What’s behind these huge numbers? When we look deeper, the problem looks different depending upon which side of the equator you’re on. From row crops to rainforests, here’s a snapshot of what’s happening, both in terms of the problem and the solution:

Domestic Agriculture                         

When we think about how we will feed an additional 2 billion people, improving yields will be critical to meet demand. Fertilizer is an essential nutrient that will help to increase the yields we need. But with less than half of nutrients applied each season being actually absorbed by crops, the unused fertilizer is bad for the planet:

  • US food production accounts for 75% of nitrous oxide emissions and has contributed to the pollution of nearly 40% of US drinking water supply;
  • Excess fertilizer and pollution is washing off of farm fields and into water ways degrading coastal ecosystems and causing algae blooms.

At the same time, this also hurts farmers financially. Fertilizer represents their single biggest input cost, so when nearly $420 million in fertilizer washes off Midwestern farm fields and into the Gulf of Mexico every year, it’s tough to remain profitable.

EDF’s work* with  Walmart, Smithfield Foods, Campbell’s Soup, Land O’ Lakes and other food companies is proving that efficient fertilizer use reduces supply chain emissions and saves money. It just needs to happen more: when food companies, retailers, and other supply chain actors send the demand for scientifically based and economically viable strategies for using fertilizer more efficiently, sustainable practices will expand and far less impact will be placed on the environment.

Agriculture and Deforestation

Agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation. Everyday forest lands in Brazil and other tropical countries are burned down to grow crops or to create cattle pastures for beef production. The exploitation of the tropical forests for the big four agricultural commodities, palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper, contributes significantly to climate change.

Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global carbon emissions annually. Hundreds of major consumer goods companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains.

The challenge is twofold: how to increase agricultural production in these topical regions to support the livelihoods of local communities and growing global consumer needs, while fulfilling companies’ zero-deforestation commitments to reduce carbon emissions?

The solution lies in multi-stakeholder engagement. Brazil’s experience shows that collaboration between companies, government agencies and local communities within a region can successfully reduce deforestation while maintaining robust growth in production. The country successfully reduced Amazon deforestation by about 75% from 2005 to 2013.

Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

When executed properly, these jurisdictional approaches provide win-win-win opportunities. Companies have a new way to meet zero deforestation commitments in supply chains by sourcing from lower risk areas and reduce the risk that deforestation will spread to other suppliers. Governments have additional support to improve policies and productivity in their regions. Farmers have the needed incentives and assistance to increase sustainability and profitability on their lands.

Partnership is the key

So it’s clear: our food has costs beyond our wallets, in the form of greenhouse gases, water quality, water scarcity, biodiversity, and other important impacts that we don’t see each day when we sit down at the table.

But the good news is, there’s a lot of movement—or potential for movement— across the food supply chains, from retailers to growers to consumers, to promote sustainable practices on a multitude of food and agriculture issues.

Theresa Erhlich, Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

To tackle these costs, everyone along the food chain needs to realize that there is no free lunch (pun very much intended):

  • At EDF, we are working in collaboration with farmers, companies, governments, and other NGO’s to address these issues and reduce the impact of our food supply chains.
  • Companies (including: food companies, retailers and other supply chain actors) need to consistently send the demand signal to farmers that they want less deforestation and more efficient fertilizer use.
  • Consumers play an important role by sending our own demand signal for more sustainably produced food by thanking the companies leading the way in sustainability through shopping power.

So today take a moment think about where our food is comes from, and the hard work and energy that went into its approaches to feed people and protect our planet.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership.