Consumer goods companies need to go green to avoid reporting red: report

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th December 2008

Companies in certain consumer goods sectors that do not implement sustainable environmental strategies could face a potential reduction of 13 per cent to 31 per cent in earnings by 2013 and 19 per cent to 47 per cent in earnings in 2018.

These findings are the result of a “future scenario” analysis released this week by the World Resources Institute and A.T. Kearney, Inc. Titled Rattling Supply Chains: The Effect of Environmental Trends on Input Costs to the Fast Moving Consumer Goods Industry, it is the first report of its kind to calculate the financial impact of environmental issues facing this industry.

The analysis provides consumer packaged goods executives with a tool to assess how environmental legislation and climate change could impact their businesses in future years. It also outlines how these executives can begin to develop strategies to address these issues.

Green Earth

Although the current financial crisis has resulted in declining commodity prices, the authors find that environmental pressures will continue to impact the supply and price of key commodities in the long term. The crisis should be viewed as an opportunity to address these challenges through transformational change and not as a time to ignore them.

“The Ecoflation scenario is a vision of a future where companies have to deal with environmental costs previously borne by society,” said Andrew Aulisi, director of WRI’s Markets and Enterprise Program. “Environmental concerns are driving a global trend of policy activism and regulation. Our scenario describes this trend and the most pressing environmental challenges, and finds that the earnings of consumer goods companies are exposed to significant risk rising out of their supply chains.”

For their research, WRI and A.T. Kearney based the “ecoflation” scenario on major environmental trends and policy developments, such as U.S. and international climate change regulations, enhanced forest policies, growing water scarcity, and new biofuel policies. They then analyzed how these drivers might affect prices on selected commodities like oil, natural gas, electricity, cereals and grains, soy, sugar, palm oil, and timber. The results offer tangible illustrations of how environmental costs might impact the value chain, especially for fast-moving consumer goods that are usually produced in large quantities, such as food and beverages or household products.

Cereal prices, for example, are shown to have upward pressure from climate change policy and growing water scarcity, but may be reduced if certain biofuel policy changes reduce ethanol demand. The report finds a 6-13 per cent increase in cereal commodity prices due to these pressures.

“The results highlight the need for strategic scenario-based planning,” according to Daniel Mahler, A.T. Kearney partner. “Winning companies will anticipate this changing landscape. These companies will collaborate with suppliers and other stakeholders, and make environmental sustainability a key business principal.”

Rattling the Supply Chain outlines a four-step process to develop a robust strategy around a company’s sustainability challenge and opportunities:

1. Understand environmental impacts and dependencies by examining how cost drivers are exposed to emerging environmental trends and, when possible, seek substitutes with lower environmental impacts.
2. Take inventory of current sustainability initiatives through the value chain to see what the company, its suppliers, and its partners are addressing.
3. Prioritize environmental issues and opportunities according to their current and future potential impact on costs, revenues, and reputation.
4. Chart a new course by having a cross-functional team systematically evaluate opportunities to reduce cost exposure to critical input commodities. This evaluation should include product re-design, backwards supply chain integration, local versus global sourcing, and an upgrade of sustainability standards for the supply base.

The full report can be found at: