Is Big Food hiding the carbon footprint of your lunch?

Report finds Wendy's, Loblaw and Beyond Meat don't disclose all emissions

Some of the world’s largest food companies talk a lot about their plans to be more environmentally friendly, including bold commitments to (eventually) reduce their carbon footprint.

But many of those corporations are failing to disclose information to investors about most of their greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent analysis by non-profit Ceres. The organization found that out of 50 of the largest food companies in the United States and Canada, only 19 were disclosing at least some Scope 3 emissions. These are emissions in a company’s supply chain that are beyond the company’s direct operations and energy use. They can include the emissions from manufacturing fertilizers and raising livestock to those created when you cook a burger on a grill. Ceres estimates that they can often account for around 80% of a food corporation’s total emissions. 

“If the company isn’t disclosing that, there’s no way to track if [their climate targets are] just lip service or if they’re actually walking the walk,” says Meryl Richards, the director of food and forests for Ceres. 

Wendy's, Costco, Loblaw, Beyond Meat (the popular plant-based meat alternative maker) and JBS USA (the world’s largest meat supplier) were a few of the many companies on the list that don’t disclose any Scope 3 emissions. Starbucks, Hershey and Mondelez International were the only ones that fully disclosed their emissions and had adequate emissions targets that included curbing Scope 3 emissions. 

Richards says Ceres has already heard from some of the large companies on the list that failed to completely disclose their Scope 3 emissions, asking to work together. Ceres has also invited investors to become signatories of its Food Emissions 50 initiative, which hopes to push North America’s highest-emitting public food companies to improve their climate risk disclosures. In order to get more transparency, Ceres figures it will need investors to help put pressure on these companies. 

In late August, an enormous group of investors, responsible for US$55 trillion in assets and involved in an initiative called Climate Action 100+, laid out a list of actions they say the food industry must take to reach net-zero. One of their expectations is that food companies will factor the climate implications of their full supply chains into their decision-making.

As food and agriculture contribute an eye-popping quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it will be vital for investors to get disclosure on this issue to know if companies are really meeting promised targets. “Without it, there is no way to hold them accountable,” says Richards. 

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