A 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.
How 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
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.
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
What 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
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, 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
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.
The 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
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.
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.
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)
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.
Nestle. Unilever. Walmart. Kellogg’s. Colgate-Palmolive. What do these companies have in common? They’re just a few of the global companies that have committed publicly over the last few years to work towards ridding their supply chains of raw agricultural commodities that directly cause deforestation.
Global deforestation is responsible for roughly 12 percent of world-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC)—more than double those generated by the entire U.S. electricity sector (EIA). In addition, deforestation is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss in the world, displaces indigenous populations and can drive major regional changes in weather patterns. Agricultural production drives 85 percent of global deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists).
You may be thinking, “Why should that concern my company? We aren’t in a sector tied to agriculture or buy, sell or use commodities from countries engaged in deforestation.” That may be true if you only consider your company’s direct operations. If your company, however, produces or sells personal care or food products, or uses paper packaging, chances are high that deforestation causing commodities like soy, palm oil, timber, cattle, or derivative products of them are part of your supply chain.