When thinking of the candy industry, sustainability and innovation does not exactly come to mind. On the contrary, I first think of tradition and waste. I think tradition in that many of the candies being mass-produced today have not changed that much in the past century or more. I think waste, in that though perhaps delicious, there is not much nutritional value gained from eating a chocolate bar. In addition to candy being a “waste” of calories, I also immediately think of the waste in wrappers and production of that momentary enjoyment.
However, I have come across a few articles that tell a different story. Today, I will focus on sharing the initiatives taken by Mars, Inc., and more specifically the M&M brand.
Candy, or more specifically, the confectionary industry, like other industries, is making strides in working towards sustainability for the future. This will benefit the environment and customer sentiment, which in turn will benefit the business. As Mars CEO Grant F. Reid directly put it in regards to combating global threats, “…from obesity to climate change to resource scarcity. It’s our duty as a company and as global citizens to do our part to drive positive, strategic change. It’s also good business practice.” He discusses the importance of acting as responsible global citizens in his letter to the company in June of 2017.
What stood out to me was the action following up these huge promises the company had made. The M&Ms brand specifically has invested significantly in wind power, so much so that enough power has already been purchased to produce the amount of M&Ms sold around the world. This investment is part of a long-term contract with wind farms located in Texas, Scotland, and eventually in Mexico. Promising to continue to pay these companies for the electricity they produce using wind mitigates risk and therefore lowers prices for the renewable energy source.
The wind industry is growing more powerful each year, with Texas in the lead among states in the US. The strategically placed turbines capture kinetic energy from the wind which is converted into electricity and then can be used to power houses, factories, and more.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a list on July 14th of this year ranking the largest users of green power among corporations within the Green Power Partnership. The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary commitment between corporations and the EPA, promising to work towards using renewable, or green, energy sources on a large scale. On the top 100 list, Mars, Incorporated came in at sixteen, and of food and beverage companies, it ranked first. Annually, the company uses over 662 million kilowatt hours of green energy, which makes up about seventy percent of the company’s total electricity usage, relying on solar and wind.
In addition to ensuring the company is supporting renewable energy sources, Mars, Incorporated has also made great strides to work with farmers producing the cocoa the company buys. Over fifty percent of the world’s cocoa West Africa, specifically within Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, so it is crucial for the world’s largest users of that cocoa to work closely with farmers producing it. Mars, along with eleven of the world’s largest chocolate companies signed a joint agreement aptly named CocoaAction, promising to work with over 200,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and over 100,000 farmers in Ghana, and their communities, to ensure that cocoa production will be a viable sector for years to come. In 2014 this industry-wide initiative took place, resulting in a voluntary commitment taking promises of corporate social responsibility into action. These actions include working with farmers to change irrigation techniques, planting techniques, and fertilizers, implementing the latest technology and increasing efficiency, but also ensuring livable wages and working conditions for the workers. Before the initiative took place, many issues surrounded the cocoa industry, including decline in soil fertility, disease attacking cocoa trees, child labor, gender inequality, and lack of access to education among cocoa farmers. The companies taking part in this mission have and will continue to work to combat these, to improve the livelihoods of the farmers, and grow the industry. In turn, the customers win with sustained low prices for the products they love and the corporations win with a sustainable stream of revenue. Though this is a smart move for the business, it is not primarily focused on immediate productivity and output.
In addition to working towards creating sustainable cocoa production and using wind power for electricity, the privately held company has a larger sustainability agenda, of which it is actually attaining its goals. Mars, Incorporated, as stated on its own site, is, through the use of smart investments and new technology to address the entire value chain. The company will focus cultivating a healthy planet, thriving people, and nourishing wellbeing. Within these buckets, Mars is working towards or has already accomplished: making all the wrappers of their food recyclable, increasing wind power usage in plants, utilizing ingredients from only sustainable, trustworthy sources, and spreading and improving oral care in areas in need, to name a few.
Anything published by the company itself must be taken with a grain of salt and scrutinized against other sources, but I have to say I am starting to believe it. Mars, Inc. has seen its fair share of criticism, even within the past decade. However, I think the company has not only resolved the critiques, but gone a few steps further, like when it petitioned for the completion of the Paris Agreement or is working with local farmers in implementing efficient technologies and practices in cocoa production.
This is just one of many examples of companies in 2017 ‘doing well by doing good’. While it may be part cliche, part marketing ploy, the facts are there to back the statements. We can all feel a little better about the next time we tear open that fun-sized bag of colored candies.