General Mills selects United Suppliers to increase fertilizer efficiency in the field

SUSTAIN-logo_circle_4c-300x300Isn’t it nice when somebody steps forward boldly to do the right thing and is rewarded for doing so? General Mills did just that for United Suppliers and the SUSTAIN platform, which will help farmers improve nitrogen use efficiency and productivity.
In July, General Mills put out a call for proposals to help the company meet increased production needs in ways that contribute to cleaner air and water.

It was almost like a future posting in sustainability want ads: “General Mills, a 17+ billion dollar food company, has the following need: Seeking best practices in nitrogen fertilization (nitrogen optimization) technologies for sustainable agriculture.”

The company recognized the pressing need to limit nutrient losses while also helping farmers produce more of the wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops it needs to make the products we buy.

And the winners are….

United Suppliers got the nod with its SUSTAIN platform. As I blogged earlier this fall, United Suppliers has really stepped out front with this platform, recognizing the growing  sustainability demands from retailers and food companies as a real business opportunity. They knew they were taking a risk when they reached out to Environmental Defense Fund last spring for help in developing a program to meet the changing needs of the supply chain.

If they built this program, would anyone care? Would their owner retailers sign up to implement the program? Would food companies want to use it?

Well, we still have a long way to go. But the signs are good, and this success with General Mills is a big step forward. General Mills saw the huge value in SUSTAIN, which includes nutrient use efficiency and soil health technologies, practices  and products, as well as the extensive training and implementation infrastructure needed to take it to scale.

The other winner of the General Mills competition was Adapt-N, a breakthrough nitrogen use efficiency platform that is also included in SUSTAIN.

Ramping up

This winter will be very busy with grower meetings and trainings for the agronomists and owners of participating ag retailers and cooperatives, as well as deployment of the robust data platform needed to maximize value back to the ag retailers and growers and aggregate data for supply chain reporting.

We are very excited to see SUSTAIN become part of General Mills’ work to meet its goal of being 100 percent sustainably sourced by 2020 for its 10 priority ingredients. These ingredients – corn, oats, wheat, dairy, fiber packaging, cocoa, vanilla, palm oil, sugar cane and sugar beets – represent half of the company’s total raw material purchases.

The commitment builds on the company’s sustainability mission to conserve and protect the resources upon which its business depends. Currently, General Mills has five regional sustainability engagements for commodity crops using the Field to Market continuous improvement framework , and it will deploy SUSTAIN and Adapt-N across these regions.  These programs will support General Mills’ primary purpose in advancing agriculture sustainability and grower profitability.

This post was originally published on EDF's Growing Returns blog.

The Supply Chain Word of 2014: Omnichannel

As we head into the last months of 2014 – and more importantly, the holiday season — I'm ready to make my nomination for the "word of the year." And no, it’s not “salmon cannon,” “bromance,” or others proposed by John Oliver or Stephen Colbert. The word supply chain and sustainability leaders should take away from 2014 is omnichannel.Omnichannel diagram

At its core, omnichannel is an approach to retail that aims to deliver a holistic shopping experience that integrates in-store and online platforms, combining the supply chain of brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce. It recognizes the staying power of each, the expectation of the customer for consistent prices across platforms and the ability to choose how, when and where to receive his/her purchases.

Folks that make a living thinking about how to allocate and where to place inventory have been using the word for a few years. In 2014, though, omnichannel crossed the chasm from being wonky, industry-speak to being a mainstream business concept – covered recently in USA Today – and a core aspect of competing in the digital age.

Which brings us to an important question: what are the environmental implications of omnichannel retailing?

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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

New Report Supports Jurisdictional Approaches to Ending Deforestation in the Amazon

Andrew Hutson EDFThe world’s attention has been on Brazil lately.  With an exciting World Cup this past summer, an election season full of drama (including a plane crash), and the coming Summer Olympics in 2016, it has been easy to overlook the piece of news that has the greatest impact on all of our lives: the remarkable decreases in rates of deforestation in the Amazon.  With little fanfare (at least from the general public), deforestation decreased 70% since 2005 and Brazil has become the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

But while this progress impressive, it is important to note that we’re still losing over 5,000 square kilometers of forest a year in the Amazon. More importantly, we’ve seen a slight uptick in the rate of deforestation over the past two years, with an increase of 29% from 2012-2013. That number looks likely to increase again this year.

As the number of companies, governments, NGOs, and indigenous peoples who signed the New York Declaration on Forests last month demonstrated, there is an eagerness to address this issue across all sectors of society. Among other goals, signatories to the Declaration seek to halve the rate of loss of forests globally by 2020 and end natural forest loss by 2030. To get there, we need a scalable and systematic approach to meet this ambitious, yet achievable goal. EDF believes one solution is the creation of Zero Deforestation Zones (also referred to as jurisdictional approaches) – nations or states that are able to demonstrate reductions in deforestation within their borders as the most effective way to save forests the scale of entire landscapes, rather than individual parcels of land.

A new report by Datu Research, Deforestation in the Brazilian Beef Value Chain, supports this notion.

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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.

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Quiet But Admirable Commitments to End Deforestation

Andrew Hutson EDFIf you saw the news that there was a UN Climate Summit this week, but haven’t followed it closely, you might well assume that nothing substantive happened.  You can certainly be forgiven for thinking so – there was a lot of pomp and lofty talk (this is the UN after all), and no global treaty was signed (although none was expected). Below the surface, however, quiet momentum for key policy actions was built. And even quieter, but yet potentially more exciting, commitments were made. Chief among these was news that global agriculture giant Cargill committed to ending deforestation across all commodities in its supply chain as part of the New York Declaration on Forests.

This is a big deal.

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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.

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Advancing on the Green Freight Journey: Discover Your Next Steps at RILA Sustainability

freightContainers-100x133Every product that ends up on a retail shelf or is sold online has a freight footprint. The annual impact of freight across U.S. retail and consumer goods supply chains is significant – over 160 million metrics tons of greenhouse emissions. Or, more than ten times Walmart’s 2010 scope 1 & 2 emissions in the United States.

There are ample opportunities for retailers and their suppliers to improve efficiency, reduce costs and emissions from their freight supply chain. These companies can get more products on each truckload, move more cargo by rail, and collaborate with other companies to find shipping efficiencies.

To capture the most savings opportunities, companies need a long-term plan of action with common key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals shared between logistics teams and corporate sustainability officers.

EDF created our Green Freight Journey model to be a framework that companies can use to manage supply chain freight emissions. The Green Freight Journey has five steps:

Green Freight Journey

  • Step One: Get Started, where a company assembles the right group of internal stakeholders and defines its objectives and key metrics.
  • Step Two: Create Momentum, where a company launches a pilot effort to improve performance in one key area. It leverages the results of the pilot to increase internal visibility about the strong value of green freight initiatives.
  • Step Three: Accelerate Performance, where a company expands the scope of its green freight efforts from one or two projects to a system-wide effort to reduce costs and emissions.
  • Step Four: Declare a Goal, where a company sets a multi-year goal to drive internal focus and resource allocation.
  • Step Five: Raise the Bar, having accomplished its first generation green freight goal, a company assess and sets a new longer term improvement target.

If you are attending RILA Sustainability later this month, visit the EDF booth (NP6) in the exhibit hall to learn more how your company can leverage the Green Freight Journey framework to identify and implement cost and emission reductions project. In addition to the EDF Green Freight Handbook, we will available at our booth have a benchmarking survey for companies to help them assess their next step on the Green Freight Journey.

Procter & Gamble, CVS, Colgate and Others Demonstrate “We” > “Me”

Mathers_Jason (1)When looking for ways to increase supply chain efficiencies, few strategies have the cost and emissions savings potential of collaborative distribution or shared shipping—where companies pool freight resources to reduce the amount of truck trips required to move supplies or products. As the Guardian noted in a recent article on Ocean Spray and Tropicana’s shared shipping collaboration, companies stand to annually save billions of dollars and cut over a hundred million tons of climate pollution by adopting this strategy.

A recent Logistics Management report–Getting From “Me” to “We”: Creating a Shared Infrastructure for Product Distribution–dug deeply into this topic too. It shared several examples of how leading companies are implementing this strategy. The example that stood out to me involved CVS, Kimberly-Clark and Colgate.

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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.

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