Five years ago, McDonald’s announced its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third in certain areas of its operations by 2030. Later, the company committed to achieving “net zero” emissions by 2050. However, in its recent report, McDonald’s revealed that its emissions in 2021 were 12 percent higher than its 2015 baseline.
This trend is not unique to McDonald’s. An analysis of climate-related reports and filings from 20 of the largest food and restaurant companies globally shows that over half of them have not made progress in reducing emissions or have reported an increase in emissions levels. The majority of emissions, often exceeding 90 percent, come from these companies’ supply chains, which include the production of ingredients such as cows and wheat.
While efforts have been made to reduce plastic packaging and water usage, many large food and beverage companies and restaurant chains are struggling to balance their growth with their climate goals. The COVID-19 pandemic and external factors such as the war in Ukraine and extreme weather events have disrupted supply chains, leading to changes in ingredient sourcing.
Companies like PepsiCo and Chipotle have reported increased supply chain emissions in their recent climate reports, despite setting emissions reduction goals. Starbucks, on the other hand, reported a 12 percent increase in total emissions while experiencing significant revenue growth. These companies emphasize the need to integrate growth and innovation into climate transition plans and acknowledge the challenges of quantifying and reducing supply chain emissions.
Some companies, such as Mars, have successfully reduced their total emissions while growing their businesses. Mars aims to cut its 2015 emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The company plans to invest $1 billion in climate-related efforts, including incentives for regenerative farming practices.
Reporting emissions data is voluntary and lacks standardization, making it difficult to compare companies. Furthermore, some companies do not disclose all their emissions, especially in supply chains. Meat processors like Tyson Foods and JBS have faced criticism for not disclosing supply chain emissions and potentially underreporting their greenhouse gas emissions.
JBS, for example, claims to have set a net-zero emissions target for its supply chain but has not had its targets validated externally. The company did not include supply chain emissions figures in its sustainability report, prompting concerns from climate activists. The industry faces challenges in quantifying emissions from livestock and determining who bears the costs of climate-friendly farming practices.
Overall, the global food system, responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions, faces pressure to develop and implement effective plans to reduce emissions. Stakeholders, including governments, corporations, and consumers, must work together to address the challenges and costs associated with climate-friendly practices.