You may know Mars Inc. for its timeless candy such as Snickers and M&M’s, and to a lesser extent, brands such as Uncle Ben’s Rice and Pedigree pet foods. But this $33 billion company is also taking on some compelling projects that the company says will make the company much more “sustainable in a generation.” One example of Mars’ investments in sustainability is the Mesquite Creek Wind Farm in western Texas.
Announced last year, Mesquite Creek generates 200 megawatts of wind power, enough to electrify 61,000 American homes, or the equivalent of what Mars claims is sufficient to power its entire U.S. operation. Bloomberg reported the project’s cost, including its 118 GE wind turbines, was $345 million. The wind farm was financed largely by Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, which previously had invested in five utility-scale renewable power projects in the U.S.
This wind farm, located halfway between the Texas cities of Lubbock and Midland, represents a huge step forward for Mars’ promise to eliminate all greenhouse gases from its global operations by 2040. One goal of the company was to reduce its fossil fuel energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent this year—and Mesquite Creek allowed Mars to stay on target this year, according to Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director of Mars. “This wind farm keeps us on the path to meet our 2040 goals without adding cost to the business,” said Rabinovitch during a telephone interview earlier this week.
Despite the slump in oil prices, which most analysts say will stay well below $50 a barrel for the foreseeable future, investments in renewable power projects keep surging because they have reached cost parity with fossil fuels. Renewables are also a way for companies to hedge their operational costs in the event petroleum prices spike again—after all, the only thing we can predict about the cost of oil is that it is unpredictable. Renewable energy contracts, often underwritten as a power purchase agreement (PPA), allow organizations to purchase electrical power at a set price for the long term, as long as 20 years. Mesquite Creek itself is proving to be an attractive investment, due to Duke Energy’s recent purchase of a stake in the wind farm.
In the case of Mars, the company partnered with Sumitomo to underwrite the project. That power generated at Mesquite Creek will be sold on the market; Mars, in turn, receives renewable energy certificates (RECs) to compensate for its standard electricity consumption within the U.S. “This allows us to invest in renewable energy, even though most of our facilities here in the U.S. are not necessarily best suited for a retrofit with renewable energy technologies such as solar,” explained Rabinovitch. Mars, which traces its history back to 1911, has 70 offices and warehouses across the U.S. Most sites, however, are only suited to smaller scale projects, such as a two-megawatt solar installation at one of its New Jersey facilities.
At a time when the debate over climate change is often polarizing and shrill—especially in the lead up to the COP21 talks in Paris that start in late November—Rabinovitch’s outlook was decidedly refreshing. Much renewable energy and climate change talk is buried in public relations language and generalities, but Mr. Rabinovitch eschewed such jargon. “We are trying to commit to targets based on science—this is not just about what we should or want to do, but we base our decisions on the external facts that scientists present to us,” he added as we wrapped up our interview.
As any company touting such a project would, Mars puts the Mesquite Creek’s impact in the context of what the company is about. The wind farm’s annual 800,000 megawatt-hours of wind power is enough to make 13 billion chocolate Snickers bars or 125 million 40-pound bags of Pedigree dog food—with perhaps spare power to dish out some packs of Juicy Fruit Gum and tins of Altoids.
But in all seriousness, Mars is taking a holistic view towards decarbonizing its global business—while working to ensure it has reliable sources of raw materials to keep its operations running in the long term. Aware that developing countries are bearing the brunt of climate change, Mars says it is working with its suppliers to ensure it has reliable and sustainable streams of rice, palm oil, fish, and of course, cacao. Mars, says Rabinovitch, has worked with cacao farmers on techniques such as better pruning, effective soil management, smart watering and the incorporation of more resilient cacao varietals. The result has been an overall tripling of yield from half a ton to 1.5 tons of cacao per hectare. “We want to prepare these farmers in the event of climate change—so even if they have a bad harvest, they will still come out ahead. This is just another way we are working to prevent the future from being different from what we think it will be today,” he said.
Many companies are great at setting goals when it comes to clean energy and climate change, and whether all this comes to fruition in 2020 or 2025 remains to be seen and leaves many of us dubious. But Mars has built a solid track record around these challenges, and will be a most interesting company to watch in the coming decade.
Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.