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Raz Godelnik headshot

Mars Shares the Latest Innovation in CSR Reporting: A Facebook App

Mars always seems to be one or two steps ahead of other confectioners. For example, while Hershey’s committed only last week that 100 percent of its cocoa will be from certified sources by 2020, Mars made the same commitment three years ago.

Mars was also the first in its industry to set up goals like sourcing 100 percent of its fish and seafood products from sustainable sources (by 2020). It’s actually not that surprising coming from a company whose objective to "create a mutuality of benefits for all stakeholders" was defined by its founder back in 1947.

Yet, even with such a heritage, it was eye-opening to learn that of all companies, Mars, a $30 billion company, selling confectionery, pet food, and other food products worldwide, is the first one to launch their CSR report in a Facebook Reader. The company did it last week, enabling Facebook users to easily read and share the highlights of the report without leaving the social network.

This app is part of a wider trend we see among companies working to integrate their CSR report with social media channels and new digital formats to make the reports more accessible for people who are not CSR report junkies, i.e. 99 percent of humanity. So you have companies like  Intel making its report more "snackable" by posting stories on issues from the report on its blog, AMD offering a tablet app, Danisco publishing its report on Slideshare, Alcatel-Lucent using Scribd and now Mars, joining the field with its new Facebook app.

Of course, no matter how up-to-date the report’s format has become, the medium is (still) not the message when it comes to a CSR report. In other words, the content still matters. So what does Mars have to show in its CSR report? I was glad to see the company shows leadership and progress when it comes to substance, also.

As I learned earlier this year, talking to Andrew Hobday, the company’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Mars makes most of its efforts around the supply chain, so I was curious to see the results on the report. Before diving into the figures, it’s worth mentioning that Mars did a great job providing the data in a user-friendly manner, making it quite easy to compare its goals with actual performance.

And now to the figures: Mars seems to be on the right track to meet its commitment to source 100 percent of its cocoa supply sustainably – it had met its 2011 goal of purchasing 10 percent from certified sources, and it reports that it will exceed, in 2012, its original target of 20 percent, making Mars the largest user of certified cocoa in the world.

At the same time, Mars shows somewhat less impressive progress with some other raw materials sourcing goals. For example, while its goal is to purchase 100 percent of coffee beans from certified resources by 2013, it reached only 20 percent in 2011. It also lags behind with goals like sourcing 100 percent of palm oil from certified sources by 2015 (14.5 percent in 2011), or 100 percent of fish and seafood products from sustainable resources by 2020 (no figures are available in the report).

When it comes to packaging, Mars is moving forward on its way to meet its goal of having 100 percent recyclable or recoverable packaging by 2015, where infrastructure exists. The company reports that it reached 69 percent by the end of 2011. On the other hand, the company is somewhat behind in meeting its goal to reduce packaging weights by 10 percent by 2015 from a 2007 baseline – by the end of 2011 Mars reduced it only by 1.5 percent.

In the part that Mars controls best, its operations, the company set up impressive targets and it looks like it won’t have too much trouble meeting them. These targets include reducing its water use by 25 percent by 2015 (18 percent reduction by 2011) and reducing direct fossil fuel energy use and GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2015 (6 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy use and 5 percent in GHG emissions by 2011), both referring to a 2007 baseline. Their most impressive goal, I believe, is to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2015 - so far the company reduced its waste to landfill by 51 percent and 33 of its 126 sites achieved zero waste in 2011.

Mars’ leadership is not only reflected in its implementation of its five principles and the progress it makes to meet its goals, but also in what seems to be a deeper understanding of what CSR stands for. You can see it where the company’s president, Paul Michaels, writes in the report: “As a private company governed by the Mars family, we think in terms of generations, not quarterly returns," which is something very few business leaders dare to say.

Another example is the company’s call for a joint industry to “scale up positive impacts for [cocoa] farmers and achieve higher yields without compromising limited natural resources.” Mars understands that while it is important to be a leader, in order to make a real impact, companies need to work and find solutions together. With Hershey’s finally at the table, creating such a joint effort could be Mars’ next biggest challenge.

[Image credit: Mars, Incorporated]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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