‘We’re trying to go all in’: Chocolate giant Mars pledges $1 billion to fight climate change

    Mars has pledged to spend $1 billion on its “Sustainability in a Generation” plan. It aims to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and promoting sustainable farming. Mars wants big companies around the world to follow its lead. It’s warning that “more extreme weather events” could cause “significant challenges and hardships” unless more action is taken.

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A farmer carrying cocoa pods at a cocoa farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast.
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REUTERS/Luc Gnago

LONDON – The chocolate giant Mars is promising to spend close to $1 billion over the next few years fighting climate change.

The $35 billion food giant behind brands like M&Ms, Skittles, and Twix on Wednesday launched its “Sustainability in a Generation” plan, aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and supply chain by more than 60% by 2050.

“We’ve been increasingly worried about overall progress on the big issues, whether that’s climate change or solving poverty,” Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer, told Business Insider. “There are obviously commitments the world is leaning into but, frankly, we don’t think we’re getting there fast enough collectively. We’re trying to go all in here.”

‘We believe in the scientific view of climate science and the need for collective action’

The huge investment commitment comes ahead of a UN General Assembly and Climate Week in New York later this month, and the timing is meant to spur other companies around the world to make similar environmental commitments.

Mars and Snickers bars are seen in this picture illustration taken February 23, 2016. U.S. chocolate maker Mars Inc announced a recall of Mars and Snickers bars as well as some other products in Germany on Tuesday after bits of plastic were found in one of its products. It said the recall affected all Mars and Snickers products, Milky Way Minis and Miniatures as well as certain kinds of Celebrations confectionery boxes with best-before dates ranging from June 19, 2016 to Jan. 8, 2017.

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Some of Mars’ best-selling chocolates.
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REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Illustration

CEO Grant Reid said in a statement released Wednesday that “the engine of global business – its supply chain – is broken and requires transformational, cross-industry collaboration to fix it.”

Parkin said the consequences of inaction were “the planet warming” and “more extreme weather events,” which could cause “significant challenges and hardships in specific places around the world, whether that’s oceans rising or crops not growing successfully.”

“We’re a food business, which is based on agriculture, so we care a lot about the farmers who supply us around the world,” he said. “It’s towards 1 million farmers around the world who produce raw materials for us.

“Climate science says many of those are going to be challenged as the world gets warmer. We care about this both on a societal level but also on a business level.”

He added: “It’s time for companies to accelerate their game and work together, and work together with governments and civil society. This is a world issue, and it requires all actors to work together.”

Mars, which had close to $35 billion in sales last year, was one of the companies that signed a letter in May urging President Donald Trump not to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Parkin said Mars’ investment wasn’t motivated by Trump.

“We’re not interested in the politics here – this is about policy,” he said. “We believe in the scientific view of climate science and the need for collective action.”

But he added, “We’re clearly disappointed that the US administration has chosen to withdraw from the Paris agreement.”

Mars said it would meet the environmental commitments set out in the Paris agreement as part of its sustainability plan.

‘You have to completely change the way you operate your business’

Mars’ $1 billion sustainability drive will include investments in:

    Renewable energy: Mars’ US and UK operations are already powered by huge wind farms built over the past decade, but it plans to have wind-powered operations in 11 countries around the world, including Russia, China, Australia, and India, by next year. Food sourcing: The company, which also makes pet food under brands including Whiskas and Pedigree, will invest in sustainable sourcing for ingredients like fish. Cross-industry action groups: Mars has set up groups like CocoaAction, an industry coalition aimed at making cocoa growing more sustainable, and Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming, which invests in smallholder farming across the world. Farmers: “A huge amount of it will go upstream in working with farmers and helping farmers transform the way they grow crops to be both more environmentally sound, but also in ways that dramatically increase the income of farmers,” Parkin says.

Barry Parkin, Mars' chief sustainability officer.

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Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer.
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Mars

“This is not just a little bit better,” Parkin said. “The science says we need to reduce our carbon footprint by two-thirds, and we’re going to do that. You have to completely change the way you operate your business, and you have to completely change how you source your products.”

He added: “The billion is a good start and a very clear investment, but we fundamentally have to make the business more sustainable. Everything we invest over the next few years has to be in pursuit of becoming a truly sustainable business.

“We care about our business being successful over the next 100 years.”