The impacts of climate change have become visible over the last century, prompting nations to start a dialogue to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. While advances were made, emissions continue to increase. Specialists have been warning the global community that if this trend is not reversed, the world can face significant challenges that may cost us billions of dollars.
However, there is another “indirect” cost, often not in the epicenter of the climate change discussion: the millions of lives that may be affected or even lost because of the impact this phenomenon can have on food security. According to the World Food Programme, part of the United Nations system, “people are considered food secure when they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” 1. Food security is still an issue today; the World Bank estimates that, in 2014-16, 795 million people were undernourished globally (10.9% of total population), of which 780 million were living in developing nations2.
While studies indicate that there are still uncertainties regarding the impact of climate change on some aspects of the food chain, it is widely acknowledged that depending on the level of global temperatures, the magnitude of CO2 in the atmosphere, as well as the frequency/intensity of extreme events, such as droughts and flooding, crop yields, livestock production and fishery can be significantly affected, consequently threatening food security3 and impacting millions of lives. In other words, climate change can affect global food supply, and consequently an important parcel of the world’s population, which is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 20504.
Thankfully, the corporate world has not silenced on this matter. A good example is General Mills (“GM”), which has been firmly engaging in the theme. In a recent public letter, GM (global sales of US$16.6b in FY20167), along with other nine food and beverages companies, made three commitments: re-energize efforts to ensure a more sustainable supply chain; have more transparency on efforts and best practices’ sharing; advocate for governments to set clear targets for GHG emissions reductions8.
GM has been long committed to being part of the solution for climate change. In August 2015, it took even more concrete steps by announcing a reduction of GHG emission by 28% across its entire value chain by 20259.
As a food company, climate is key for the long-term viability of GM’s business, not only because it directly influences its ability to supply raw materials (i.e.: corn, oats and wheat), but also because it can interfere deeply on its ability to deliver quality food to consumers9. With presence in over 100 countries7, GM is engaged in playing a central role to help mitigate the human impact on climate change and the resulting challenges the company’s consumers and the environment can face in the future.
While several initiatives are already being implemented, I believe there are still a few steps the company could take. I cite below three specific examples:
- Higher influence on suppliers’ practices. GM currently has a Supplier Code of Conduct10, and has also committed to sustainably source its 10 priority ingredients by 202011. To attain this goal, the company is helping smaller farmers with agriculture investments. However, GM would be even more effective if it could also partner with these stakeholders to invest in technologies that increase their energy efficiency levels, as well as the use of renewable sources of power;
- Optimize logistics planning. GM could work on reducing the number of trips needed from suppliers to factories onto retailers, as well as reverse logistics, by investing in the optimization of logistics planning, as well as truck loading (making sure truck space is fully utilized before shipping, even if it means taking longer to reach the retailer).
- Educational role with consumers. GM could extend communication efforts through differentiated marketing campaigns to help consumers understand the importance of sustainable choices not only on their own lives, but also on the lives of other people around the world. It would also be extremely valuable if consumers could understand the impact of their behaviors on the environment (i.e.: not recycling packages, food waste).
By taking these steps in addition to the initiatives GM is already implementing, the company would multiply exponentially its impact on the entire food chain, therefore having a greater contribution to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change, consequently minimizing the risk of higher food insecurity globally. Undoubtedly these actions are not simple, nor easy to implement, and they may even cost money the company wouldn’t otherwise choose to spend. But if GM takes the lead, other companies may follow, and the joint effort can massively determine what – and how much food – ourselves and our children will have available in the decades to come. (798 words)
1 World Food Programme, “What is food security”. https://www.wfp.org/node/359289, accessed October 2016.
2 World Bank, “State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI)”. http://www.fao.org/3/a4ef2d16-70a7-460a-a9ac-2a65a533269a/i4646e.pdf, accessed October 2016.
3 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Food security and food production systems. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg2/WGIIAR5-Chap7_FINAL.pdf, accessed October 2016.
4 United Nations, “World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050”. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/un-report-world-population-projected-to-reach-9-6-billion-by-2050.html, accessed October 2016.
5 Nourishing the planet, “U.S. Government Raises Estimates for Corn and Soybean Harvest, But Lasting Effects of Drought Still Loom”. http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/tag/maize/, accessed October 2016.
6 Cornell University, “Cornell Climate Change”, Photo by George Shinn. http://climatechange.cornell.edu/tools-resources/agriculture-resources/, accessed on October 2016.
7 General Mills. 2016 Annual Report. http://investors.generalmills.com/2016-interactive-annual-report/images/General_Mills-AR2016.pdf, accessed October 2016.
8 Ceres, Mobilizing Business Leadership for a Sustainable World, “Accelerating Change: Food and Beverage Leaders”. http://www.ceres.org/files/global-food-and-beverage-leadership-statement-on-climate-change, accessed October 2016.
9 General Mills, “General Mills makes new commitment on climate change”. http://blog.generalmills.com/2015/08/general-mills-makes-new-commitment-on-climate-change/, accessed October 2016.
10 General Mills, “Supplier Code of Conduct”. http://www.generalmills.com/en/Responsibility/ethics-and-integrity/supplier-code-of-conduct, accessed October 2016.
11 General Mills. 2016 Global Responsibility Report [https://globalresponsibility.generalmills.com/images/General_Mills-Global_Responsibility_2016.pdf], accessed October 2016.
12 Picture opening blog: Food Navigator, “Interconnected diets: Two thirds of crops we consume are result of ‘food globalisation’”. http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science/Interconnected-diets-Two-thirds-of-crops-we-consume-are-result-of-food-globalisation, accessed October 2016.