Global NGO Oxfam released its Standing on the Sidelines report last week that called out the ‘Big 10’ food companies on “significant” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Oxfam said Associated British Foods (ABF), Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever were collectively emitting more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined.
Oxfam acknowledged that the 10 companies had targets on reducing emissions but described them as lax and not based on science, calling on them to set clearer, more aggressive targets.
“Two companies in particular, Kellogg and General Mills, are clear laggards among the big 10. Both companies are highly vulnerable to climate impacts but also well positioned to lead the industry towards a more sustainable future,” the report read.
General Mills and Kellogg point to Carbon Disclosure Project
General Mills refuted the content of Oxfam’s report. Kris Patton, global communications manager for General Mills, told BakeryandSnacks.com: “Climate change is a serious issue, we agree. But we strongly disagree with this assessment of our efforts.”
In its report Oxfam suggested General Mills, along with Kellogg, failed to measure annual carbon emissions. There were “unaddressed emissions” from all 10 companies, it said, caused by agricultural production such as nitrous oxide released from fertilizers and methane released from livestock.
Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, acknowledged in a corporate blog post that 41% of GHG emissions associated with its products came from agriculture, 14% from packaging production, 7% from other ingredient production and 8% from its direct operations. “…Which is why we’re also working to measure and reduce GHG emissions outside our direct operations."
'We’re also working to measure and reduce GHG emissions outside our direct operations,' says General Mills' chief sustainability officer, Jerry Lynch
Lynch said General Mills was working with the Michigan Milk Producers Association, for example, to work on measuring the carbon footprint of milk production and processing. It was also involved in the ‘Field To Market’ alliance, he said, that looked to address emissions from US row crops.
Patton also pointed out the company’s participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) since 2000. As part of that General Mills regularly reported its GHG emissions from direct operations.
Kellogg had also been part of the Carbon Disclosure Project since 2007, Kris Charles, vice president of communications at Kellogg, told us. This, she said, covered emissions from its manufacturing operations; upstream, owned and downstream; transportation and distribution; business travel and sales and office locations.
“We are working on multiple fronts to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and waste, as well as the energy and water we use,” she said.
The Carbon Disclosure Project is a not-for-profit organization providing a global system that enables companies and cities to measure, disclose, manage and share environmental information. For companies, the organization is focused on tackling climate change, addressing exposure to deforestation risks, driving more sustainable water use and mitigating environmental risks in supply chain.
Palm oil tie-ups
In addition to GHG concerns Oxfam suggested that General Mills and Kellogg needed to take a closer look at their palm oil supply chain.
“Oxfam’s investigation has found evidence and threats that companies supplying palm oil to suppliers of Kellogg and General Mills are recklessly clearing forests and burning peatlands,” it wrote.
But both Kellogg and General Mills pointed to their memberships of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that indicated dedication to sustainable sourcing.
General Mills has committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2015, Lynch said, and the company was on track to meet that goal. “We’re sourcing more than 50% of our palm oil sustainably today, and by the end of this calendar year we expect that number to be 75%,” he wrote in the blog post.
Kellogg, Charles said, had a deforestation commitment plan for palm, soy and timber-based packaging.
Oxfam had acknowledged these efforts in its report. “To their credit, both General Mills and Kellogg have recently made strong new commitments and policies for zero deforestation for their palm oil sourcing, going beyond the RSPO’s minimum GHG requirements.”
More to be done… conversation to continue
General Mills acknowledged there was “more to be done, of course” but said its track record was clear. Patton said that overall, Oxfam’s report completely mischaracterized General Mills’ efforts to tackle climate change.
Kellogg also said it had been long committed to doing what’s right for the environment and society, but Charles added: “We value continued engagement and discussion with Oxfam, and other external stakeholders, on the important issues of environmental and social responsibility, including climate change.”
Oxfam said both companies, and the rest of the food and beverage world, needed to better engage vocally about climate change issues, as it was their responsibility.
Patton said General Mills was doing so with its work on the steering committee of The Consumer Goods Forum and in its membership of the Tropical Forest Alliance which was actively engaged with governments in Africa and Asia on climate change issues.