Walmart, Target and McDonald’s Catalyze Sustainability. Join them.

By: Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business Supply Chain, Environmental Defense Fund and Sheila Bonini, Senior Vice President, Private Sector Engagement, WWF – World Wildlife Fund

Imagine, for a moment, what it would mean if the world’s biggest brands couldn’t access the key ingredients for their products. What if Starbucks had trouble sourcing coffee? What if Coca-Cola couldn’t access water? As the predicted effects of a changing climate such as droughts and rising temperatures become a reality, these “what if” questions raise serious concerns for global supply chains.

Such issues were foundational for last week’s Walmart Milestone sustainability summit at the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Our two NGOs work with Walmart as it pushes to fulfill its ambitious climate commitments.

One of those is Project Gigaton, which in its two-year lifespan has avoided 93 million metric tons of emissions toward the one billion ton goal. It may be the company’s most ambitious sustainability initiative, and we — along with dozens of other advocacy groups — have taken a keen interest in this initiative.

Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Based on what we’ve seen this week, we’re feeling hopeful. For example, just yesterday, Walmart announced that over 1,000 suppliers have signed onto Project Gigaton. In addition, Walmart Canada announced that it will join Project Gigaton, bringing with it the next influx of suppliers.

This is significant progress, and it’s no secret why it’s happening. Walmart and those suppliers who have joined Project Gigaton recognize that environmental sustainability is good for both the planet and business bottom lines in the form of cost savings, risk reduction and resiliency. As a bonus, they are seeing increasing approval from customers, employees and shareholders.

However, for all that promise, the numbers for the larger world of business tell a more worrisome story. While nearly 50% of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy goal, according to WWF’s calculations, only five % have goals on the scale science says is needed.

Sheila Bonini, Senior VP, Private Sector Engagement, WWF

To truly face this challenge head-on, we need to pick up the pace.

So, corporate leaders, if your company has been sitting on the sidelines, start your sustainability journey now. If you’re one of the forward-thinkers that is already in the sustainability game, act faster and go bigger! Planning for “what ifs” starts by fully leading on sustainability and climate change.

Corporate sustainability leadership includes setting ambitious goals, collaborating to reach scale, supporting smart public policy and accelerating environmental innovation. Here are our best practices for your sustainability journey:

  1. Set ambitious goals

Whether your company is working on setting its second or third generation sustainability goals or setting a goal for the first time let science be your guide.

A recent United Nations report, written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries, explains why this is necessary. The report found that carving out a safer and more prosperous future means keeping global warming to 1.5 °C.

If we’re to succeed in this momentous challenge, corporate sustainability goals need to consider this science when setting goals. Here are three examples of companies with science-based goals:

    • Target just announced that it is setting new climate goals, reducing its own emissions 30 percent by 2030 and also requiring that 80 percent of its suppliers set science-based reduction targets by 2023. This is a huge move to address the full range of emissions that are generated by the stores, trucks and products that it sells.
    • Last year, McDonald’s announced its own science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain, restaurants and offices, a first for a major restaurant company. As part of this target, McDonald’s is engaging its supply chain in areas where it has the biggest impact and opportunity, including the beef that goes into its burgers and other ingredients. McDonald’s is also engaging its franchisees to reduce emissions at the restaurants.
    • Walmart was the first retailer to set a supply chain carbon reduction goal, which it exceeded in 2015. That early success inspired Walmart to launch the Project Gigaton.

If you are a Walmart supplier and you haven’t joined Project Gigaton, what are you waiting for? Sign up today in one of the six key areas: energy, waste, packaging, agriculture, forests and product use. If you are a supplier to Target, you should set a science-based target as a part of the Science Based Target initiative in line with a 1.5°C future.

  1. Collaborate for scale

Setting goals is one thing; reaching them is another.

To reach truly ambitious goals requires collaborating with others, both inside and outside the private sector. Cities, states, businesses and universities will need to find new ways of working together to usher in the rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land and urban infrastructure and industrial systems. This is starting to happen, including through coalitions like We Are Still In and others in key countries around the world.

Collaborative, systematic approaches like these are happening in specific sectors as well:

    • Energy: like-minded companies are working to get more renewable energy into the grid companies by joining the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance or RE100. Microsoft is a great example of a company working to get more renewables on the grid for everyone.
    • Deforestation: the “jurisdictional approach” involves companies working together with NGOs and governments on the ground where deforestation is happening to catalyze green economic growth. At last year’s Global Climate Action Summit, Walmart announced its plan to help connect suppliers to jurisdictional initiatives as part of Project Gigaton.

It’s important to note that collaborating for scale can only happen after sustainability action comes from leadership at the top. This can be accomplished by putting sustainability directly into the core business functions.

How can you put sustainability at the heart of your business?

    • Start by zeroing in on your operations such as your trucking fleet, the purchasing of energy (e.g., aim to go 100 percent renewable), how you run your factories or make products (e.g., designing them to eliminate negative impact).
    • Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory and target your biggest impact areas. For example, if you are a food and agriculture company, focusing on your energy use is not good enough you need to address your impacts at the farm-level. The Sustainability Consortium’s toolkits can help you understand the hot spots in consumer product supply chains and to query your supply chain.
    • Consider incentives for business units to reduce their footprint or creating an internal price on carbon to drive healthy competition in the race to cut emissions and save money.
    • Check out the Supply Chain Solutions Center, a one-stop-shop for tailored help, no matter where you are on the journey.
  1. Advocate for smart environmental policy

“It’s no longer enough to reduce, or even eliminate, the greenhouse gas emissions in one’s operations and supply chain,” said Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group in a new report by EDF. “Today, leadership companies are those that speak up and speak out in favor of ambitious climate policies, and companies will increasingly be held accountable on that score.”

Leadership on sustainability requires engaging in public policy an ingredient that is missing from leading sustainability rankings. Sustainability programs and policy advocacy on climate need to be aligned.

Changing the policies that shape the geographies where your company operates is a key element to addressing those “what ifs.”

Additionally, company lobbying should be in line with a company’s work on sustainability. That means working with your trade associations to ensure they represent your views on climate action, speaking out publicly when they don’t and leaving those associations that lobby against strong climate policies.

  1. Innovate, measure your progress and report results

Business as usual will not solve our biggest “what if” questions. Business leaders must accelerate environmental innovation. Disruptive technologies give business leaders a chance to scale solutions to their companies’ most urgent environmental challenges.

Once companies have made progress on sustainability goals, leadership also requires the transparent reporting of results. Reporting publicly to CDP is a good step. An additional level of credibility comes from third-party verification of results.

A focus on driving environmental results while achieving business wins sparks progress. And, companies need to engage in continual improvement. The earth doesn’t stand still and neither should business in responding to protect it.

In this time when our federal government has walked away from tackling climate change, it’s up to every single company to act now, with speed and scale.

So apply now to be a corporate climate leader. It’s the smart, long-term play for your company. All of us your customers, employees and shareholders will thank you.

This was originally posted on GreenBiz.

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