Retail demand for safer products is not only here to stay – it’s now a source of competition in the evolving marketplace. Amazon is the latest retailer to join Walmart, Target, CVS Health, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid by publishing a chemicals policy and a public Restricted Substances List. Amazon and several of the above-mentioned retailers represent half of the top ten retailers in the US. Amazon’s new policy is a big deal: not only is Amazon the third largest retailer by sales in the US, it is the first primarily ecommerce retailer to create a chemicals policy. Ecommerce represents a challenge in terms of implementing such a policy, but as shoppers increasingly turn to online retailers for many of their purchasing needs, this also presents a major opportunity to increase the availability of safer products.
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.”
As a kid, one of my favorite things was a Moon Cake, which I'd get to eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival in China (taking place next week). It's a day of celebrating family reunion and harvest, where the entire country throws parties, comes together and gives homage to the full moon. I’ll always jump at the opportunity to eat a Moon Cake, but this time there’s something else worth celebrating this year: the progress being made on corporate sustainability in China.
This year marks the 5th year anniversary of expanding EDF Climate Corps into China. What started as 6 fellows in 5 companies, has grown to nearly 60 fellows into over 20 companies. With that we’ve seen tens of millions of dollars in potential savings from energy efficiency improvements. But before I jump into how corporate sustainability in China has advanced, let me tell you why we made the decision to expand there.
EDF Climate Corps: welcome to China
As the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the U.S. are receiving increased attention on their cooperative efforts to save energy and curtail climate pollution. EDF has set a goal to help China with its rising CO2 emissions. So we thought: what better way to do this than enlisting the help of bright, young, talented graduate students?
In the five years since we first brought EDF Climate Corps to China, I’ve watched as the scope and breadth of projects – by both multinational and Chinese-owned companies – has evolved alongside the nation’s sustainability efforts. I’ll show you how.
The evolution of corporate sustainability in China
In our first year, the companies we worked with were for the most part after one thing: energy audit projects in factory settings. It was about plucking the low-hanging energy fruit at one specific site (upgrading lighting or air compressor systems, etc.). And I should note, it was only multinational companies we were working with – headquartered in the U.S., with factories overseas.
Fast forward to today, while factory-based energy efficiency projects are still in our pipeline, they’re no longer the main focus. More companies are making larger sustainability goals, looking to pursue projects beyond energy efficiency.
I’ve identified a few trends in China’s corporate sustainability landscape:
- Improving energy efficiency and scaling solutions. Energy efficiency remains and important and effective way to reduce carbon footprints. But instead of one-off projects, it’s about scaling opportunities both across portfolios of factories and sharing with other companies in similar industries. The results bring enormous ROI, and give a competitive advantage to companies. Pacific Market International (PMI) hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to improve the energy efficiency of one of its glass suppliers. The fellow developed an energy management strategy, which included recommendations to reduce energy use, such as optimizing washing and dying processes, that can be scaled across the entire manufacturing industry.
- Setting ambitious targets. More companies are concentrating their efforts around data collection, analysis, verification, and reporting. More data is critical for identifying reduction opportunities, managing suppliers and communicating sustainability efforts. This year, MAHLE hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow to build the framework for its first-ever sustainability report, which included specific energy reduction goals, covering categories such as: product innovation and development, energy saving and green production, employee care, and social responsibility.
- Complying with China’s environmental policies. In recent years, China’s political landscape around climate has become much more stringent, giving companies a choice: work with it, or be fined. Working with policies can reduce costs, avoid risk, demonstrate leadership, and attract stakeholders. This year, an EDF Climate Corps fellow recommended an environmental engagement plan for IKEA’s suppliers to mitigate regulatory risk – mainly around areas such as coal burning, GHG emissions, wastewater treatment, and solid waste – across its entire supply chain in China. We also hosted two webinars on environmental law interpretations and corporate compliance that garnered a lot of interest from our hosts (a recording for this year’s webinar can be found here for those that are interested in learning more).
- Adopting green supply chain initiatives. Companies are looking to reduce the emissions of their global supply chains, and they’re working with their suppliers to do so. This is true for both small and medium-sized manufactures, as well as multinationals. As part of its Project Gigaton (reducing GHG emissions in its supply chain by one gigaton), Walmart enlisted two EDF Climate Corps fellows in its Global Sourcing division to identify products that have the potential to reduce significant GHGs. Walmart now has a better understanding of what products need to be upgraded, how to reach its reduction goals and how to incentive more suppliers to participate in the effort.
As I enjoy my Moon Cake next week for this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, I'll be celebrating the long way we've come in corporate sustainability over these past five years. But, I'll also be thinking about the long road ahead of us.
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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:
Recent research on corporate sustainability indicates that companies still have a long journey ahead in order to meet their sustainability goals. Only four percent of companies recently surveyed by Bain & Company feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47% feel that they’ve failed altogether.
These numbers might seem discouraging to some, but not to me. I’ve been in the sustainability space for over five years, working primarily in supply chains, and over this time, I’ve learned that the first step to success is acknowledging where you’re starting from. I’m also encouraged by EDF+Business, which has been helping companies meet their supply chain goals for over 25 years. These numbers show me that more and more companies are doing the hard work of evaluating and reporting on their own operations and supply chains. If you’re a sustainability officer at a large multinational corporation, we know that this can be a daunting task. However, you should relish the fact that you have the opportunity to make meaningful change on a huge scale. It just takes some focus, and the right business strategy.
As a working mother, I often have to multi-task. Recently, as I watched my toddler push his food around his plate, I caught up on last week’s news that Fortune had released its annual “Change the World” list of top companies using the profit motive to help the planet and tackle social problems.
About 10 percent of this list consists of corporate leaders who are thinking critically about the challenge to feed our world in a sustainable way without destroying our planet, including companies like Kroger (#6), Walmart (#16), Tyson Foods (#44), McDonald’s (#50) and PepsiCo (#57). These companies know that a thriving community requires a fed community.
While I’m thankful to Fortune for sharing best practices from these incredible, game-changing companies, I’m also painfully aware that the corporate sector at large has a lot more work to do: a recent survey by Bain & Company found that only four percent of companies feel that they’ve succeeded in achieving their sustainability goals, while 47 percent feel that they’ve failed altogether.
Speaking as both a mother and a sustainable supply chain specialist, that’s simply not good enough. We are already facing the massive challenge of producing even more food with fewer inputs. We are already facing increasingly variable weather. And in just a few decades, our planet will be home to 2 billion more people to feed.
What’s my point? Next year, food and agriculture companies, I want to see more of you on Fortune’s list. So to help you on this quest, I’m officially issuing you a two-part challenge:
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.
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.
In a rare move by two fierce competitors, Walmart and Target brought together stakeholders from across the U.S. beauty and personal care (BPC) industry in 2014 to drive safer, more sustainable products. This was bold considering that there was no consensus on the basic definition of product sustainability in an industry estimated at over $80 billion. After three years, a core group of eighteen organizations across the BPC value chain, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), released the first science-based scorecard of 32 key performance indicators (KPIs), marking the most sweeping market demand signal for safer and more sustainable beauty and personal care products yet.
Why does this matter?
Beauty and personal care consumers increasingly care about the health and environmental impacts of the products they buy. A vast majority of 87 percent of consumers globally prefer products with “no harsh chemicals or toxins.” Millennial women are also driving demand for more sustainable products. To address this gap, Forum for the Future worked together with The Sustainability Consortium to facilitate the three year mission to “shift the beauty and personal care product sector into a more sustainable, thriving and resilient industry that serves the needs of people and planet both now and in the future.”
Last week The Home Depot published an update to their Chemical Strategy that expands their commitments to now cover household cleaning chemical products. They are asking suppliers to remove and exclude nine chemicals from these products by 2022. This commitment builds on their strategy first published in October 2017, which targeted chemicals of concern in flooring, carpet, insulation, and paints. Adding cleaning products to that portfolio builds on The Home Depot’s commitment to tackle products that impact the quality of indoor air. This commitment is important considering we spend 80% of our time indoors and many of the chemicals we are exposed to inside are linked to the development of asthma, among other health issues.
The Home Depot’s updated strategy is a move in the right direction for cleaning products. While they previously highlighted environmentally preferred products through the Eco Options® certification program, this commitment will impact all cleaning products sold in stores and online. This means more consumers will be able to bring safer products into their homes.
Retailers are increasingly aligning to eliminate or reduce these 9 harmful chemicals