Canadian brands unite to move the needle on sustainability

A pledge to fight climate change and a coalition to reduce plastic waste are among new initiatives being led by major CPGs and retailers.
Plastic Waste

As a year characterized by wide-scale disruption and upheaval begins to wind down, many Canadian companies remain focused on tackling threats to environmental sustainability.

Their commitments come as the Canadian federal government takes further action on climate change, announcing last week that it plans to triple its carbon tax and spend more than $15 billion in order to surpass its carbon emissions reduction targets for 2030. The announcement follows the federal Liberals’ October decision to implement a ban on single-use plastics (including plastic bags, straws and six-pack rings) starting next year.

A pledge to address climate change

On Dec. 9, a coalition of companies currently consisting of Maple Leaf Foods, CN and Celestica Inc. released a joint letter outlining their commitment to take action against climate change and calling on other companies to do the same.

The commitments align with the goals of the Paris Agreement and cover four areas that are to be addressed by each organization’s sustainability strategy. These include reducing carbon emissions, setting science-based targets, ensuring company operations follow sustainable practices and reporting on their efforts to provide greater transparency and accountability.

Tim Faveri, VP of sustainability and shared value at Maple Leaf Foods, tells strategy the letter was born out of the company’s carbon management strategy development process, more specifically the realization that fewer Canadian companies have established science-based targets than one might expect from a country often considered a leader on the issue.

To date, only 17 Canadian firms have committed to establishing Science Based Targets and only eight have articulated what those targets are, including co-signatories CN and Celestica, as well as Lululemon, Arc’teryx, Aldo and Lush. Maple Leaf, which became carbon neutral last year, remains the only major food company with established targets on the list.

Faveri says the open letter also comes in response to Canadians’ expectations regarding environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices. He cites a recent survey by Angus Reid that showed 91% of people expect companies to do their part to reduce carbon emissions; 88% believe companies should be doing more to protect the environment.

According to the VP, the signatories plan to meet next summer to share best practices and identify emerging opportunities to reduce their climate impact.

A coalition to reduce plastic waste

On the same day the open letter was published, more than twenty Canadian retailers and CPGs signed a global pledge promising to reduce plastic waste and to help make the ubiquitous packaging material more recyclable.

The pledge is part of an initiative led by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), whose members consist of some of the world’s largest retail and consumer brands. The companies supporting the pledge in Canada include Amcor, Barilla Group, Coca-Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Danone, Essity, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, Kraft Heinz, Loblaw, Maple Leaf Foods, Mars Canada, Metro, Mondelez, Nestle, PepsiCo, RB, Save-On-Foods, SC Johnson, Unilever and Walmart.

As part of CGF’s Plastic Waste Coalition of Action – one of many such coalitions, with others focusing on forest health, food waste and sustainable supply chains among other issues – the companies have agreed to set voluntary 2025 targets based around two principles referred to as the “Golden Design Rules.”

The first of the principles aims to improve the recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most commonly used plastics for packaging, by using transparent forms of PET that are easier to recycle than those that are opaque and coloured. The second focuses on removing packaging elements that make recycling more difficult, such as the use of certain adhesives or materials that break down into microplastics.

“Retailers and consumer product companies represent about one third of Canada’s plastic waste. That means we should be at least a third of the solution,” said Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston, a coalition co-sponsor alongside Unilever CEO Alan Jope, in a statement.

Weston told the Globe and Mail that investors are becoming more interested in questions around ESG, making them impossible to ignore. “Any company that is unable to effectively speak to its ESG policies, measurements and action plans, struggles with investors,” he said. “And I think that will increasingly be the case.”

The members of the coalition include companies that have historically produced a significant amount of plastic waste. Last week, Break Free From Plastic, an organization that conducts an annual waste audit, analyzed 340,000 pieces of plastic waste in 55 countries, 63% of which were marked with an identifiable brand name. Among the many signatories listed in its report, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé were found to be the top three waste producers globally.

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash.