Mars Inc., the US$33 billion dollar company known for chocolate but also a huge global player in prepared foods, pet care and beverages, has announced what it says is a more aggressive policy towards addressing deforestation within its beef, soy and paper supply chains. Last week’s announcement is a follow up to the company’s deforestation agenda that it made a year ago.
The change is important because deforestation is the cause from 15 to 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—in addition to its effects on water security, biodiversity and economic disruption for the world’s poorest people. The demand for paper products is one part of the problem, but the world’s growing appetite for protein, notably beef and soy, are the biggest reasons behind deforestation. Meanwhile companies are scrambling to create more rigorous deforestation policies as consumers become more interested in how their favorite products are manufactured and sourced. To that end, Mars has set some goals on how it sources some of its most important raw materials over the next several years.
Rising demand for soy has led to the conversion of more forests into farmland. Currently 70 to 75 percent of the world’s soy supply comes from the Americas. More soy exports from South America to China has boosted the economies of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay—the Rio Plata between Buenos Aires and Montevideo becomes a traffic jam of freight ships full of soy after it is harvested throughout this region. But the cultivation of soy has also transformed Brazil’s savanna-like cerrado and rain forests into vast swaths of farmland. To that end, Mars promises that by 2018, all of its soy purchased from Brazil will adhere to the Brazil Forest Code—though environmentalists will point out this 50-year-old law all too rarely results in enforcement and persecution.
Related to soy cultivation is beef production, which has also seen a massive increase in Brazil. Over the past decade Brazilian beef herds have increased by one-fourth while beef production has surged by almost 40 percent. Mars has stated that before 2018, beef from Brazil will only be sourced from providers who do not purchase cattle that grazed on what had been primary forest clearing in the Amazon Biome. Again, Mars is relying on that pesky Brazil Forest Code as it asks all of its suppliers to trace where they procure all of the raw materials by mid-2016.
Packaging is a big part of any food company’s supply chain, and Mars promises improvement on this front as well. The company says it will only use virgin paper products sourced from traceable origins by the end of 2016. Before 2021, Mars says it will only use paper products from certified, verified or recycled sources. Full supply chain traceability should be possible by the end of 2016.
Some environmentalists may roll their eyes at these promises, especially considering the ongoing problem over deforestation in Brazil and its government’s slow and often disinterested response to addressing this huge problem. Mars may also appear too cautious with the speed at which these changes are occurring, but cleaning up any supply chain the size of Mars’ is a gargantuan task. With its movement on issues including sustainable palm oil, however, Mars has shown that it is one of the more responsible companies within its space. If everything goes as planned and promised this decade, Mars could become a leading example of how self-regulation can not only enhance its reputation, but save the company money as well. Despite the ongoing collapse of the cost of oil, the world’s raw materials will only continue to increase in price this coming decade–being more responsible and sustainable is the only smart business choice.
Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Image credit: Mars Inc.