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Ceres report shows ‘stunning’ lack of Scope 3 action by Costco, McDonalds, others

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The Food Emissions 50 companies were benchmarked for their greenhouse gas emissions disclosures and reduction targets.

A new report from Ceres, the nonprofit working with capital leaders to spur a sustainable economic future, found that even in the wake of a year of climate disasters, most of the major food brands are still not disclosing greenhouse gas emissions, reporting science-based targets or outlining progress towards those goals. The report, the Food Emissions 50 Company Benchmark, assessed the 50 largest food companies in North America, and the results were disappointing but not surprising. 

The benchmark is simple and straightforward, focusing on two indicators around Scope 3 emissions. First, does a company disclose Scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services, agriculture and land-use change? And second, does the company have an emission reduction target in line with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming that includes Scope 3 emissions?

Out of the 50 companies assessed — including big names such as Hershey, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Kellogg Co., Walmart, McCormick and others — only 19 disclose Scope 3 emissions and only 15 included Scope 3 emissions in their science-based targets. 

The only companies that received a "yes" on both indicator one and indicator two were Hershey, Starbucks and Mondelez International, although a few others received partial credit for one or both indicators.  

According to Julie Nash, program director of food and forests at Ceres, the questions focused on Scope 3 because that is where 80 to 90 percent of emissions from food companies occur. 

"It’s a question of really being able to focus on where the emissions are," she said. "Even though we recognize that being able to assess emissions within their value chain is certainly harder than their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions."

Ceres looked at press releases, sustainability reports and individual CDP disclosures to evaluate the companies. There were some instances where researchers spoke to companies directly, but Ceres emphasized disclosures that are available to the public.  

The lack of disclosure is actually quite stunning.

"The lack of disclosure is actually quite stunning," Nash said. "I think that that continues to surprise us. These value chain emissions are the Achilles heel of the food sector. And so we're looking to be able to shed some light on that."

Disclosures are the first and necessary step to developing a comprehensive climate transition within the food sector. And according to Nash, the report will help investors engage with companies that already disclose emissions and help others along the journey.

Ceres worked on the project with founding green investor partners Green Century Capital Management and Seventh Generation, and plans to release the names of more investors who have signed on to the benchmark. The investors who sign on will seek commitments from the companies’ boards and senior management to disclose GHG emissions, set targets in line with science and implement action plans to achieve those targets.

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"It's really useful to have something to come back to," said Leslie Samuelrich, president of the green century funds and Green Century Capital Management. "Here's the starting point, here's where you are. And here's what you need to do. Transparency is the first step toward change."

Ceres knows that this benchmark is very elementary and plans to come out with a second benchmark in a few months. This one was to put companies on notice.   

"Good targets need to be created off of good baselines," Nash said. 

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