The importance of the business community’s efforts to help ensure a sustainable future for the planet was thrown into stark relief by the decidedly mixed results coming out of the COP26 global climate change conference in Glasgow. The gathering was intended to secure commitments from the almost 200 nations in attendance that would stave off the worst effects of climate change by limiting global warming from pre-industrial levels to between to 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius.
Hammered out at the last minute, the resulting agreement falls far short of that goal, according to scientific experts. While the deal establishes the rudiments of a global carbon trading market and asks wealthy countries to provide more support for poor ones as they struggle with climate change, it fails to call for the phase out of coal or the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. The inability of governments to forge a workable plan is the antithesis of the pattern at businesses around the world.
Ahold Delhaize is a case in point. The company, which runs supermarkets, other store formats and e-commerce facilities in Europe, the U.S. and Indonesia, this month accelerated the drive to become a net zero carbon emitter, pledging to do so across its operations by 2040, and throughout its supply chain by 2050. Other aspects of its commitment to the environment include reducing food waste, fostering the development of a circular economy, and working with farmers and other suppliers to implement sustainable practices.
“I believe [sustainability] transcends and touches all aspects of our business and our industry,” says president and CEO Frans Muller. “I think of this priority as our commitment to be grounded in goodness. I want the decisions and choices of Ahold Delhaize and its brands to be grounded in goodness and thus make healthy and sustainable choices easy for both people and the planet.”
Enlightened views of the climate crisis, steps that can be taken to address it and the necessity of moving quickly are shared by many of Muller’s counterparts. The collective action of retailers and CPG suppliers won’t, in and of itself, end global warming. But it will make a significant incremental difference and, through those companies’ ability to influence consumer behavior and the thinking of government officials, set an example worthy of emulation.