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Maggie Kohn headshot

Supply Chain Sustainability and Technology Offer Answers to IPCC Report

Rethinking what we eat, harnessing technology and investing in supply chain sustainability can help food companies adapt before the world falls into crisis.
By Maggie Kohn
Supply Chain Sustainability

Yesterday, we discussed some of the high-level findings issued in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which focused on how the rise in global temperatures, along with increasing pressure on the agricultural system, together are putting food security at risk worldwide.

Today, we’ll dive into how a rethink of what we eat, harnessing the best possible technology, and strategic investments in the supply chain together can help make the global food and agriculture sectors more sustainable before the world falls into crisis.

By investing in such changes, food companies can ensure their long-term viability, while taking a stand on sustainability, as startups have with meat alternatives—one multinational, in fact, has even focused on mint farmers in its supply chain.

Developing delicious plant-based foods

Let’s start with what might be the most contentious topic out of the report for some: moving toward a plant-based diet.

Scientists generally agree that approximately 33 percent of arable land is now devoted to crops that will be used for animal feed. On top of that statistic, farmed animals produce half of the world’s methane emissions. And livestock such as cattle and lamb are particularly inefficient, because these animals need lots of space to graze, and in nations such as Brazil, that land is often space that used to be covered with forests.

“Shifting to a plant-based diet would be a significant catalyst for combating climate change," said Andre Laperrière, executive director of Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. 

One of the best examples that showcases this shift is Impossible Foods, which, for more than a decade, has been finding ways to turn plant-based ingredients into meat alternatives. This upstart's secret: Heme, an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal, which is what makes meat taste like meat.

According to the company, one Impossible Burger (instead of a burger made from beef) uses 96 percent less land and 87 percent less water and produces 89 percent fewer GHG emissions.

And it’s not just burgers. Impossible Foods’ plant-based options, in addition to other brands that make similar products, can be used to replace meat on your chili cheese fries, in your meat-less meatballs, in your tacos and your empanadas  . . . the list goes on and on.

Supply Chain Sustainability: M&Ms without deforestation

In another example: We all love chocolate. But churning all those cacao pods into sweets is wreaking havoc on the world’s forests. As part of its Cocoa for Generations plan, Mars says it is creating a deforestation-free global cocoa supply chain for such iconic sweets as M&Ms, Twix and Snickers.

To date, the global food giant claims it has GPS-mapped 24 percent of its global cocoa supply chain to the farm level. Mars also claims to have made significant progress in tracing the cocoa it sources to a country of origin via its first-tier direct suppliers, second-tier farmer groups and, finally, to the farmer level. By 2025, Mars says it plans to map all of the countries where it sources cocoa, including Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana (where nearly 65 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown), as well as Indonesia, Brazil, Cameroon and Ecuador.

Mars insists that it is also advancing partnerships with cocoa suppliers, governments and civil society partners who share a common goal of preserving forests for the future, and are committed to accelerate progress by working only with cocoa suppliers who can be accountable to meet the milestones laid out in the company’s long-term cocoa plan.

Teaching new farming skills to take on climate change

Climate change is also threatening one of the world’s most beloved beverages: tea. To that end, Unilever, the world’s biggest tea packer with brands such as Lipton, has committed to sustainably source 100 percent of its tea, including loose tea, by 2020.

A key partner in its efforts for more than a decade has been the Rainforest Alliance, with whom it worked to develop local indicators for sustainable tea production in Kenya. In 2007, Kericho, Unilever’s largest tea estate in Kenya, was the first tea farm to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. Certification means that farmers and companies have met the standards for efficient farm management, soil erosion, waste production and wildlife habitat protection, among others.

Today, Rainforest Alliance-certified tea accounts for around 20 percent of the world’s tea production, but Unilever says it is working to increase that by supporting suppliers in 14 countries in Africa and Asia to train smallholder farmers so they can achieve farm certification. One of the company’s longest-running partnerships is with the Kenya Tea Development Agency and the Sustainable Trade Initiative through which it has enabled 86,000 farmersincluding around 42,000 women—to train at Farmer Field Schools for guidance on how to share best agricultural practices, increase yields, improve quality, and improve their health and nutrition.

The best is yet to come—and it must

Of course, there are many other examples of companies and organizations doing their part to mitigate their impact on climate change that could be added to those above. And there must be more, together with concerted government action.

As Aparajita Bhalla of the Rainforest Alliance expressed in a statement emailed to TriplePundit: “The work has already started. We need to keep moving toward a more sustainable agriculture system and reap the climate benefits such a system would provide.”

Join us at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C., on October 29-30, 2019. The two-day event will continue our newly established tradition of bringing corporate leaders together on a fast-paced main stage, keenly focused on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind their thinking as we navigate a rapidly changing business environment. Receive a 25 percent discount using this code PUNDIT2019AUGUST when you register here during the month of August, 2019.

Image credit: Impossible Foods

Maggie Kohn headshot

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

Read more stories by Maggie Kohn