One Planet Business for Biodiversity, or OP2B, launched Sept. 23 at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Its purpose is to protect and restore biodiversity within supply chains and product portfolios, the group said in a release. Leaders are the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Emmanuel Faber, chairman and CEO of Danone.
OP2B includes 19 companies selling food and other products in more than 120 countries, with combined total revenues of approximately $500 billion. The companies are: Balbo Group, Barry Callebaut, Danone, DSM, Firmenich, Google, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Kellogg, Kering, Livelihood Funds, L'Oreal, Loblaw Companies Limited, Mars Wrigley, Migros Ticaret, McCain Foods, Nestlé, Symrise, Unilever and Yara.
They agreed to take tangible steps together and separately to protect and enhance biodiversity in agricultural systems, delivering policy solutions next year. This means scaling up regenerative agriculture practices, boosting cultivated biodiversity and resilience in products, eliminating deforestation, and transparently reporting on progress and impact, the group said.
Biodiversity has become a focus of sustainability efforts because only nine plants — sugar cane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, palm oil fruit, sugar beet and cassava — comprise two-thirds of the world's crop production, according to Bloomberg.
In February, the UN published a report with a sobering conclusion: Loss of biodiversity puts the world's population under severe threat because fewer plants dominate agriculture. Many plant and animal species may disappear forever. Humans have created a sort of "global standard diet" — based on the exact same crops industrially farmed in large quantities — that has squeezed out other varieties, according to an excerpt from Simran Sethi's book "Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love," published in New Food Economy.
Food and beverage companies are in a unique position to combat the loss of biodiversity. After all, they are responsible for choosing the crops that are turned into food. If some large companies diversify their supply chains, they could help walk back these threats.
Faber told the business news agency the planet is "in a very risky situation from a resilience standpoint if anything happens to any of these species."
"According to many recent scientific studies, we have 10 years to reset our course and bend the curve on climate change and wild and cultivated biodiversity loss. We need a collective effort now," he said.
It's not surprising Danone is front and center on this effort. The French company has consistently led the charge for environmental sustainability. It achieved B Corp status last year and ranked No. 1 in a recent report assessing CPG companies' readiness to transition to a low-carbon economy.
But it's not just Danone that's taking the lead. The other 18 co-founders include companies from other areas of the food and beverage industry, as well as a Turkish grocery chain, a global tech giant, a makeup manufacturer and a French luxury fashion company. Some of them overtly rely on these crops, while others are interested in being part of the solution to a larger problem.
McCain Foods, a Canadian maker of frozen potato products, became a founding member of OP2B because no one company can address these issues alone, president and CEO Max Koeune said in a statement. And Gilbert Ghostine, CEO of the Swiss flavor company Firmenich, said in a statement his company is "making a real difference" to reversing biodiversity loss by ensuring a highly responsible and traceable supply chain for its natural ingredients.
The new group set a aggressive timeline, with plans to have a collection of meaningful improvements they can implement by next June. By October 2020, the group plans to announce its actions on biodiversity. They will also start lobbying for policies to make it happen.
It's a short timeframe, but some of the work is already in progress. Manufacturers including Danone, General Mills and Hormel are investing in regenerative agriculture to capture carbon from the air and store it in the soil. In the group's statement of ambition, one of the likely policies that will be requested next October is creating a soil-based carbon market to monetize this practice.
Part of the impetus for this group is the upcoming UN strategic plan to improve global biodiversity after 2020. But another is more consumers are monitoring food industry sustainability efforts and choosing brands accordingly.
While the OP2B initiative and other sustainability plans are ambitious, they need to be to match the gravity of the situation. The challenge will come in meeting timelines and making sure sufficient progress is achieved and shared so Greenpeace and other groups watching to see how they do won't be reporting yet more insufficient movement toward these important goals.
Consumers may also need to be educated on the issue and importance of biodiversity. Topics like waste, carbon emissions and recycling have been discussed for decades and are easily understood. Biodiversity is a bit harder to understand, especially because Big Food once prided itself on major global expansions of product lines — one of the things that contributed to the crisis. It's time for the players who are part of the OP2B initiative — as well as other manufacturers — to talk more about enhancing diversity in ingredients and maybe stepping back from using mega-crops that are exported worldwide.