In June, the board of The Consumer Goods Forum called on heads of state across the world to engage and act with determination, leadership and ambition to secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal, one year ahead of the UN Climate Summit in Paris.
The Forum also urged governments to make the UN REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) climate change mitigation plan a priority, supporting it with local and national policies that can protect forests and support livelihoods.
At the time, Marc Bolland, co-sponsor of The Forum’s Sustainability Pillar and CEO of Marks & Spencer Group plc, added, ‘The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leaves little doubt as to the future disruption that climate change will bring to bear. It is clear that there is still a great deal that needs to be done to protect livelihoods, individual businesses and our industry as a whole from the impacts of climate change.’ He said that resolutions made by The Forum will help ‘address key areas within our industry that are contributing to climate change on a global scale.’
The consumer goods industry has a unique role in enabling and empowering consumers to make sustainable changes in their purchasing and in their lives, if it innovates, communicates and partners up properly.
Risks and opportunities
The Consumer Goods Forum has four ‘pillars’, or services, that address ‘some of the most important opportunities and risks’ that face companies in the global consumer industry. One of those pillars is sustainability; it’s connected to — and, according to the managing director, just as important as — the others: product safety, health and wellness and end-to-end value chain.
Members of The Forum are encouraged to act together to protect against climate change, reduce waste and promote and comply with good environmental practices. They can adopt The Forum’s proposals and suggestions voluntarily, and many are quick to adopt them. It’s not all entirely selfless; sustainable business practices often also offer economic opportunities, and still apply — in some cases even more significantly — in tougher financial climates.
The bundling of transport streams to save carbon and reduce empty trucks is just one example of how sustainable practices make good business sense; transport costs and packaging are reduced, and both have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Two of The Forum’s sustainability resolutions were announced at the Cancun Climate Change Conference in November 2010. The first was a pledge to mobilise resources within The Forum’s respective businesses in a bid to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. The commitment will be achieved through the individual members’ company initiatives, and by working in partnership with governments and NGOs. The Forum’s collaborative approach has helped it to develop specific, time-bound and cost-effective action plans, each based on the different challenges in sourcing commodities like palm oil, soya, beef, paper and board in a sustainable way.
Deforestation accounts for approximately 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a larger net impact than the entire transport sector globally. The biggest drivers for deforestation are the cultivation of soya, oil palm, logging for the production of paper and board and the rearing of cattle.
All of these commodities are major ingredients in the supply chains of most consumer goods companies. The Consumer Goods Forum’s members drive the demand for these commodities and have an opportunity to ensure that the sourcing of these ingredients does not contribute to deforestation.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The second pledge to come out of Cancun was that members would start phasing out hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in new refrigeration installations from 2015, in recognition of the major — and increasing — contribution of HFCs and derivative chemical refrigerants to total greenhouse gas emissions. Where legally allowed and available, HFCs will be replaced with natural refrigerant alternatives.
Refrigeration is a significant and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions; HFC, the dominant technology, is 1,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. HFCs represent 1.5% of total warming potential today and, unless action is taken, are expected to increase to 6-9% of total greenhouse gases by 2050. HCFCs and HFCs are fluorinated gases (F-gases) that are widely used in the consumer goods sector, in anything from drinks coolers and vending machines to ice cream freezers and the freezers used in supermarkets.
However, there are barriers to wide-scale adoption of more climate-friendly refrigeration, mainly availability, cost, safety, maintenance, servicing and, in some markets, legislative restrictions. The Consumer Goods Forum is working to overcome those barriers through collaboration; it’s using its collective influence to encourage its supply base to develop natural refrigerants technologies that meet business demand under commercially viable conditions.