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Nestlé, World’s Largest Food Supplier, Aims to Eliminate All Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 2050

Nestlé, the world's largest food supplier, will aim to effectively eliminate green house gas emissions across its massive global supply chain by 2050, the company said Thursday, in an announcement timed to coincide with the United Nations' Climate Action Summit later this month.

Left unchecked, climate change could "greatly affect the availability of land, and the way we eat and consumer food," said Magdi Batato, executive vice president and head of operations at the consumer food giant, on a call with reporters. "No one is immune to the consequences."

Nestlé is No. 76 on Fortune's Global 500 ranking, with $93.5 billion in revenue in 2018. Founded by two American brothers in 1866 as the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company, the Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestlé now sells its beverages, pet food, and chocolate in 190 countries worldwide. Though perhaps most famous globally for its KitKat bar (although Hershey owns the rights to the chocolate bar in the U.S.), the largest share of the business is liquid and powdered beverages, including the instant-coffee product Nescafé, the world's best selling coffee brand.

The details of Nestlé's plan to reach 'net zero'—which uses offsetting methods, like planting trees, to cancel out remaining emissions—will be nailed down over the next two years. As a result, detailed projects and potential costs were not yet available, said Batato, adding that the plan would nonetheless require investment.

Broadly, the 2050 target will include launching more plant-based food and drink products, moving to alternative packaging materials, increasing the reliance on renewable energy, initiating programs with farmers to shift land use, and further efforts to stop deforestation, he said. Agricultural production is by far the most carbon-intensive part of the business, he added.

However, that doesn't mean the company is ending its production of dairy—the core of the 153-year-old company's business. Instead, it will shift how animal-based products are produced, including changing how agricultural acreage is used and dramatically increasing the milk yield of individual cows.

Beef and dairy farming is one of the largest sources of global agricultural emissions, due to methane emissions but also due to the amount of food, water and land required to raise cows for meat or dairy production.

"This will lead to a major shift in how our ingredients are produced and sourced, and therefore we will need our suppliers to be on this journey with us," Batato said. The company was not "shying away" from delisting suppliers who are not cooperating with those goals, he said; Nestlé has already booted 10 suppliers over deforestation concerns.

"Business as usual is not an option," Batato said.

Nestlé had previously aimed to reduce emissions in its products, per metric ton, by more than a third between 2010 and 2020, according to Science Based Targets, an emissions-goal tracking project.

Most of Nestlé's competitors in the food and consumer goods sector also have goals to reduce emissions, including Kraft Heinz, General Mills, and Danone. London-based Unilever has said by 2030 it aims to be "carbon positive." According to the company, that means ending its reliance on fossil fuels and generating more renewable energy than it consumes.

This story has been updated to clarify the ownership of the KitKat brand.

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