Many governments have tasked themselves to tackling climate change with ambitious goals. At the UN General Assembly in September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping pledged to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. Here in Hong Kong, the government pledged to fulfill the latter before 2050 in a climate action plan unveiled in October 2021. Top-down initiatives have definitely emboldened participation and cooperation from the business sector in regard to tackling climate change.
In fact, businesses have been playing a crucial role in climate change. Profitability and sustainability do not have to exclude one another. Instead, businesses can create shared value for their shareholders and the environment. The crux is that business must act now. It’s time for companies to do something that makes a difference to Planet Earth.
Give Net Zero a try. The United Nations (UN) is calling on businesses to commit to science-based targets that will limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Many companies around the globe have signed the UN “Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge”, and have rolled out their Net Zero programme accordingly, including Nestlé, the world’s renowned food and beverage company.
While companies are responding to the UN’s Net Zero call actively, business sectors face different scenarios in their share of carbon emissions regarding market demand, production costs and employment. According to global consulting firm Mckinsey, for the agriculture and food sector, emissions would be reduced as a result of producers deploying greenhouse gas-efficient farming practices and some consumers shifting their diets away from ruminant animals that generate significant quantities of methane.
Nestlé is part of the movement to take decisive measures to address climate change, by focusing on advancing regenerative agriculture and other actions along the value chain. In terms of sourcing, it targets to source 20% of the key ingredients through regenerative agriculture methods by 2025, and 50% by 2030 under the company’s detailed, time-bound roadmap, which aims to realise Net Zero by 2050 at the latest.
While one of Nestlé’s focuses in sustainable sourcing is to avoid and eliminate deforestation, it has achieved zero deforestation for key ingredients such as sugar and soya beans in Hong Kong. The company is also in the process of reformulating its products to make them more environmentally-friendly and transforming the product portfolio, moving towards carbon-neutral brands. It has started since 2019 to provide a wider plant-based food offer worldwide, including the launch of plant-based options in its multi-categories in Hong Kong. For the average consumers in Hong Kong, it means that they can actually make product choices to embark the Net Zero journey together.
Product packaging is another area that Nestlé is working on. The company has committed itself to making 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and reducing the use of virgin plastics by one third in the same period. It is setting an example in the industry in exploring and developing packaging solutions that are more sustainable.
Other aspects of the operation have been changing as well. Nestlé is turning to the direction of using more renewable energy in the manufacturing process. On logistics, the company is working to enhance the operational efficiency and switch its global fleet of vehicles to lower emission options. For example, in Switzerland, they introduced a hydrogen-powered truck to deliver Nespresso products, while in Sweden they are trialing an electric truck.
The company is also working with various partners to try to limit the impacts on the environment to the least. For example, it has tried to help with the end-of-life recycling of plastic in Hong Kong, particularly focusing on Type 5 PP (polypropylene) plastic, and has worked with the Hong Chi Association – a non-profit group which focuses on empowering people with intellectual disabilities - to run a green recycling campaign on Type 5 PP plastic.
An article published by the World Economic Forum points out there is mounting evidence that it is possible for corporations to transition to net-zero business models profitably, especially when compared with a future of inaction.
Companies’ top management and boardroom must recognise that business and sustainability do not have to contradict each other.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked, “Humanity is waging war on nature. Nature always strikes back, and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.” It’s high time for all of us to act immediately, and of course that includes business. Act now before it’s too late.