By Natasha Geiling
1 October 2015
(ClimateProgress) – On Thursday, ten leaders from some of the world’s biggest food companies urged Congress to support a strong global agreement on climate action, in advance of the U.N. climate talks happening in Paris this December.
In a letter published in both the Washington Post and Financial Times, the chief executives from Mars, General Mills, Unilever, Kellogg, Nestle, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm, and Dannon asked U.S. and global leaders to “meaningfully address the reality of climate change.”
“The challenge presented by climate change will require all of us — government, civil society and business — to do more with less. For companies like ours, that means producing more food on less land using fewer natural resources. If we don’t take action now, we risk not only today’s livelihoods, but those of future generations,” the letter reads. “We are asking you to embrace the opportunity presented to you in Paris, and to come back with a sound agreement, properly financed, that can affect real change.”
The letter comes at a time when corporations are ramping up their own sustainability goals — just last week, Nike, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Voya Financial all committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. But at a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill Thursday, sustainability representatives from many of the food companies represented in the letter urged their industry to go farther than just internal sustainability commitments.
“The reality is, Unilever can hit all its goals and it won’t make a difference, alone, in and of itself,” Tom Langan, external affairs director at Unilever, said during the roundtable. “We need to work together. We need governments to be involved.”
The roundtable was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Chris Gibson (R-NY). In his opening remarks, Whitehouse commented on the “historic” nature of the event, noting that it was the first time in a very long time that a Democratic elected official and a Republican elected official had sat side-by-side and spoken publicly about the challenges of climate change. He also noted that the food companies’ willingness to push for climate action outside of their own operations marked a change in how businesses are reacting to climate change.
“For a long time the corporate community has seen it as their role to reduce their carbon footprint, but quietly — don’t talk about it and whatever you do, don’t lobby on it. I see that changing,” Whitehouse said, adding that he hoped that Paris’ December negotiations would result in “a signed international agreement among major corporations.” [more]
WASHINGTON DC, 1 October 2015 – With key international climate negotiations fast approaching in Paris, the chief executive officers of Mars, Incorporated, General Mills, Unilever, Kellogg Company, Nestlé USA, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and Dannon USA today released a joint letter to U.S. and world leaders pledging to accelerate business action on climate change and urging governments to do the same by forging a robust international agreement this December.
Coordinated by the nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization Ceres, the letter was spotlighted today at a bipartisan, bicameral briefing on climate change in Washington, D.C. featuring a half-dozen food company executives. The briefing was sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY).
“Climate change is bad for farmers and agriculture. Drought, flooding, and hotter growing conditions threaten the world’s food supply and contribute to food insecurity,” states the letter, which will appear in today’s Washington Post and Financial Times. “As world leaders convene in Paris you will have an opportunity to take action on climate change that could significantly change our world for the better.”
“It’s extraordinary to see these iconic food companies, many of which are long-standing competitors, unite at this pivotal moment to urge our political leaders to act swiftly and decisively on global warming, which poses a direct threat to global food supplies,” said Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres.
CEO signatories pledged to boost their companies’ sustainability efforts, to advocate achievable, enforceable science-based carbon reduction targets, and to share their best practices to encourage other companies to join their effort.
Mars President & CEO Grant Reid said, “As a society we face immense challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and deforestation. We cannot stand back and simply accept these things as they are. We’re calling on the business community and global leaders to work together to set a new way forward. We can, and must, do more.”
“Climate change is a shared, global challenge that is best addressed at scale,” added Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills. “To reduce emission levels, we must work across our collective value chains with growers, suppliers, customers, peer companies, government leaders and industry partners. Together, we will identify new solutions and promote sustainable agriculture practices that drive emission reductions.”
Companies signing the letter are members of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of companies working with policymakers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. It is the first time these businesses have publicly united on the need for a strong global climate deal at the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as “COP21.” Governments of more than 190 nations will meet in Paris this December at COP21 to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change aimed at keeping global warming below the 2°C threshold.
The most recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that climate change is already cutting into global food supplies and is contributing to price spikes and social unrest in various regions of the world. The rate of increase in crop yields is slowing, especially for wheat, which is sensitive to changes in heat. By 2030 negative impacts are expected across a wide spectrum of crops in both arid and non-arid regions. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price rises of between 3% and 84% by 2050, according to the IPCC.
“The debate in Congress on climate change has been filled for too long with misinformation and partisan talking points,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Today marks an important shift, as both Democrats and Republicans come together to listen to major food and beverage companies discuss how they are adapting to this global threat. I hope we will be able to build on today’s discussion and begin working toward bipartisan climate solutions in Congress.”
“Environmental stewardship through public-private cooperation is critical to the long term success of our nation as well as the stability and health of our global and regional environments,” said Congressman Chris Gibson (NY-19). “It is a privilege to join with business leaders from across the country and globe in this discussion to explore ways forward on this issue.”
Many of the companies have set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and driving sustainable sourcing in their supply chains. Mars, Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have each pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy across their operations, through RE100, a global initiative to engage, support and showcase influential companies committed to using 100 percent renewable power that now involves more than 30 companies globally. Additionally:
- Mars has set numerical, science-based goals to steer its sustainability programs, including the effort to eliminate all fossil fuel use from its operations by 2040. The company is on track to achieve a 25 percent reduction in its carbon emissions by the end of 2015, in comparison to 2007. Mars recently invested in a 211-megawatt wind power farm in Texas that completely offsets all of the electricity used by its U.S. operations
- Launched in 2010, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan aims to decouple the company's growth from environmental impact. Unilever has set a goal to halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of its products across the lifecycle by 2020. Its approach focuses on five areas: (1) acting on climate change by eliminating deforestation, (2) innovating products that use less GHG-intensive materials and that help consumers save energy in use, (3) reducing emissions in manufacturing and pursuing energy efficiency in factories and offices, (4) reducing transport emissions in distribution operations, and (5) moving to renewable energy and more sustainable forms of biofuels.
- Nestlé has set targets to reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions per ton of product by 35 percent since 2005, by 2015.
- General Mills recently announced a commitment to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent across its full value chain – from farm to fork to landfill – over the next 10 years. The commitment was calculated using science-based methodology to achieve a level of emission reductions that science suggests is necessary to sustain the health of the planet.
- Kellogg Company’s comprehensive 2020 Sustainability goals include expanding use of low-carbon energy in its plants by 50 percent and reducing energy and GHG emissions in our plants by an additional 15 percent (per metric tonne of food produced) from 2015 performance.
“Kellogg Company understands that in order to meet the food needs of a growing world population, we must be proactive in addressing climate change,” said John Bryant, Chairman and CEO, Kellogg Company. “That starts with our farmers, extends through our entire supply chain, and includes collaborative efforts with our peers, such as this critical, joint call to action.”
“Global weather patterns affect crop yields, water availability and infrastructure integrity. These changes impact the business we do every day as well as the work of farmers, suppliers and distributors across our vast network of partners," said Paul Grimwood, Chairman and CEO, Nestlé USA. "Nestlé intends to flourish for at least another 150 years, and we believe tackling climate change is key to a healthy planet and healthy people.”
“The cruel irony of climate change is that people in the developing world, many of whom grow the ingredients we use in our products, are the least able to adapt to climate change and will pay the steepest price for a problem they had no part in creating,” said Ben and Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim. “Today’s statement signals that our industry is committed to working towards solutions that deliver a stable climate and ensure the future success of our businesses and the communities around the world that supply them.”
“Bold action on climate change is urgently needed and simply makes good business sense,” said Paul Polman, Chief Executive, Unilever. “We are deepening our efforts to create transformational change to eliminate deforestation and working to lower our greenhouse gas impact. Businesses have a responsibility to act but we can’t do it alone. Consistent and credible government policy signals are essential, which is why we are urging political leaders to take action.”
Ceres is a nonprofit organization mobilizing business leadership on climate change, water scarcity and other global sustainability challenges. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of more than 110 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $13 trillion. Ceres also directs BICEP, an advocacy coalition of 36 businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. For more information, visit http://www.ceres.org or follow on Twitter @CeresNews.