HomeBusinessFor Many Big Food Companies, Emissions Head in the Wrong Direction

For Many Big Food Companies, Emissions Head in the Wrong Direction

Five years ago, McDonald’s announced its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over a third in certain parts of its operations by 2030. Later, the company pledged to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050. However, McDonald’s most recent report revealed that emissions in 2021 were 12 percent higher than the 2015 baseline. This trend of rising emissions is common among major food and restaurant companies. In fact, more than half of the 20 largest companies in the sector have made no progress on their emissions reduction goals or have reported increasing emissions levels. The majority of emissions, often more than 90 percent, come from supply chains, which encompass the production of ingredients like beef and wheat. While some progress has been made in reducing plastic packaging and water usage, many large food and beverage companies and restaurant chains are struggling to balance their growth with their climate commitments. The COVID-19 pandemic and disruptions to supply chains caused by events like the war in Ukraine and extreme weather have further complicated the situation. These challenges in emissions reduction have raised concerns among consumers and investors, prompting calls for tangible plans to address the problem. Many companies have engaged outside organizations to set and approve emissions reduction targets, with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, actual progress has been limited in many cases. For example, Starbucks reported a 12 percent increase in emissions from 2019 levels, despite a 23 percent increase in revenue during the same period. Some companies, however, have managed to reduce emissions while growing their businesses. Mars, for instance, reduced total emissions by 8 percent from 2015 levels while increasing revenue by 60 percent. To achieve these reductions, Mars plans to invest $1 billion over the next three years in climate-related efforts, such as incentivizing farmers to adopt regenerative farming techniques. Emissions data for companies, unlike financial reports, is voluntarily reported and lacks standardization. Moreover, supply chain emissions can be difficult to quantify, leading to some uncertainty and varying levels of disclosure. For instance, Tyson Foods and JBS, major meat processors, did not disclose emissions from their supply chains in their most recent reports. Cows, which produce methane when they belch, have become a target for climate activists. Critics argue that JBS, in particular, has not had its emissions targets validated by a third-party organization and that its supply chain emissions are significantly underestimated. There are also questions surrounding the cost of implementing climate-friendly farming practices and who should bear those costs.