Big companies should bear a large responsibility to do good as they grow, but instead they are often responsible for creating some of the colossal problems that our world now faces. Deforestation, vast amounts of waste, the growing obesity epidemic and plastic pollution – these are but a few of the immense issues that enormous enterprises contribute to every minute of the day. As consumers become more mindful, more vocal and choosier with their buying power, they force companies to become accountable and obligated to make changes for the recovery of our planet and our all-round health – we are demanding it.
Here are a few of the beneficial changes that some of those behemoths have embarked on that, if realised, could have extremely positive effects on the future, leading the way for other corporations to undertake their own constructive sustainability and health programmes.
One of the business leaders in sustainability, global furniture giant IKEA is continuing in that vein, starting with the food services division. According to AgFunder, IKEA was spurred on by the horsemeat scandal in 2013, which surreptitiously found its way into its beloved meatballs. Afterwards, IKEA decided a “radical change” was necessary and great attention needed to be paid to the provenance of their meat, as well as other issues within their F&B processes such as food waste. Michael La Cour, managing director of IKEA Food Services, said, “It was a great opportunity for us to take responsibility for what we serve, where we source it and who we partner with.” He continued, “Everything we do is driven by sustainability design. It’s at the core of what we do and not a bi-thought.”
IKEA asserts that their salmon, herring and shrimp are all responsibly farmed from “well-managed, sustainable fisheries”, and they continue to innovate, not just in their clever furniture designs but also with food products like the seaweed pearls made from kelp – a great vegan caviar substitute – and the introduction of veggie meatballs, which La Cour said have a much lower carbon footprint, setting the course for the necessity of a more plant-based diet.
The company has also implemented smaller changes like the removal of sugary soft drinks from their menus in Europe, with fruit waters in their place – although that change hasn’t reached Hong Kong’s bistros yet. IKEA’s goal is to halve their food waste by 2020, with 90 per cent of the remaining waste being recycled or composted.
Update: IKEA has also revealed its new ”Better Chicken“, which will implement sourcing compliance criteria with space requirements and no routine use of antibiotics to ”improve animal welfare, public health and environmental impacts at the farm level“.
The vast British-Dutch company behind so many popular consumer products such as Magnum ice cream, Hellmann’s mayo, Dove soap, Flora margarine and Lipton tea has been consistently gaining esteem with their ethos to “make sustainable living commonplace”. Back in 2010, they unveiled their ambitious plans to make sustainability part of their new business model and to cut the carbon, water and waste impacts of their products in half.
In May 2017, Unilever revealed that they are largely on track with their efforts and have found that their sustainable living brands grew over 50 per cent faster than the rest of the business. CEO Paul Polman stated, “We have made great progress. Our results show that sustainability is good for business, with increasing evidence that our sustainable living brands do better.”
This might not be considered a humongous change, but it does mark what we think is an important one: the largest hamburger chain in the world has launched the McVegan. This soybean burger will be a permanent fixture on the menus in Finland and Sweden, with a McDonald’s spokesperson quoted as saying in a statement translated by Quartz, “Vegetarian and vegan is a strong trend, and more and more people want to eat more plant based today.” This is a small but pertinent advance in the movement towards a more meat-free diet and will hopefully continue to drive innovation in the plant-based protein products (hello, Beyond Burger) that are rocking the food world.
They also pledged to switch to chicken that is largely antibiotic free, committing to going cage free for their North American eggs, and debuted their salad bar concept here in Hong Kong in 2015 at Admiralty’s McDonald’s Next, which has now expanded to countries around the world. They are also going to finally commit to recycling in all of their 37,000 restaurants by 2025, says Fortune. Currently, only 10 per cent of their stores recycle.
The damaging effects of sugar are being discovered more conclusively every year. As a result, Swiss F&B giant Nestlé has reduced the amount of sugar in its products and intends to cut a further five per cent by 2020. But what’s more, the R&D division of Nestlé has invested in exploring sugar alternatives. They believe they have found a way to modify sugar’s essential structure by constructing a hollow crystal using natural ingredients that will drastically reduce the amount of sugar used in their food items, including chocolate, but that tastes almost exactly the same. Nestlé CTO Stefan Catsicas said, “This truly groundbreaking research is inspired by nature and has the potential to reduce total sugar by up to 40 per cent in our confectionery.” The new range of confectionery products is planned to be on the shelves later this year.
They have also opened two “zero water” factories in Brazil, with four more slated to open this year, helping to earn Nestlé the food industry’s top spot on the 2017 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Nestlé claims to strive for zero environmental impact in its operations. Although marking the right sentiment, this seems a bit of a broad statement given the murky waters surrounding their seemingly lapsed commitment to stop deforestation by using “conflict palm oil”. According to the Guardian, this was meant to cease by 2015 but has now been deferred to 2020 (Unilever was also cited in palm oil scandals last year despite their own commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil).
Just this month Nestlé released a new plant-based burger - read about the Incredible Burger here.
In 2015, both General Mills and Kellogg’s announced commitments to completely eliminate artificial colours and flavours from their cereals and bars by the end of 2017. Vividly coloured cereals were changed to contain natural ingredients with bright hues like paprika, caramel, turmeric, chlorophyll and carmine. Fruit and vegetable juices were also used to contrive the electrifying colours found in Kellogg’s Froot Loops and General Mills’ Trix instead of Yellow #5 and Red #40. Unfortunately, according to The Wall Street Journal, this hasn’t been a complete success. Trix in particular was met with a backlash for its purple carrot-, radish- and turmeric-spiked shades, so General Mills have reverted to also selling the original artificially enhanced version as of late 2017.
Update: The Associated Press reported that General Mills will convert 34,000 acres of land to organic by 2020, for growing organic wheat for use in Annie’s Homegrown macaroni & cheese products. The company also aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28 per cent by 2025.
The Sustainability Leaders Survey, generated by research organisations SustainAbility and GlobeScan for the past two decades, tracks and ranks the top organisations on their ability to integrate sustainability values, lead innovation and provide transparency within their enterprises. The 2017 survey ranked Unilever as the global leader for the seventh year, followed by Patagonia, Interface and IKEA, while Marks & Spencer, Natura and Tesla all tied at number five. The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace were named the top NGOs for leading the way on sustainable development integration.
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