Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has reduced its emissions and invested in environmental projects to become carbon neutral in an effort to be the world's most sustainable protein company and meet consumer demand for corporate responsibility on climate change.
"If you hear some excitement and pride in my voice, you're not mistaken. This is an enormous milestone on our sustainability journey," said Michael McCain, CEO, during a conference call Thursday.
The company announced earlier in the day that it believes it is the first major food company in the world to be carbon neutral.
"I have no doubt that there are some smaller food companies in some corners of the world that have taken this position as well," said McCain. But Maple Leaf believes it's the first of large-scale food enterprises that are publicly traded to achieve this milestone.
Since 2015, the company has made significant strides in cutting its environmental footprint in half by 2025 through reducing its electricity intensity by 24 per cent, water intensity by 16 per cent, solid waste intensity by 22 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 14 per cent, he said.
Maple Leaf also invested in environmental projects in Canada and the United States to help offset the emissions that are beyond its control and it cannot cut.
The projects will support wind energy, forest protection and re-forestry, as well as the reduction and recovery of methane gas emissions.
These emissions targets and investments come at a cost.
"Taking care of the planetary needs of the future is not free," said McCain, but the company is banking on it paying off.
"The investments that we're making are going to drive returns — not just to our business, but to the planet."
The company partly made the decision to help fight against climate change, said McCain, because it's clear to Maple Leaf and all its stakeholders that the world is facing a climate crisis.
"It's a crisis that requires action today."
Earlier this week, a scientific journal published an open letter signed by thousands of scientists from around the world, including 409 from Canada, to show a near-unanimous agreement of the climate crisis.
"We declare ... clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency," the letter opened.
Climate protests have ramped up in the past years, most recently with Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg leading a global strike for climate change in September.
Canadians from St. John's to Victoria, and as far north as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, came out to protest on Sept. 27, calling for immediate government action on climate change.
McCain said he's "optimistic" that a significant portion of the public will want to buy food products made by a carbon-neutral company.
Increasingly, consumers align themselves with brands behaving responsibly, he said.
The company thinks enough of these environmentally conscious shoppers will support Maple Leaf over time to turn this commitment into a good outcome for the company's shareholders as well.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2019.
Companies in this story: (TSX:MFI)