By Stephen Badger, chairman of Mars Inc.
Global businesses are, quite rightly, under scrutiny for what they are doing to tackle challenges such as climate change and poverty. Last month, the United Nations asked business leaders the same questions we’ve heard countless times: What are businesses doing to help deliver on the Paris climate agreement? How can business and government work together to drive change at scale?
One of the key characteristics of the Paris agreement is that it extends beyond governments to engage businesses. Corporations should seize this opportunity to have a seat at the table and do their part to address critical global challenges. In time, they will realize the returns on investment in a sustainable future.
You have only to look at the carbon footprint of my own company, Mars Inc., to see the effect business has on the world: Our footprint is equivalent to that of a country roughly the size of Panama. With this scale comes responsibility. Mars, and companies like ours, must be as engaged as governments in delivering reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
That’s why I attended Climate Week and U.N. General Assembly events in New York in September, and talked there with leaders in business, government and nongovernmental organizations. As a private, family-owned business, we’ve not traditionally had a high-profile presence at such events. But if there were ever a time in Mars’s more-than-100-year history for us to find our voice and join the chorus calling for action, this is it.
Without a doubt, our society has done some excellent work to address climate change in recent years. But after a week of engaging with global experts in a range of disciplines, it’s clear that this incremental progress will not put us on a trajectory to deliver the Paris agreement or the United Nations’ sustainable- development goals. Now is the time for industry to transform how we look at our role in creating a more sustainable world. This is why Mars has launched our new Sustainable in a Generation Plan to invest $1 billion over the next few years to tackle urgent threats facing society.
In New York, people often asked me if there really is a sound business case for tackling issues such as climate change and poverty. The answer is an unqualified yes.
First, investment in operating sustainably delivers cost savings. Mars is already capitalizing on the falling prices of renewable energy and the long-term cost savings of clean technology. This has helped to reduce the carbon emissions of our 150 factories around the world by 25 percent. We are already using enough renewable energy to make all our M&M’s. In fact, we now purchase enough renewable energy to fuel our entire operations in five countries and plan to make that 11 countries in 2018. All of this is delivered at the same cost, or lower, as fossil fuel.
Second, for a company such as Mars that is dependent on agriculture, our investments are creating a more resilient and resource-efficient supply chain where smallholder farmers and others can thrive. By working with our suppliers to source raw materials in a way that lowers climate risk and creates opportunity for people, we can increase crop yields and ensure affordable ingredient supplies, reduce our impact on natural resources and ensure a generation of future farmers.
Finally, there are rewards for doing the right thing. It makes us a more attractive partner to customers, governments and NGOs, and it ensures our relevance to consumers as well as current and future Mars associates. If we are to remain relevant for the next 100 years, we must drive an agenda that is forward-looking and focused, demonstrating what we stand for through our actions as a business.
This is a call to action for all in business to double down in support of the Paris agreement and the sustainable- development goals. Business not only has a seat at the table; it has a vested interest in collaborating with everyone at the table. So let’s grab this opportunity with both hands.