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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Sustainable agriculture powers a global business

Agriculture produces around 20% of annual anthropogenic GHG emissions.  Global food-producing corporations like Mars rely on agriculture, and they are an important part of the solution to climate change.  In the piece below, several Mars and NGO executives explain their approach to integrating sustainability into business.  Mint is a particular focus, as it shows up in our chewing gums, desserts, toothpastes, pharmaceuticals, and countless products worldwide.

Tim Nixon, Managing Editor, Sustainability: How is making agriculture more sustainable key to your business?

Martin Radvan: Mars is highly dependent on agriculture – we can’t make candy bars without high-quality cocoa, or gum without natural mint. Through our Sustainable in a Generation Plan, we’re working with others to create more resilient supply chains where the farmers growing these ingredients can thrive. By partnering with others to increase crop yields and create opportunities for people, we can secure affordable ingredient supplies, lessen our impact on natural resources and ensure generations of future farmers.

How do you measure sustainability?

Martin Radvan: Mars has been in business for four generations and intends to be for the next four generations. The only way we will grow and prosper is if the people, communities and land on which we rely are healthy and thriving well into the future.

Our Sustainable in a Generation Plan is accelerating our efforts to ensure that today’s generation, and tomorrow’s, will thrive and the planet will, too. We’ve set targets covering the most significant areas we impact, including a commitment to reduce GHG emissions across our full value chain by 67 percent by 2050 and to significantly improve the working lives of one million people in our value chain.

How are you trending in aggregate on GHG emissions across all scopes over the last three years?

Kevin Rabinovitch: In terms of past progress, Mars has consistently reduced GHG emission (Scope 1 and 2) for the last 10 years. We saw a 25 percent decrease in GHG emissions in 2015 and a 29.2 percent reduction in 2016 (vs. 2007 numbers). This was largely driven by increasing our use and purchase of renewable electricity, which covers 100 percent of our operations in Belgium, Brazil, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2018, we will achieve 100 percent renewable electricity for an additional six countries.

As reported in CDP, our 2016 scope 3 emissions increased vs. the previous year due to updated impact data and improved data granularity in our raw materials supply chains. Improving the accuracy of our emissions data will continue to be an ongoing focus for us. As this is our first year using this newer, more accurate data we can’t yet report an “apples to apples” three-year performance trend.

Do you have a public goal for reducing GHG emissions in line with a science-based target?

Kevin Rabinovitch: Absolutely. Science tells us that to avoid the worst consequences, we should limit global warming to less than the two degrees Celsius threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change. We actually helped create the Science Based Targets Initiative by developing and sharing the “absolute contraction” method. This is how we’ve set our goal to reduce absolute GHG emissions across our value chain by 67 percent by 2050.

Mint Farmers Sukhram and Vidya Wati

Why focus on mint production to improve your sustainability footprint? 

Kim Frankovich: Mint is a key material for our gum and mint brands. It’s critical to our business, and it’s critical to the lives of the estimated 1 million farmers who grow it across the U.S., Canada and India. Scientific data tells us that changing weather patterns, soil health and disease are threatening the long-term viability of mint. To combat these threats, we’re investing in plant science to identify higher-yielding, disease-resistant plants that are better able to adapt to climate change and use water efficiently.

Where are the biggest opportunities in your mint production value chain to promote sustainable development goals?

Kim Frankovich: As part of the Mars Sustainable in a Generation Plan, we’ve set goals which directly support key SDGs – #1 No Poverty, #13 Climate Action and #3 Good Health and Wellbeing. With regard to mint and to support SDG #1 – our ambition is to double smallholder mint farmer incomes in our sourcing areas in India. Many smallholder mint farmers in India live below the $1.90/day poverty line, often growing staple crops to feed their families on less than a hectare of land. Through AdvanceMint (known as Shubh Mint in India), we’re focused on doubling the cash they get from mint through better planting materials and training.

What issues have Indian mint farmers encountered with traditional mint root stock?

Ana Bilik: Traditionally, farmers buy mint root stock (or stolons) from the local market or set aside roots from the previous year. Over time, these roots and the resulting plant material become less productive. To address this, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) has developed higher-yielding varietals, which are more pest and disease resistant. Through Shubh Mint, we’re bringing these new plants from the lab to the land so that farmers can directly benefit.

What sustainable farming improvements is Agribusiness Systems International helping Indian mint farmers in the Shubh Mint program make?

Ana Bilik: A key challenge for Indian mint farmers is water availability. In some areas, water is scarce and the water table is falling. This can make irrigation in the final stages of the plant cycle challenging. Farmers typically use flood irrigation – which is expensive due to the cost of fuel to run pumps and inefficient in terms of the volume of water used. Through the Shubh Mint program, we are trialing different irrigation methods to reduce cost and increase efficiency of water usage.

In addition, we’ve introduced good agricultural practices from a Compendium we developed in 2015. These include soil testing, fertilizer use and application, plant spacing and plant management. We’ve seen high adoption of new plant varieties because farmers get better mint oil yields than what they get from the local, mixed plant varieties that are available in the market.

How are you measuring that progress?

Kim Frankovich: Through the program, our goal is to double income generated from mint. We conducted an initial study in 2015 with our implementation partner Agribusiness Systems International (ASI) and the Sustainable Food Lab.  From this, we learned that mint contributes approximately 33 percent of the annual household income for a farmer in our sourcing areas in India. As part of a baseline, mid-point and end-line survey, we will track and measure input cost savings associated with the good agricultural practices (GAP), total household savings and other KPI’s developed in conjunction with the work of the Farmer Income Lab. This will help ensure our measurement practices take into account the latest thinking on how to approach income measurement in other supply chains.

Is your progress verified or certified by an independent organization?

Kim Frankovich: Our mid-point and end-line survey will be conducted by an independent third party.

How important is mint production in the overall scope of your business?

Kim Frankovich: Globally, 65 percent of our gum and mint brands use natural mint or menthol flavoring. It’s critical we have a long-term, viable supply of high-quality mint and natural menthol to flavor brands such as Orbit, Extra and Doublemint.

 

How will Mars work to transform its business model in line with the SDGs and the 2030 deliverables?

Martin Radvan: Our ambition is to grow in ways that are good for people, good for the planet, and good for our business. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a powerful guide for this next generation of growth are very much embedded in our Sustainable in a Generation Plan – a plan for Mars to operate within planetary boundaries, while delivering positive social impact. Within this plan are goals that directly support key SDGs including #1 No Poverty, #13 Climate Action and #3 Good Health and Wellbeing.

How will Mars help decarbonize agricultural production as dietary preferences become more carbon-intensive?

Kevin Rabinovitch: While there is a correlation in developing economies between rising incomes and more carbon-intensive dietary preferences, this doesn’t have to be the case and we are encouraged by initiatives such as the Better Buying Lab at the World Resources Institute which seeks to apply consumer insights towards shifting diets towards lower carbon foods.

For our product portfolio, we control the ingredients used so even if consumers’ overall diets shift toward higher carbon foods, that won’t change the impacts of our specific products. In fact, because of our commitments and the work we’re undertaking in reducing emissions in our supply chains, the absolute contribution of our products to consumers’ food footprint will fall over time.

Since Mars sells products and not just individual ingredients, we have and will pursue opportunities not only to reduce the impacts of our current ingredients but explore use of alternative ingredients that deliver a comparable finished product without a noticeable difference in the final product.

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