Taken on Nov. 19, 2018 from my San Francisco apartment rooftop
I have helped Walmart, Starbucks and other companies get started with sustainability. I can help you too, using all the lessons I’ve learned from them.
I don’t want to sound like just another environmentalist waving my hands, jumping up and down that we need to act to reverse climate change NOW. The truth is simply this: I know it can be done, sustainability targets create business value and companies stand to lose big financially if they don’t act.
Oh what a week it has been!
Trying to turn away from the political polarization and fracturing civility in this country, I looked elsewhere in the news and found something even worse…dire warnings for our planet.
Two reports in the news this week ring the alarm bell on climate change. The first report is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries. As the New York Times reports, it “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.”
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
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.