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Mars CEO sees ‘moral’ duty in tackling climate change

The new chief executive of Mars, maker of M&M’s sweets, says companies have a “moral” duty to reduce their environmental footprint.

Image: © AFP/File
Image: © AFP/File
Marie-Morgane LE MOEL

The new chief executive of Mars, maker of M&M’s sweets, chewing gum and pet food, says companies have a “moral” duty to reduce their environmental footprint as the world battles climate change.

Poul Weihrauch, a Dane who took the reins of the US-based group in September, acknowledges that the food industry has a big impact on the environment, with its plastic wrappers and its contribution to deforestation and carbon emissions.

Big companies have a “massive opportunity” to have an impact against climate change, Weihrauch told AFP.

“It’s an important area of development for Mars to be known for changing the curve and not only talk about it,” he said in an interview in Paris.

The family-owned multinational, whose brands include the Mars and Snickers chocolate bars, Pedigree pet food and Wrigley’s chewing gum, aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The century-old company, whose businesses include pet care veterinary clinics, has invested $1.1 billion in striving to achieve that target since 2020 and plans to double the amount in the next three years.

“In the food (industry) there are thousands of ingredients that are being worked on,” Weihrauch said.

“Today, some of them are not better from a carbon point of view. Some of them may have health issues. So it’s a long development. It’s just the start but it’s going to explode with new innovative solutions,” he added.

– ‘Profit and purpose’ –

Mars’ investments include using wind power for its veterinary clinics, ensuring a more sustainable cocoa supply and finding new packaging for thousands of products.

“We have a moral obligation to invest in these areas and carbon solutions,” Weihrauch said.

Weihrauch says companies have a 'massive opportunity' to make a difference on climate change

Weihrauch says companies have a ‘massive opportunity’ to make a difference on climate change – Copyright AFP Aamir QURESHI

Instead of extracting oil from palm trees, companies can use algae, “which has a much better carbon neutrality”, he said.

“When you design pet food, there’s a huge carbon footprint difference between having lamb in the recipe or having beef. So our food designers need to take every single ingredient that goes into a food product and redesign it.”

CDP, a non-profit organisation that tracks and rates the climate pledges of companies, gave Mars an “A” for its climate change efforts in 2022 and an A-minus for its forests programmes, including on palm oil.

A company must have a strong financial foundation to be able to invest in sustainability, Weihrauch said.

“We don’t believe that profit and purpose don’t work hand in hand. They do. Unless you grow a healthy company you won’t make a difference,” he said.

The company has diversified its business since the beginning.

In a major move, Mars acquired veterinary clinics group VCA for $9 billion in 2017. A year later, it took over another pet care firm, Europe’s AniCura.

– ‘Fantastic’ M&M’s campaign –

The company’s pet care division now accounts for 60 percent of Mars’ overall sales, or just under $50 billion last year.

The sector is expected to grow by eight percent annually in the United States over the next seven years, according to Morgan Stanley.

Speaking at the Royal Canin flagship shop in Paris, Weihrauch said Mars was not going to abandon its sweets business.

“The world would be a pretty boring place without chocolate,” he said.

He also defended an M&M’s publicity campaign that courted controversy in the United States.

The brand introduced a new “spokescandy”, Purple, calling the addition a symbol of “acceptance and inclusivity”. The colour is often associated with the LGBTQ community.

Right-wing Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson criticised M&M’s as “woke” and the company said in January it was pausing the ad campaign.

“We made a fantastic campaign,” Weihrauch said, adding that it “did a lot of good for the brand”.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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