Through reducing emissions and investing in offsetting projects, Maple Leaf Foods has become the first major food company in the world to become carbon neutral, the company announced Nov. 7.
“Given the impact that climate change is having on our planet, our vision is one that calls us to strive for continuous improvement by reducing our environmental footprint into perpetuity,” said Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf in a conference call. With room for constant improvement, McCain said ‘mission accomplished’ will never be reached.
“This is an enormous milestone on our sustainability journey that requires effort, that requires dedication, and requires resources,” said McCain adding, “the investments we are making will drive returns not just to our business, but to our planet.”
While there are costs associated with addressing the climate crisis, Maple Leaf also sees some possible economic benefit of the move to carbon neutrality.
“The data is clear that customers, especially our younger customers, are more interested than ever before in the environmental impact of the foods that they choose,” said Randy Huffman, chief food safety and sustainability officer with Maple Leaf.
“We’re optimistic that a significant portion of our consuming public will be attracted to the idea of buying food products, meat protein products, plant protein products that are produced by a carbon neutral company,” said McCain. “We’re hopeful that, that will translate into both customer and consumer support,” he added noting that “more and more customers are interested in aligning themselves with businesses and brands that are behaving in responsible ways, and we’re cautiously optimistic that enough of them will support us over time that this will be a good outcome for the shareholders over time as well.”
Maple Leaf followed standards set out by Science Based Targets, which align global greenhouse gas emission reductions with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It is one of only three animal protein companies in the world to set targets approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative.
Maple Leaf has made significant progress towards its goal to reduce its environmental footprint by 50 per cent by 2025, according to a news release. Since 2015, the company has reduced over 86 million kilowatt hours of electricity and over 4.3 million m3 of natural gas, according to the release. Through its water conservation efforts, Maple Leaf has reduced water usage by over 1.2 billion litres.
The company is also investing in credible and independently verified high-impact environmental projects throughout Canada and the United States to address its remaining carbon footprint, bringing it to zero. These projects support wind energy, recovering methane gas from landfills, composting and biomass programs to reduce methane emissions, and forest protection and reforestry to conserve species and biodiversity, said the release.
“Today’s actions are not just about being socially responsible; they are about survival,” said McCain in the news release. “Consumers rightfully expect business and political leaders to solve these problems and address the profound consequences of our climate crisis. Our announcement demonstrates that carbon neutrality and Science Based Targets for emissions reduction are both achievable — and urgent. We hope our actions inspire food companies and businesses broadly to join us in the critical fight against climate change.”
Representatives of a number of environmental agencies, including the World Wildlife Fund and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development applauded Maple Leaf’s efforts with quotes accompanying the news release.
“Addressing greenhouse gas emissions is a top priority for WWF-Canada. We encourage communities, industries and government to join us in reducing our carbon footprint, to benefit wildlife and address the climate crisis,” said Megan Leslie, president and CEO, WWF-Canada.
“We must accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and a sustainable food system,” added Diane Holdorf managing director, Food & Nature Program at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.