Four New Ways Food Companies Are Tackling Climate Change And Three Ideas To Help Them Do Even Better

The food and beverage industry has come a long way in recent months. Here’s how companies can keep up momentum.

When world leaders gather for Ban-Ki Moon’s UN Climate Summit in New York this week, leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies will also be at the table. Increasingly, we’re seeing all kinds of companies play a role as partners in action on climate change—including food companies, whose supplies and business are greatly affected by global shifts in weather.

In fact, the food and beverage industry has sure come a long way on climate change over the course of the past few months. Not only did Oxfam celebrate big wins on our climate campaign over the summer, with General Mills and Kellogg both agreeing to industry-leading steps to meaningfully cut greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains and engage in climate advocacy, but we’re seeing momentum in all sorts of places:

  1. The Consumer Goods Forum released a statement in June calling on “heads of state across the world to engage and act with determination, leadership and ambition to secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.”
  2. Companies like Mars continue to adopt more sustainable policies with aggressive timelines to source fully traceable, deforestation free palm oil and to apply these policies across key commodities in their supply chains.
  3. More companies, the most recent being PepsiCo, are signing on to the Climate Declaration and Trillion Tonne Communiqué, both of which are pushing governments and other sectors to do more to tackle the growing climate crisis.
  4. Companies like Unilever continue to take leadership in pushing forward important new statements and initiatives, such as the New York Forests Declaration, that are driving government actors to be more ambitious in their deforestation goals.  Unilever also made an impressive commitment to source 100% on-site renewable energy in their US operations.

This momentum is fantastic and signals that the food and beverage industry is willing to step up in a leadership role on climate in new ways that will push the political agenda and level of ambition. Here are a few ways that I think individual companies, and the industry as a whole, can keep leading on climate:

  1. First, some key companies are lagging behind when it comes to getting their own house in order regarding greenhouse gas emissions. While Mars is strong when it comes to addressing emissions in their own operations and even committing to phasing fossil fuels out entirely by 2040, they have fallen short on addressing agricultural GHG emissions which is the single largest source of emissions in their supply chain. They can do better. Danone is in a similar position as a company that’s strong on climate change but could do more to address greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from dairy, which is by far the biggest commodity in their supply chain.  Mondelez recently came out with an important palm oil and deforestation policy. But the company can and should do more to engage and advocate on climate change and they absolutely need to strengthen their emissions reduction targets as consistent with climate science and address agricultural emissions in their supply chain.  Associated British Foods is falling behind the rest of the pack on all of the aforementioned policy and advocacy points and the company doesn’t even disclose their “Scope 3” emissions, including those associated with upstream agriculture.
  2. Second, only a few companies have demonstrated leadership when it comes to phasing out fossil fuels from their operations and sourcing new, sustainable clean energy. These are great commitments, but the rest of the industry is lagging behind. More companies need to be sending a signal to the market that it’s time to shift away from fossil fuels. And they should be calling on governments to adopt policies that do the same.
  3. Finally, companies need to bind together in tackling the flip side of the coin – adaptation, or climate resilience as we like to call it. Kellogg made a big step in agreeing to adopt an adaptation strategy that addresses the needs of smallholders in their supply chain. All companies should be doing this and should be calling on governments to adequately finance adaptation needs in developing countries.

It’s a critical moment. Let’s keep riding this wave through 2015 and beyond.

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