Major Food Companies Struggle as Emissions Surge, Contradicting Climate Goals

by Ella

In a disappointing revelation, McDonald’s recent report indicates a concerning 12 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 compared to its 2015 baseline, despite earlier commitments to reduce emissions significantly. McDonald’s is not alone in this predicament, as an analysis of climate-related reports and disclosures from 20 of the world’s largest food and restaurant conglomerates reveals that more than half have made little to no progress in their emission reduction endeavors, or have witnessed a surge in emissions.

The primary source of emissions, often exceeding 90 percent for many companies, stems from their intricate supply chains, encompassing the likes of livestock and crops used for food production. Amid shifting consumer habits and supply chain disruptions resulting from events such as the Ukraine conflict and extreme weather events like droughts and floods, companies grapple with maintaining climate goals while accommodating burgeoning demand.


PepsiCo, which initiated emission reduction targets in 2015, reported a disconcerting 7 percent increase in supply chain emissions in its 2022 climate report. Similarly, Chipotle, aiming to halve emissions by 2030, reported a substantial 26 percent surge in supply chain and other emissions in its 2022 report.


Barry Parkin, Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer at Mars, emphasizes the importance of performance over promises. While some companies, including Mars, have managed to reduce emissions even amidst business expansion, many remain ensnared in the challenge of reconciling growth with climate objectives.


The global food system, accounting for a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, faces mounting pressure from consumers and investors to develop concrete strategies for emissions reduction. This week, leaders from governments, corporations, climate advocacy groups, and activists are convening in New York City to deliberate and protest climate issues.


Numerous food companies have engaged external organizations, such as the Science Based Targets initiative, to establish and endorse medium- and long-term emission reduction goals. These companies publicly pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but the effectiveness of these strategies hinges on the integration of growth and innovation with climate transition plans.

For instance, Starbucks reported a 12 percent rise in total emissions from 2019 levels in 2022, alongside a 23 percent increase in revenue. McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Chipotle have affirmed their commitment to collaborating with suppliers to curtail emissions. Nevertheless, quantifying and mitigating supply chain emissions remains a formidable challenge requiring substantial investments and industry-wide cooperation.

In contrast, Mars proudly declared an 8 percent reduction in total emissions, including supply chain emissions, from 2015 levels while concurrently achieving a 60 percent surge in revenue. The company’s ambitious goal is to cut 2015 emissions in half by 2030 and attain net-zero emissions by 2050, supported by a $1 billion investment over three years in climate-related efforts.

Unlike financial disclosures for public companies, emissions data is voluntarily reported and lacks standardization. Transparency issues persist, as seen in the case of Tyson Foods and JBS, both major meat processors, failing to disclose supply chain emissions in their latest reports. Cows, notable methane producers, are under scrutiny for their environmental impact.

Tyson stated that it’s working on improving reporting and expects to disclose supply chain emissions in future reports. JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, has faced criticism for alleged attempts to greenwash emission reduction progress. Despite claiming to be the first global protein company with a net-zero emissions target, JBS has not had its targets validated by a third party. Critics argue that their supply chain emissions for 2022 are underreported.

The industry faces broader questions about the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of emission reduction technologies for livestock. Furthermore, a crucial issue looms over who will bear the costs of climate-friendly farming: governments, corporations, farmers, or consumers.

The critical debate revolves around the question of who will ultimately foot the bill in the pursuit of a more sustainable future.



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