The Fortune 500 companies that make your cereal, shoes and soap are getting serious about climate change.
Kellogg Co., a Battle Creek, Mich., food-maker perhaps more known for Raisin Bran than its environmental practices, announced plans Wednesday to curb greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain — including from agriculture, which chips in 10 percent of U.S. emissions.
"There is growing consensus that global mean temperature must be limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels in order to avoid permanently altering the atmosphere and negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic systems that sustain us — both today and in the future," Kellogg said.
The move, with other commitments from other top brands, shows that some businesses are bucking the traditional narrative of industry versus the Obama administration's climate change agenda.
Kellogg's action is part of an Oxfam International campaign that secured a climate change pledge from General Mills, another food company, last month. But other industry leaders, such as Nike, Starbucks and Unilever — the company that owns Dove, Axe and a handful of other food and beauty brands — also have pledged support to the White House's climate push.
The Kellogg's and General Mills agreements are significant because they can impose wholesale changes across the supply chain. Climate change is pinching food companies in various ways, including rising costs for crops exposed to higher temperatures, drought and flooding that some scientists have associated with a warming planet.
Kellogg, for example, said that it would "establish a robust emissions baseline and associated target we will require our key suppliers to measure and publically [sic] disclose their emissions and reduction targets" by December 2015 — most of its emissions come upstream from the agricultural sector. Kellogg also said it would disclose its top palm oil, soy and timber suppliers, which are key drivers of deforestation and land-use change.
Such actions from the private sector reinforce — and expand beyond — the administration's regulatory approach. That's because they would stretch beyond the scope of the EPA's centerpiece climate change proposal for existing power plants, which aims to cut emissions for the power sector alone by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
It's not just cereal-makers, either.
Some of the world's biggest private companies are already taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. Sixty percent of Fortune 100 and Global 100 companies have renewable energy goals, greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets or both, according to a 2012 study by Boston business sustainability group Ceres, Calvert Investments and the World Wildlife Fund.
All of that is occurring without congressional action, and apart from the Capitol Hill rhetoric on climate change. Congress is gridlocked on the issue, partly because conservatives and centrist Democrats oppose action to reduce emissions that they say would make the United States less competitive. On top of that, some Republicans are skeptical of or deny the scientific consensus that humans are driving global warming largely by burning fossil fuels.
But the businesses that have signed onto Oxfam's effort, with nearly 30 businesses that have signed up for Ceres' Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, say stomping out greenhouse gas emissions makes prudent financial sense. They say the effect a changing climate has on agricultural yields and other parts of the supply chain could take a bite out of bottom lines.
"The new standards will reinforce what leading companies already know: climate change poses real financial risks and substantial economic opportunities and we must act now," said a group of 128 companies and 49 investors representing more than $1 trillion in assets in a June letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.