In 1992, Gary Erikson founded Clif Bar & Company after identifying that he could produce a better energy bar than those on the market. He has since positioned the organization as a “proactive” leader in the food industry’s movement towards environmental sustainability.  From providing stipends to employees who commute by bicycle to investing $10M in organic farming research, Clif Bar is acutely aware of climate change.  As environmental pressures mount, can Clif Bar sustain its value proposition and business model? Further, even though Clif Bar has led the way for some of its peers, what more can it do to reduce climate change’s impact?
The food and beverage sector is considered “perhaps the most exposed of all sectors to changes in the environment.”  Our planet’s food supply is dependent on agriculture, which is predicated on adequate water supply, limited extreme weather events, and stable temperatures.  As the environmental effects brought on by climate change impact the type and quality of food available, Clif Bar will be forced to make decisions balancing its position as a leader in sustainability with its ability to maintain the quality and cost of its product.
Certified by the FDA in 2003, Clif Bar uses only organic ingredients. Although the term “organic” has several interpretations, it has three primary principles: no synthetics; no Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMOs”); and limited pesticides.  These principles are not hard and fast rules and are often bent when the environmental good outweighs the bad (natural pesticides, for example). It is unknown, however, how these regulations and principles will evolve to reflect our planet’s changing resources. Additionally, in the face of decreasing yields, increasing pests, and diminishing nutritional value, the temptation of farmers to use GMOs and pesticides will likely increase, which may impact Clif Bar’s supply chain.  Clif Bar will need to incentivize its suppliers in order to maintain its integrity, manifested in its commitment to Clif Bar’s organic status.
Further, dwindling crops may threaten the recipe Gary Erikson deliberately crafted to meet his own demand as a cyclist and scaled to meet the tastes of millions of consumers. Clif Bar may need to adapt this recipe to reflect a crop mix that is more sustainable. If ingredients (such as nuts and fruit) become scarce, they may become too expensive for Clif Bar to offer at an attractive price point. Alternatively, if ingredients divert a disproportionate amount of water or other resources, Clif Bar may risk its reputation by continuing to include them. The availability and resource intensiveness of ingredients will cause Clif Bar management to strike a balance between its brand commitment to the environment and its product design.
In addition to its responsibility to source ingredients, Clif Bar is a manufacturer with several facilities across the US. In recent years, Clif Bar has made its manufacturing practices more green. For example, in 2015, the organization opened a manufacturing plant in Idaho committed to using 20% less energy than other bakeries through features like more efficient refrigeration.  Further, almost all Clif Bar products use recyclable packaging, and the organization has recently cut the amount of packaging material per bar by 10%, as demonstrated in Figure 1. 
Even though Clif Bar has been proactive thus far, I recommend the organization do more to reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing practices :
- Clif Bar should make all of its wrappers recyclable and label its products and advertise more effectively to drive consumers to recycle.
- Clif Bar should establish sustainability standards across all of its manufacturing facilities, not simply new facilities.
- Clif Bar should focus innovation on eliminating or further reducing packaging, as individually wrapped products inherently create waste. For example, Clif Bar should innovate the shape of its bars and how products are sold (individually or in bulk).
Call to Action
Many consider Clif Bar to be a first mover in the food industry’s march towards environmental sustainability , but Clif Bar’s work is far from over. Clif Bar will face tough decisions to preserve its operational model and reputation, which the organization worked so hard to architect. At the same time, it is critical that Clif Bar continue to explore new sustainable practices in order to outpace growing regulatory pressures and maintain its position as a leader in the sustainability movement. [Word Count: 723]
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