- Mars Inc. has ramped up its sustainability strategy across its entire global business model.
- Goals for issues like carbon neutrality and deforestation are now tied to executive compensation.
- Farming practices are the largest challenge for Mars due to the size and scope of its suppliers.
The multinational company Mars Inc., the parent company of popular global brands like Iams, Pedigree, and Snickers, recently announced it was increasing its sustainability targets with a significant focus on helping its suppliers around the world switch to restorative farming practices.
This month, Mars said it is mobilizing its entire business to reach the bigger goals, which include eliminating deforestation from its supply chain, increasing sustainable land use among farmers, and making Royal Canin, its largest brand, carbon neutral in the next four years.
Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer Barry Parkin oversees the sourcing of all of Mars’ ingredients, from pet food brands like Whiskas to candy brands suach as M&M’s and Twix. Parkin told Insider the company’s decision to set new science-based targets and five-year goals well before 2050 was in response to drought and extreme weather – effects of the climate crisis – in areas like West Africa and California where key ingredients like cocoa, fruit, and nuts are grown.
“We have to work on everything,” he said. “This is an internal call to action to our 140,000 associates that we’re all working on this, not just a few people. There’s no point waiting 25 years and trying to do this all in the last five.”
Parkin also mentioned that the new sustainability targets are being incorporated into Mars’ governance and operations and will be linked to executive compensation at the same level as financial performance. “Our senior leaders are now very, very engaged on this topic and are clamoring to know, ‘What do I do?'” he said. “‘What’s my role in this?'”
While many multinational companies are focused on reducing energy use and emissions at offices and factories, Mars found 95% of its carbon footprint was from its suppliers. After switching to renewable energy for its operations in 11 countries, the company plans to make the transition in another eight countries in the next four years. “We’re contracting cheaper than fossil fuels as we go around the world,” Parkin said.
By comparison, reducing carbon emissions from suppliers is more difficult because more elements are out of Mars’ control. The company’s efforts to eliminate deforestation include “enhanced transparency and traceability” around items like cocoa, beef, palm oil, pulp, paper, and soy. It also means higher costs and “a continued shift away from purchasing ingredients based on cost alone.”
There’s also the sheer scope of where Mars purchases its raw materials. Parkin said they come from over 100 countries around the world, through thousands of suppliers, and an estimated 1 million farmers. Simplifying and streamlining this supply chain has involved a lot of work; the company spent three to four years shrinking its number of palm-oil suppliers from 1500 to 100 in order to implement better management practices and monitoring.
For Mars to accomplish its ambitious sustainability goals, it means helping implement a type of farming known as regenerative agriculture, which helps trap carbon in the soil and improve water supplies, on a massive global scale. Parkin said rough estimates suggest the current adoption rate is about 1% per year. “Frankly, the world doesn’t have 100 years to wait,” he said. “We have to find ways to accelerate some of the adoption of some of these practices. And it’s challenging because it’s farmer by farmer around the world.”
But this type of farming won’t get Mars to net-zero carbon emissions. So the company’s sustainability strategy also acknowledges the role of carbon credits, which have received criticism for overpromising and underdelivering on their claims to mitigate climate change. Mars said it is committed to investing in projects with the “highest ecological, social and carbon impact,” such as its recent investment in the 150 million-pound Livelihoods Carbon Fund 3, supporting community-based solutions for rural areas.