McDonald’s, Unilever, Pepsi, Adidas make news at Davos

McDonald’s, Unilever, Pepsi, Adidas make news at Davos

As global leaders hobnobbed at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland this week, the gathering’s theme of “resilient dynamism” resonated around the planet through several big announcements from major corporations and nonprofits.

While not a huge surprise, considering its 2011 commitment to source its filet-o-fish sandwiches sold in Europe from only Marine Stewardship Council-certified seafood, McDonald’s scored with the biggest corporate sustainability news of the day in announcing it will become the first U.S. restaurant chain to serve sustainable seafood at all of its U.S. locations.

From the Huffington Post story on the announcement:

Packaging for all fish dishes at McDonald's 14,000 U.S. locations will be marked with the blue ecolabel of the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent nonprofit organization that sets standards for sustainable fishing based on fish stock health, impacts of the fishery on its ecosystem and the fishery's management system.

McDonald's fish was actually first certified in 2005, but the company has since performed an audit of its supply chain to ensure sustainability and traceability. Various types of fish have been used in McDonald's dishes over the years -- while some may have been considered sustainable at one point, the recent certification ensures that all seafood are from sustainable sources.

But there’s more that needs to be done to combat what’s been labeled a crisis of overfishing, others say. In a statement issued at Davos, the World Wildlife Fund joined public and private sector leaders in a call for a new global seafood traceability system to combat illegal fishing:

The pronouncement is the first multi-stakeholder call for such a system, and could herald an important role for the World Economic Forum in support of sustainable fisheries. ...

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of overfishing, with nearly 87 per cent of the world’s commercial fisheries now fished to or over maximum levels, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 

Meanwhile, experts estimate that 20 per cent of worldwide fish catches come from illegal fishing practices.

The world’s oceans are merely one small part of the agenda at Davos, where global problems and solutions are debated into the wee hours by major players whose fingers rest on the levers of global power.

While some business leaders attend the high-profile annual shindig to drum up business, talk mergers, or otherwise advance their own agendas, others – like Unilever CEO Paul Polman – take the “solving global problems” spirit of the summit seriously.

"If I go to Davos and meet 50 of my banks and 10 of my suppliers and five of my ego-strokes, I'm not sure it's in the spirit of Davos,” he told the Wall Street Journal (paid access):

Like almost everyone else in the small and suddenly overpopulated village, Mr. Polman gets up at 6 a.m. every morning, goes to bed at 1 a.m., and fills the intervening 19 hours with back-to-back meetings. But instead of schmoozing clients or doing deals, he will be brainstorming with Greenpeace and Oxfam on food security, persuading other business leaders to commit to sustainability programs and hanging out with social entrepreneurs. He won't even sneak in a spot of skiing: "I've never skied in Davos. I can't afford it," he claims wryly.

Unilever – along with Adidas and PepsiCo -- was one of eight “sector leaders” named sustainability gold medal winners by consultancy KPMG and investment specialists RobecoSAM:

The report underlines the investment multinationals in 58 sectors appear to be making in ensuring they use less energy and have a lighter environmental impact, although it warns that a lack of reporting standards makes comparisons difficult.

“Business is entering a period of unprecedented opportunity and risk due to a potent cocktail of megaforces including climate change, population growth, water scarcity, urbanization and ecological decline,” said Yvo de Boer, KPMG’s climate change & sustainability advisor.

“Investors should consider the companies awarded gold medals in The Sustainability Yearbook 2013 as among the best prepared within their own sectors to manage these challenges and make themselves fit for the future.”

Global corporations used Davos as an opportunity to trumpet their rankings on high-profile scorecards such as the Corporate Knights’ Global 100 list, which includes two oil firms among its top five companies. South African mining firm Gold Fields, for instance, announced at Davos that it climbed one notch in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index:

Gold Fields (GFI) has been ranked third in the mining index of the 2012 Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI)‚ the most recognised measure of the sustainability performance of listed companies worldwide. In 2011 Gold Fields ranked 4th. ...

Gold Fields is rated the top global gold company on the DJSI and the highest ranked SA-listed and domiciled mining company‚ the gold miner said in a statement.

Even as resiliency has become the new buzzword among urban leaders and corporate bigwigs alike in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, sustainability was just one of many topics addressed at Davos. The sorry state of the global economy, the fragility of the Euro, global conflicts, and increasing inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere were on the agenda. Of course, you could see those issues as part of the sustainability conversation as well.

We’ll keep watching to see what else shakes out from Davos – and whether it sparks any changes worth noting.

Image of Davos on map courtesy of ILLYICH via Shutterstock.