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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Talking sustainability, soup and stout with Campbell’s Dave Stangis

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 fourth 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.

Dave Stangis has dedicated over three decades of his career to steering sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts at two iconic American companies, Intel and Campbell Soup Company. As Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell, Dave has built the company’s reputation for setting a high bar on sustainability and corporate responsibility in the food industry. Case in point: Campbell was recognized as a top corporate citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine for the eighth consecutive year.

Campbell set an ambitious goal to cut the environmental footprint of its product portfolio in half by 2020, which entails reducing energy use by 35 percent, recycling 95 percent of its global waste stream, and sourcing 40 percent of the company’s electricity from renewable or alternative energy sources.

I recently spoke with Dave to learn about his approach to setting big sustainability goals, the role of technology and innovation in building a more sustainable food system, and which kind of beer goes best with a bowl of soup. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

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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. 

Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?

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

How Campbells is Helping to Make Sustainable Growing the New Normal

There’s a lot of momentum in the sustainable agriculture world. We helped Walmart discover that fertilizer runoff is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, and they’re now working with suppliers to improve the way grain is grown across the U.S. That’s because half of all fertilizer applied to crops runs off the field, leading to water pollution, aquatic dead zones that kill marine life, and contributing to climate change – since the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff converts to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Major food companies are also recognizing that increased weather variability from climate change can cause supply chain disruptions, that their customers are demanding transparency for how their food was grown, and that it’s in their best interest to meet retailers’ demands for sustainably grown grain.

Campbells

That’s why Campbell’s Soup has focused on growing its vegetables as sustainably as possible, and why its Pepperidge Farm subsidiary is now investing in wheat sustainability in their Ohio and Nebraska sourcing areas.

My colleague Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at EDF, recently interviewed Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to get his take on this unprecedented momentum. Below are the highlights of their conversation on why his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, what they’re hearing from customers, and about why sustainable grain is becoming the new normal. Read more

Why Unsustainable Agriculture is a Business Risk

Business driving sustainable agricultureWhat comes to mind when you think of sustainable food production? If you’re like many Americans, you probably picture a local farmer’s market, celebrity-branded salad dressing or an organic farmer growing heirloom lettuces and free-range chickens.

Now, what comes to mind when you think of industrial food production? Do you envision acres of conventionally grown corn stretching as far as the eye can see? Giant feed lots? Factories that process food into “center aisle” products for the supermarket?

When we think about sustainable food production, most people don’t think about solutions coming from Big Business. Yet corporations have the potential to become our biggest ally in meeting SDG 12, the sustainability development goal set forth by the United Nations to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030.

Here’s why Read more

Sustainability and Profitability Go Hand-in-Hand, Says Iowa Corn Farmer

Farming is a tough business.  With constantly changing crop prices, difficult to predict and increasingly extreme weather variations, and changing consumer demands, growers don’t have an easy time of it.

Like any business, profitability is the number one priority. And it should be – if you are not profitable, it’s very hard to stay in business.

All the growers I’ve worked with care deeply about their land. In a recent survey of a group of Midwestern farmers, “land stewardship” ranked as their top value.  And sustainability is in a farmers’ best interest since healthy lands plays a huge role in whether farms will be around – and productive – for the next generation. But making agriculture truly sustainable will require investment from farmers.

Here’s the good news: sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand. Efficiencies like fertilizer optimization can result in cost savings. And with those savings, growers can invest in new technologies and cover crops, which can help make farms more resilient and increase yields, generating long term economic gain.

tim-richter-saratoga-partnership

Tim Richter, owner of Saratoga Partnership

I asked Tim Richter, owner of a swine and corn farm operation spanning 9,000 acres in northern Iowa and Missouri, to tell me his profitability and sustainability story. Read more

It Can(‘t) Be Done

I recently read the inspiring story of how Farmers Electric Cooperative, one of the smallest utilities in the country, overcame some formidable financing challenges to develop the biggest commercial solar project in Iowa.

Rock-uphillThe example called to mind a comment made by Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple and former Administrator of the U.S. EPA, during the closing plenary of GreenBiz’s VERGE conference earlier this fall. She told the audience that, at Apple, the best way to get something done was to say “it can’t be done.”

This idea, of conquering seemingly impossible obstacles, is one I’ve seen reflected in a number of new advances in corporate sustainability, including many discussed at the conference and others from our own work. Each demonstrates how entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) are harnessing major environmental and social challenges to create real solutions: Read more

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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