4 ways Mars Inc. will slash emissions and still grow – plus other insights from the maker of M&Ms

Graziella Siciliano

Mars Inc. has said it will cut 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from its direct operations by 2040, having already met the 25-percent goal it set for 2015. By 2050, the candy and pet food manufacturer plans to cut two-thirds of emissions from its entire supply chain.

These are bold initiatives that require a well-thought-out strategy. So I sat down with Winston Chen, Mars’ renewable energy manager, to find out how the company will pull it off. I was also curious what other businesses can learn from Mars as they, too, look for smart ways to decarbonize their operations.

To manage the company’s growth year after year while also meeting its sustainability goals, Winston told me, Mars has to invest significantly in both energy efficiency and renewable energy. It uses a four-pronged strategy to accomplish that.

1. Invest in technology upgrades

Mars looks for ways to reduce energy demand through adoption of more energy-efficient technologies. This includes low-hanging fruit such as lighting upgrades, but also more capital-intensive improvements to manufacturing equipment.

2. Make operations more efficient

Ultimately, energy demand not only depends on the efficiency of the technology, but also how it’s used on the factory floor. Mars works with its employees to optimize the operation of equipment to minimize waste while improving productivity.

3. Rethink manufacturing processes

Reinventing how things are made can reduce energy demand. Mars invests in innovation improve its manufacturing processes – for example, in its baking and drying of pet food – to minimize energy use.

4. Procure renewable energy

Mars also looks for solutions to decarbonize its energy supply, working with developers and utilities to procure renewable energy through Power Purchase Agreements, or PPAs.

Companies today have a number of options for procuring renewable power, including investing capital to install onsite clean energy projects. I asked Winston why Mars prefers to use PPAs, which account for almost all of its renewable energy investments.

“Mars is good at making chocolate and pet food,” he responded with a smile. “We’re not an expert at producing power.”

Here’s the thing: Leaving energy production to the pros, Mars is able to scale the renewable portion of its energy supply quickly by partnering with other investors in large projects. That includes a 60-megawatt wind project in Scotland that will produce enough power to cover all of Mars’ annual electricity demand in the United Kingdom.

Over the past five years, Mars has focused its PPAs on its biggest markets first, starting by supporting projects in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia, France, Poland, Spain and Belgium.

“It’s improved our company’s standing in the world”

As far as Mars is concerned, all these efforts are beneficial to the company’s bottom line.

The sixth largest privately held company in the U.S., Mars has more than 50 factories just in the U.S. and is constantly expanding with manufacturing facilities, offices and retail locations in almost every country in the world. Strong growth, however, didn’t stop Mars from setting ambitious targets to cut emissions.

Focusing only on revenue while ignoring environmental impacts is a mistake – and a risk to a company’s reputation, Winston told me.

“I truly believe our renewable energy investments have actually improved our company’s standing in the world in terms of being a sustainable and responsible company,” he said. “That’s very important to us, not just from a customer standpoint, but also because our associates care about what we can do as a company to minimize our impact.”

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