- Maple Leaf Foods says it is the first major food company to become carbon neutral. The Canadian producer of meat and plant protein is aggressively reducing emissions and meeting the standard of Science Based Targets, which aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
- The company said in a release it had made significant progress toward cutting its environmental footprint in half by 2025 and reducing use of electricity, natural gas and water. Maple Leaf also noted it has committed to setting science-based targets and will work even more aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its operations and throughout its supply chain.
- "There is simply no more time to waste. The devastating impact of climate change on our planet must be confronted head-on by business leaders with decisive and immediate action. The global food system must change dramatically if we are to sustainably feed the world's growing population," Michael McCain, Maple Leaf's president and CEO, said in the release.
According to Maple Leaf's 2018 sustainability report, the company's vision for the future is to be the "most sustainable protein company on Earth." That's a huge goal, but Maple Leaf seems to be taking steps toward it by enhancing its operations in measurable ways. These include changing how it houses and transports animals, helping to advance food security and reducing its environmental footprint by limiting energy consumption, waste and water usage.
Like many food companies, Maple Leaf knows that boosting its green credentials can help to positively position the company in the marketplace. Consumers increasingly consider the sustainability of products they are purchasing. McCain said in a statement prefacing the report that since sustainability is increasingly driving consumer behavior, Maple Leaf is "not alone in our aspiration to lead in this market."
Maple Leaf said in the release it plans to invest in independently verified and high-impact environmental projects in the U.S. and Canada to help bring its remaining carbon footprint to zero. These offset projects will support wind energy, recover methane gas from landfills, reduce emissions through composting and biomass, and protect forests to help conserve species and biodiversity.
These moves could alter Maple Leaf's meat business — it makes ham, roast chicken and sausage products, among others — since the industry has been considered relatively high risk for its contribution to climate change. According to a recent assessment report, most large meat and dairy companies haven't meaningfully addressed the most basic sustainability risks.
The meat industry has been working on sustainability best practices as more studies emerge recommending consumers eat less meat to help combat climate change. With an increase in plant-based meats and climate-conscious consumers, getting all meat and poultry companies on the same page when it comes to sustainability efforts could boost the industry as a whole.
Meanwhile, makers of plant-based meat alternatives such as Impossible Foods are touting science-based life cycle assessments showing their carbon footprints are much lower than conventional meat products.
It's possible Maple Leaf's achievement of carbon-neutral status and commitment to additional sustainability goals will influence other companies to do the same. Tyson Foods is examining its deforestation risks in order to enhance transparency practices and sustainability credentials. Nestlé said earlier this year it had achieved 77% of its goal to reach zero deforestation within the supply chain of its agricultural commodities.
A 2018 report by Ceres found two-thirds of more than 600 of the largest U.S. public companies have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last month, it reported more than half have formal policies to manage water resources. This visible push toward sustainability is a direct response to consumer demand.
Maple Leaf's footprint equals 440,000 metric tons of emissions from company operations to the rest of its supply chain, so the total cost may be $5 million to $10 million annually, Fast Company reported. Despite the costs, this big move could push more companies to cut emissions and go carbon neutral. If they do, the end result could benefit the planet, as well as their bottom line.