Editor’s Note: Grant Reid is president and CEO of Mars. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
The harrowing scenes of bushfires and extreme weather in Australia in recent weeks are a stark reminder of the stakes of the climate crisis. If the scientific data compelling us to take urgent climate action in this new decade isn’t motivation enough, then the threat to human life, the loss of biodiversity and the economic impact of extreme weather and natural catastrophes should surely make the case.
This is a make-or-break year. Global emissions have risen for three consecutive years when they should be dropping sharply, especially if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
I’m an optimist, and I believe we can respond with material action. But we are running out of time.
It’s true that we need to see a change in action from governments around the world, but global businesses also have a critical role to play in fighting the climate crisis.
Based on our own journey at Mars, I believe there are three fundamentals that business needs to tackle to drive climate action.
First and foremost, know your impact. There’s no excuse for a company today to not understand the extent of its carbon footprint. The insights and tools are available to measure, manage and reduce emissions. Our own evaluation at Mars showed us that our greenhouse gas emissions are about the same as a moderately sized country like Panama, and we are certainly not alone. With that scale comes responsibility. Armed with data, we can ensure that we are focusing the more than $1 billion we have invested in our own sustainability efforts, we call it our Sustainable in a Generation Plan, on areas that will make a difference, including ending deforestation and ensuring sustainable farming practices.
Secondly, businesses must move faster to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. According to the International Energy Agency’s latest annual energy outlook, energy-related emissions hit another historic high in 2018 and reliance on fossil fuels remains high despite the availability of renewable alternatives.
The business case for making this shift is clear. At Mars, we’re already reducing costs by using renewables. We’ve shifted 53% of our global operations to renewable electricity from solar and wind sources, with a plan to extend that to 100% by 2040.
Lastly, business must address the larger and more difficult task of making the global agricultural supply chain sustainable. For Mars, and many businesses, this represents the lion’s share of our global greenhouse gas emissions. Business and government policies must be focused on positive farming and land use practices, which are at the heart of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal backed by last year’s IPCC climate report. Better farming and grazing practices — like crop rotation and organic fertilizer use — that can restore soil health are also imperative for creating a more resilient agricultural supply chain that can support global business.
For business to move at the necessary pace and scale, smart, comprehensive energy and environmental policies at the local, national and international levels are vital. That includes a carbon pricing system aligned with climate science; clean energy and clean transportation; eliminating deforestation while scaling up farming practices that improve soil health, carbon capture and water cycle improvement; and infrastructure investment that make countries and communities more resilient against climate change.
This is a pivotal moment to bring the world together to take action on climate change in order to protect at-risk global communities and reverse the alarming loss of habitats and wildlife. Together, government, business and the citizens of the world can change our trajectory.
As of 2019, Mars’ carbon footprint began to decline as our business continues to grow. This confirms that transformation without compromising growth is possible.
This is the first year of a decisive decade for humankind, and we have no more time to waste if we want to safeguard the quality of life we have today and that of future generations.