Scaling for good: can McDonald's raise the bar for sustainable food?

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 ambitious, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the 10th 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.

Let’s turn back the clock to 1990. It was a milestone year for McDonald’s, as the company opened its first restaurants in Moscow, mainland China and Chile. It was also when the largest restaurant company in the world joined forces with Environmental Defense Fund to launch a groundbreaking partnership that would find ways to reduce McDonald’s solid waste. The results? $6 million in savings, more than 300 million pounds of packaging eliminated, and 1 million tons of corrugated boxes recycled.

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for McDonald’s too, with a packaging waste goal set in January and an announcement to reduce emissions across its supply chain in March. Led by Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s has raised the corporate leadership bar with these ambitious sustainability targets. But now, the difficult and complex work of meeting these goals begins.

I caught up with Francesca ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit this week to ask her about what the roadmap to meeting these goals looks like, and how they’ll collaborate with their suppliers and the industry to prioritize action on the areas where McDonald’s has the biggest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including responsible beef production

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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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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New tactics to meet 2020 deforestation goals

Over the last 15 years, an impressive number of companies have set ambitious forest targets in their supply chains. As of September 2017, more than 470 companies in the food and agriculture sector have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. The Consumer Goods Forum – a group of 400 global companies with over $3.1 trillion in assets – for example, pledged to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

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Investors: Here’s What a Sustainability Leader Looks Like

I spend my days thinking about how companies can use their market power to improve our environment and health. Companies are motivated to lead on sustainability for a number of reasons including cost savings, risk management and improved reputation. Additionally, the stakeholders companies most want to impress are their customers and shareholders, which studies show care deeply when it comes to sustainability. In fact, in a 2017 Morgan Stanley survey, 75 percent of investors said they are interested in sustainable investing and 71 percent believe companies with leading sustainability practices may be better long-term investments. Given this, companies are increasingly talking about their sustainability efforts.

An example of such a company is Walmart, who recently hosted its annual shareholder meetings in the form of a formal business meeting and an event for associates and shareholders. As a sustainability professional, I was pleased to see both meetings highlight sustainability as a key strategy for Walmart moving forward.

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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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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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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. 

Now trending in global business: collective action on deforestation

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.

While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.

Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:

A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020. 

Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.

A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.

The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.

Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!

Deforestation_in_Panama

Two initiatives… powerful trends

So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?

  1. Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Deforestation contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
  1. Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.

  1. There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.

But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.

Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.

 

 

Less-Risky Business: Turning Deforestation Commitments into Action

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

Deforestation in Brazil

Deforestation in Brazil

Increasingly, major companies are seeing forest protection as a key component of their global strategy. However, many companies have yet to identify the concrete action steps to fulfill these goals.

Why not? Most likely because the agricultural landscape is complicated.

Major food retailers illustrate perfectly the complexities of the modern agricultural supply chain. These international corporations are tasked with managing a complex supply web of beef, coffee, soy, and other products that spans continents. Increasingly, the environmental impacts of these commodities cannot be viewed in isolation.

In Brazil, for instance, research suggests that increased demand for soy has pushed cattle ranching onto less productive land within the Amazon. While the cattle ranchers may be directly responsible for deforestation, the ultimate driver is the soy demand. On top of that, production of palm oil, another priority product for many consumer goods companies, is expected to more than double in the Amazon biome over the next decade.

So— how can a company ensure they are sourcing sustainable commodities without destroying the rainforest in the process? Read more

Less-Risky Business: 5 Reasons Companies Should Fight Deforestation

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

forest-lossOver the last 12 months, we’ve seen a number of companies commit to reducing deforestation in their supply chain. At last count, 273 companies have made some sort of deforestation pledge across a multitude of agricultural commodities.

Yet, we often find ourselves questioning the sincerity of these claims. Are these companies simply trying to save face? Surely any action to avoid deforestation will be costly, and companies aren’t known for taking on added expenses voluntarily. So what’s in it for them?

The answer: a lot. Here are the top 5 factors that catalyze corporate leaders into taking global forest loss seriously: Read more