The road to sustainable business now passes through a glass tunnel called “Transparency.” Consumers exercise their singular, unequivocal influence: their ability to choose the company that not only creates, markets and sells a product that is to their liking, but does so in a manner that is consistent with their values. And here, in this land of “innocent until proven guilty,” companies know that if they don’t “take the tunnel,” it will be assumed that they have something to hide. This, in turn, leads to action which ensures that there is some good news to report. Thus we progress, however slowly, towards a more sustainable society.
Last week, Nestlé in the United States, parent company to Nestlé USA, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, Nestlé Waters North America, Nestlé Nutrition and Nestlé Professional, reported for the first time, their environmental metrics for the preceding year. Greenhouse gas emissions were flat in absolute terms, though given an increase in production volume this represents a six percent reduction in GHG emissions per unit of product, compared to the previous year. This translates into a rate of 35.4 kg of CO2 per ton of product. There are no comparable metrics available for a company as diverse as this one, involved in essentially light industry, except its own prior performance. Heavy industries, like cement or steel might emit something on the order of 70 times this amount per unit of production.
The conglomerate’s water usage rose by 2.1 percent in absolute terms, though, once again, thanks to increased production, there was a 2% reduction on a per unit of output.
The company’s bottled water subsidiary, Nestlé Waters North America, whose sustainability chief, Michael Washburn, I interviewed in a three-part series back in March, had a slightly more impressive 2.2% reduction (over the past five years) in the face of a 27% production volume increase.
If this doesn’t convince you that the company is at least trying to clean up their act, maybe you should check out Nestle Nutrition’s gerber.com where they give, among other things, breastfeeding tips (though there are still those boycotting the company because of it’s predatory advertising tactics for baby formula).
Still there is plenty of room for improvement. Water discharge rates increased by 5.5% over the previous year and on-site energy consumption also increased from 18.7 to 19.4 quadrillion joules per year, a 4% jump, in spite of rising energy prices.
Their 12-page report Creating Shared Value is long on photos and upbeat stories and a bit short on hard statistics, though, admittedly, that makes it a little easier to read.
A few highlights include:
- 14 LEED certified buildings
- Packaging reductions
- 725,000 pounds annually for Juicy Juice
- 588,000 pounds annually for infant foods and drinks
- 30,000 trees saved through the use of smaller labels
- Various community initiatives including:
- Healthy Steps For Healthy Lives – nutrition education
- Feeding America – food banks
- Keep America Beautiful – recycling
- Project Wet – water education
These efforts by the company to “do the right thing,” are clearly tied to the increased awareness level of readers like you who demand accountability from the companies you do business with.
Back in April I issued a challenge to the bottled water companies, to bridge the gap, which they claimed does not exists, between bottled water sales and public water infrastructure, by contributing a few pennies from every bottle sold towards a municipal grant program.
“I have thought a lot about water and the way it comes down in billions of individually insignificant raindrops, which then pool together, moving from high ground to lower ground, filling reservoirs and lakes and providing us with life. I would like to challenge these companies to mimic nature, by substituting pennies–even one penny for every bottle sold—for raindrops, allowing them to accumulate into a fund that can be used to assist municipalities with their water systems. The program can be administered as a challenge grant program, with proceeds given to the most worthy applicants, much as IBM has done with their Smarter Cities program.”
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.