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. Read more

Sustainable Supply Chains: No More Excuses

ElizabethSturcken-(2)_287x377A question for forward-thinking business executives: if you could do something that would directly reduce more than 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of water usage, and two-thirds of tropical forest loss globally… wouldn’t you do it?

The answer: yes, of course you would!  That’s why you’re forward-thinking!

That’s also why Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working in supply chains (for years) to improve the impacts of the global production and use of consumer goods.

Those impacts are huge. Really getting at them, unfortunately, has not been so easy. The excuse that we’ve heard over and over again boils down to “you can’t manage what you can’t see.”  Basically, while most companies’ impacts are in their supply chain, most businesses have very little knowledge of how those supply chains actually function.  And, the further up in the chains you go, the less visibility there is.

EDF has a lot of first-hand experience with this: after years of on-the-ground work with farmers, our Ecosystems team knows precisely how difficult it is to capture impacts at the farm level.  Despite the on-farm benefits of optimizing fertilizer use in cost savings, reduced greenhouse gases and increased water quality, fewer than 20 % of companies collect this data.

TSC2011lgHow do I know that statistic? Because The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has just released Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blind Spots to Hot Spots to Action, their first-ever impact report.  It’s full of stunning data about the huge weight that consumer goods place on people and the planet. Since it covers more than 80% of consumer goods product categories, it is the comprehensive way to understand environmental hot spots in global supply chains.

Which means the “no visibility” excuse is now officially over. Read more

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? Read more

Let's Stop Pitting In-Store vs. Online Shopping: Both Need to Up Their Sustainability

jason_mathersWe all like clear-cut, simple, black and white answers. But the world, as you well know, is a really complex place. Yet despite this general acknowledgment of complexity, we still get caught-up in simplified debates: paper vs plastic; cloth vs disposable diapers; and now shopping online vs shopping at the store.

This is not a cage match. The fact of the matter is that both shopping online and shopping at stores are here to stay. And this is a good thing. We now have more choices. Citizens and companies can leverage these choices to minimize their environmental foot print.

Into the debate mindset, Simon Property Group released an assessment, Think Before You Click: Does Shopping Behavior Impact Sustainability? Simon is a leading real estate company that owns a number of malls. It also has been a host company for EDF Climate Corps.

The paper is a valuable because it sheds light on one way people shop: buying multiple items at once and combining the shopping trip with other activities. It concludes that — in the specific scenario Simon created — shopping at the store has a lower environmental impact.

To me, the conclusion is the least insightful aspect of the study. It is not surprising that a large owner of malls would choose a scenario that highlights the attributes of shopping at malls compared to shopping online. What is most insightful to me is the attributes that determine the environmental impact. Read more

Go Farther, Faster to Cut Truck Pollution

jason_mathersThe U.S. has put in place well-designed policies to cut climate pollution, and, with adopted and proposed policies, the nation’s 2025 climate reduction goals are within reach.  However, we are not there yet, and important work remains.

Big trucks have a critical contribution to make in cutting emissions now and well into the future. Cost-effective technologies are available to significantly reduce fuel use. Conversely, if we don’t take common sense steps today to cut climate-destabilizing emissions from this sector, climate emissions are projected to rise by approximately 15 percent by 2040. This is particularly problematic when you consider that the nation must reduce carbon emissions by at least 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 to prevent severe, potentially catastrophic, levels of climate change. Without further action to cut emissions from heavy-trucks, the sector would consume nearly 40 percent of our national 2050 emissions budget – a level that is clearly not sustainable. Read more

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