The global food corporation Nestlé has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as a business response to the Paris Agreement. This will bring its environmental policies in line with the IPCC’s latest recommendations for keeping within 1.5 degrees of warming.
The Switzerland based company sells its products in almost every country in the world, and is best known for milk, chocolate and the coffee brand Nescafé. It’s huge size makes it a major contributor to climate change, and potentially a big part of the solution too. As a food producer, it is also vulnerable to climate change, something that CEO Mark Schneider acknowledges: “Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face as a society” he says. “It is also one of the greatest risks to the future of our business.”
Nestlé have done quite a lot already. A previous goal to reduce emissions by 35% was met early, and they have invested in renewable energy and rail and sea freight rather than road transport. We will have to wait and see exactly how they plan to acheive net zero, but so far they have outlined three broad areas:
First, they can make changes to the products themselves, such as investing more in plant-based foods. There’s already a trend here that they can capitalise on and accelerate.
Secondly, Nestlé can use its influence on agriculture to encourage more climate-friendly farming. This would include land restoration and alternative approaches to dairy farming. The ‘net’ in net zero means that they will need to offset any emissions they cannot eliminate, and that is likely to mean investment in forestry.
Third, the company will move to 100% renewable energy, and support suppliers to do so as well. A third of Nestlé’s factories already run on renewable electricity.
Now, you don’t need me to tell you that Nestlé has a few skeletons in its cupboards. Yes, 2050 may be too far away, and all the usual questions about whether we want corporations to control so much of the world’s food still apply. As do the issues of shareholder capitalism and the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet. Nevertheless, given that we have multinational corporations and will do for the foreseeable future, this is how we would like them to behave.
I have written about the number of countries setting ambitious carbon targets. We need companies to do this too, and a growing number of them are taking the challenge seriously. Nestlé joins peers such as Danone, which has net zero targets, and Unilever, which plans to be carbon positive by 2030.
To avoid runaway climate change, these cannot remain exceptional companies. One day – one day very soon – zero carbon needs to be par for the course.