Mars Inc: 2020 is a ‘defining year’ for climate change

A challenging climate: the lessons of tackling Goal 13

This is set to be a defining 12 months in the fight against climate change.

There is a clear and present danger - and we need to accelerate the action we are taking

Climate change is already impacting biodiversity, agriculture, and the lives of global citizens. Without concrete steps to mitigate its advance, climate change could destroy communities and create global political upheaval. We see impacts today in our food business at Mars, our petcare business, our confectionery business. We see that climate change causes a real threat to the communities in which we work and to the smallholder farmers who we rely on to supply the vast majority of the world’s raw ingredients. The stakes are high.

We are working hard to play our part with a $1bn investment in our Sustainable in a Generation Plan. As I write this, 53 percent of our global electricity needs come from renewable sources and we have a clear path to 100 percent. We are seeing that it is possible to grow the business while continuing to reduce our total carbon footprint including our extended supply chain. This is hugely significant.

It makes very strong business sense. At Mars, for instance, our renewable electricity use comes at the same, or lower prices than fossil fuel sources. We also know that in the future, carbon is going to have an economic price. If you can build a company based on low carbon, you put yourself in a strong position. The economic case is clear.

I’m very positive about the actions that leaders in business are taking. The opportunity is to increase the scale and the speed of that action across all industries.

So what actions can all businesses take to effectively tackle climate change?

The first thing is to understand your impact. Make sure you know the scale of your carbon footprint. The work we have done to map our footprint at Mars has been revelatory. It came with the realisation that our impact is about the same as a moderately-sized country. With that scale, comes responsibility. It also means that our actions as a business really can make a significant difference. There are many companies out there that have an equally relevant impact on the world. Imagine what’s possible if we all fixed what wasn’t working across these eco-systems?

Secondly, replace your fossil fuels use with renewable electricity. The business and the environmental case is clear. At Mars, we are committed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from our operations by 2040. We are using or purchasing renewable electricity to cover 100 percent of our operations in countries including the U.S., UK and Mexico plus seven others. We will make the switch in Australia in 2020.

We also have to keep listening to what the science tells us when it comes to tackling the impacts of our operations. That’s why when global experts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently documented the increased urgency for action we responded by upgrading our target for climate action in our direct operations to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5˚C. The sands are constantly shifting and, as a business, you have to keep responding.

Thirdly, it is critical to recognize that tackling greenhouse gas emissions in direct operations isn’t enough. For Mars, emissions from our operations make up only around 6 percent of our footprint. The other 94 percent of our carbon emissions come from our extended supply chain and actually from things that we didn’t fully understand when we started looking at this. For instance, it is amazing the impact of changes of land use have on carbon. In our supply chains we’re striving to halt deforestation, starting with our supply chains for beef, cocoa, palm, paper/pulp and soy. Equally, we’re looking to improve agricultural production practices to ensure they are more sustainable, and our supply chain is more resilient.

Delivering these significant impacts down our extended supply chain isn’t easy - and effective action depends on partnership. A great example is our work with The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming, an impact investment fund created in collaboration with by Danone, Firmenich, and Veolia to foster sustainability and poverty reduction in supply chains.

We’ve increasingly been speaking out on these issues to attract partners and drive coalitions of change and collaboration. Speaking out at a time like this is also critical because of the role business has to play both in driving change at scale and being willing to stand up and be counted. The world right now is messy. Some of the issues that we all need to solve are hugely complex with many different and deep-rooted causes. Complexity cannot be an excuse for delay or inaction as the stakes are too high. The real question we need to be asking each and every day is are the actions we are taking today positively contributing to the world we want tomorrow and, if not, what we are going to do about it?

I believe strongly that climate action offers a powerful opportunity for business to lead on these critical issues and to collaborate with consumers in a meaningful way to create our future.

That is a huge prize - to work together and take collective action today - and to create a thriving planet for future generations.

Andy Pharoah is Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Strategic Initiatives & Sustainability at Mars Inc.

Next week: Messages for 2020

  • The 2020 Super Year series is a collaboration between freuds, Goals House and Raconteur