Can Kraft Learn to Sell Sustainability?

As vice president of global sustainability at Kraft Foods, Steve Yucknut has no problem selling the idea of eco-efficiency to executives at the $49 billion-a-year food giant. "If you use less energy, you save money," he says. "If you make less waste, you save money."

This is fine, as far as it goes. As Kraft reported just last week, between 2005 and 2010, the company has reduced its environmental footprint across its global operations.Specifically:

  • Energy use is down 16 percent
  • CO2 emissions are down 18 percent
  • Incoming water is down 30 percent
  • Net waste is down 42 percent

The trouble is, those reductions are measured against Kraft's "total production." So if the company sells lots and lots more stuff -- which, of course, every company wants to do -- it could end up generating more pollution, even as it becomes more efficient. That doesn't do the planet much good.

The biggest, and harder, task for Kraft is to find ways to simultaneously grow sales and pollute less.

This will require, first, digging deep into its supply chain, to make sure that the ingredients that go into its products are grown sustainably. Kraft is working on such commodities as coffee, cocoa and cashews, with partners including the Rainforest Alliance and the Gates Foundation.

It will also require changing consumer behavior, so that people think differently and then buy differently when they shop for food.

Fortunately, consumer goods companies like Kraft are very good at changing behavior; that's called marketing. The question is, can Kraft learn to sell sustainability?

Take a look: