Chocolatiers promised sustainability. But 10 years later, the chocolate still ain’t sweet

The cocoa industry made big plans for sustainability a decade ago, but they have still not materialized.


December 3, 2019

Spit out that chocolate Santa head right now. 

In 2009, Mars Inc., maker of M&M’s, Snickers, and other impulse-aisle confections, said it would start using only sustainably harvested cocoa as a means of addressing climate change. 

But last year, Mars bumped back its target date from 2020 to 2025.

What difference does 5 years make?

Potentially a lot. Rainforests help stabilize the climate by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. Some estimates say deforestation accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, the world lost 40 football fields’ worth of rainforest per minute. According to the nonprofit Global Forest Watch, demand for cocoa, timber, palm oil, beef, rubber, and soybeans — you vegans ain’t off the hook — have contributed to the situation.

So, like, stop buying from farmers who cut down trees

It’s not that easy. Thousands of farmers growing cocoa plants operate independently on small plots. They sell their crops to middlemen who sell to cooperatives who then sell to the trading houses that sell to chocolate companies.

Ideally, it’d be possible to trace cocoa back to its source. However, effective certification requires a census, surveys, and satellite maps — and often these systems aren’t in place. So who’s surprised that uncertified cocoa makes it into certified supply chains?

But Mars seems willing to put its money where its mouth is

Mars, which commands 150 chocolate factories worldwide, is part of a campaign lobbying Congress to tax companies based on how much carbon they emit.

Unlike many companies, Mars includes the supply chain when calculating its carbon footprint. Under a proposed penalty of $50/ton, Mars would owe $1B+/annually — which could make knocking back emissions an even greater priority.

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