Food giants failing to address their climate impact

Leading food companies are underestimating key environmental risks and ignoring opportunities to create a more sustainable food system, research by CDP has uncovered.


CDP's study of 504 companies – including Walmart, Nestlé, Pepsi and Target – found that just 16% report targets that address their value chain emissions explicitly.

Deforestation disclosure is also lacking, with just 51% of companies expected to report on palm oil risks actually doing so, and only 45% and 41% for soy and cattle, respectively.

Moreover, the findings show that only 14% of companies in the global food value chain have a water quality target, meaning little action is being taken to address discharge, pollution and ensure water security.

“As the demand for food has grown, so has the resulting surge in emissions, loss of natural ecosystems and forests, increasing water scarcity and pollution and declining biodiversity,” said Bridget Schrempf, CDP's manager of sustainable food systems. “But a better future is possible.

“Companies have a remarkable opportunity to build a just, fair and sustainable food system that meets the needs of the world’s population without exceeding our planetary boundaries.”

The findings show that food value chain companies are also underutilising internal carbon and water pricing – despite growing consensus that internal pricing is the most flexible, cost-effective approach to mitigating climate change and water insecurity.

Only 28% of firms are using or planning to use an internal price on carbon within the next two years, compared to 35% of all disclosing non-food companies, and only half are using an internal water price or plan to implement one, compared to 35% of all disclosing companies.

One encouraging sign is the year-on-year increase in food value chain companies setting ambitious decarbonisation goals, with 75 firms having committed to science-based targets, which is 16% of the full sample.

CDP said that existing market mechanisms are not sufficient to support and incentivise the transformation of the global food sector into a sustainable system, and that “effective, concrete policy is needed”.


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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