Members of the Forum, which include top multinationals in the consumer goods industry like Unilever, Pepsico and General Mills, pledged to halve food waste in all retail and manufacturing operations by 2025.
At the start of the summit, the CGF Board, which comprises 50 global CEOs, met to discuss ways they could pool their talents to reduce their collective impact — and food waste took center stage.
“We’re always looking at areas where we can add unique value by bringing manufacturers and retailers together and by being global,” Peter Freedman, managing director of the Consumer Goods Forum, told TriplePundit in an exclusive interview. “[It struck] these particular members that working collaboratively [and] globally on a topic like food waste actually has huge value.”
Before announcing the decision to a room full of industry leaders, stakeholders and journalists, Freedman addressed the move through the lens of consumer trust — a fitting reference given the theme of the summit, “Trust as a Foundation for Growth.”
“If you read the latest news items, you might conclude that trust is under threat,” he posited. “You can view this as a problem or as an opportunity to be at this lead table, and we hope to engage the broader community in [the latter].”
The food waste move is the third resolution of the CGF’s Sustainability Pillar. It complements Board-approved resolutions made in 2010 on achieving zero net deforestation and beginning the phase-out of hydro fluorocarbon refrigerants. Read on to see what the leading consumer goods companies are doing to drive change in the industry.
Freedman underscored that the food waste resolution is still in its infancy. For each new resolution, members begin by setting a clear benchmark — in this case, to halve food waste across their supply chains by 2025 — and devise a way to track progress over time. Industry leaders, such as U.K. retailers Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, will share best practices with fellow members to help the group achieve its goal, Freedman said.
“In a sense, this is sort of the easy part, which is making the resolution, but there are a lot of industry talk-shops that do that,” he told us. “What we do is follow through.”
As a secondary goal, CGF members have committed to support United Nations Development Goals around food waste, which call for halving all food waste by 2030 — including waste that happens upstream and in the home. This goal, of course, will be more difficult to quantify and achieve, Freedman said.
“The first part, we’re in control of. It’s measurable: clear target, clear goal, clear end-date of 2025,” he explained. “The second one … is harder. So, we position it as we’re going to help, support and contribute to the achievement of halving total food waste. Of course we can’t control what’s in the home, but we can help educate [consumers].”
The announcement has potential for serious impact: If food waste were a country, its carbon footprint would be third only to China and the U.S. Annual food waste also costs the global economy $750 billion annually, while millions around the world go hungry.
As Mark Bolland, CGF Board member and CEO of Marks & Spencer, put it: “A third of all calories produced are not eaten. What kind of world is that?”
Bolland doubled-down on the strength of industry-wide collaboration, by simply saying M&S will “share everything we know” about its successful waste reduction strategies.
Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s clearly a global issue — putting it right in CGF’s wheelhouse. The Forum’s deforestation commitment, which calls on member companies to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020, is the group’s most advanced resolution so far.
The Forum aims to achieve its goal through the responsible sourcing of key commodities: soy, palm oil, paper and pulp, and beef. To drive implementation, CGF established a number of working groups, each with a focus on a specific commodity.
In March 2013, it published the Activation Toolkit, a document designed as a “how-to” to help companies address deforestation. It published the Pulp, Paper & Packaging Sourcing Guidelines in June 2013 and in August 2014 the Sustainable Soy Sourcing Guidelines. Along with the food waste initiative, CGF also announced the publication of its Palm Oil Sourcing Guidelines at this year’s Summit.
With regards to palm oil, Freedman said the CGF is “pleased” with its progress so far, adding that 80 percent of the palm oil its members purchase is sustainably sourced. “Really the last 20 percent is probably the hardest,” he added, “so we’re certainly not declaring victory.”
The use of hydro fluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants is a known contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. But the scope of those emissions may still come as a surprise.
The impact of refrigerants “is as big as airplanes … actually, it’s even bigger,” Mark Bolland, CEO of Marks & Spencer, said at the CGF Global Summit. This is because HFC emissions are 1,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
“HFCs represent 1.5 percent of total warming potential today and are expected to increase to 6 to 9 percent of total GHG by 2050 unless action is taken,” the CGF said in its Refrigerant Pillar overview.
To address the problem, the CGF Board passed its refrigerant resolution in 2010, calling on member companies to begin phasing out HFC refrigerants this year in favor of natural refrigerant alternatives. Leading CGF companies are already running trials on non-HFC refrigerants and making moves to bring natural refrigeration to scale.
Bolland implored business leaders at the Global Summit to begin similar trials. With industry-wide collaboration, he said, CGF members can drastically reduce refrigeration impact in as little as 5 years.
Reducing impact, establishing trust
The evolution from an emphasis on sustainability to trust is a logical one given members’ commitments to reduce impact across supply chains.
The next step is asking questions like: How can I help others in the industry achieve similar goals? How can I communicate my achievements to consumers in a way that boosts loyalty and brand value?
In a recent survey of 539 consumer industry executives, conducted by KPMG and the Consumer Goods Forum, two-thirds of respondents said they viewed CSR and sustainability investments as a “key part of building trust in their brand.” So, clearly this is something executives are thinking about. And the broader business case — recognizing the value in initiatives that tackle global problems — will likely prove to be the catalyst that brings solutions to scale.
Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle, summed it up best in his introductory remarks: “Trust is the foundation on which we all exist. We cannot claim trust. We have to earn it.”
Image credits: 1) Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture 2) Consumer Goods Forum