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Consumers, Climate Change & Your Brand’s Carbon Footprint

Glenn Polyn//May 1, 2021//

The carbon footprint concept with businessman

Consumers, Climate Change & Your Brand’s Carbon Footprint

Glenn Polyn //May 1, 2021//

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When consumer sentiments and concerns start to shift, you want to be confident your strategic game plan is ahead of it – not behind trying to figure out how pet parent preference is already transforming your business.


A Sea of Change

Media attention and visibility about the connection between food and climate impact is coming into sharper focus. It will soon be a driving consideration in brand preference decisions for human food and soon to follow, pet food.

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane levels in the atmosphere continued to rise in 2020, with CO2 level reaching their highest point in 3.6 million years, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The barrier was broken despite a reduction in expected emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” (CBS News, April 8, 2021)

At 24 percent, agriculture and meat production (mostly beef and lamb) is the second leading producer of atmospheric greenhouse gas. It is also the top source of methane, which is 296 times more toxic to the environment than carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. Of course, we’re talking about the ingredient supply chain here.

Just to refresh: Greenhouse gas (GHG) is the overloaded presence of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane in our atmosphere. It retains heat and contributes to rising temperatures, known as global warming, now unleashing havoc throughout our environment, weather patterns, eco-systems and wildlife diversity – the checks and balances that have kept our planet in a livable balance for eons.

Driving the rapid rise of plant-based sources of new meat proteins for human consumption is a revelation about the role agriculture and meat production have in climate threat and natural resource depletion like water. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one 16 oz. steak. Evidence of climate change is surging with the frequency of super storms, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and temperature increase that is melting polar ice caps causing sea levels to rise.

Consumers are coming to understand the role of food choice in global warming outcomes. This will lead to increased scrutiny of carbon footprint for human and pet food brands looking to distinguish themselves and remain relevant in the midst of growing consumer activism.


Are You a Net Zero Hero?

Some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, from Coca-Cola to McDonald’s and Nestle have already announced specific commitments to Net Zero (carbon neutral) goals in the next 10 to 30 years.

Public policy is starting to lean in heavily on climate-related support for renewable energy and is beginning to address solutions to the biggest sources of GHG emissions.

Consumers will be looking to brands to signal their intentions and behaviors on this critical issue, including the dawn of carbon footprint scoring on product labels.

There will be increased scrutiny of industrial farming practices, especially in corn and soy production, that contribute to soil erosion and heavy pesticide use to achieve yields, thus lowering the ability of farmland to operate as a carbon sequestering sink.

More attention will be paid to regenerative farming practices and manufacturers who mandate these techniques from favored suppliers.

Meat production is the most significant agricultural player in climate threat.  This will continue to drive a massive shift towards meat-making technologies that are not dependent on raising animals for high-quality protein. Are you investigating options?

Costs of alternative meat sources over time will be reduced significantly with scale and adoption will benefit from reduced risk of supply chain disruptions resulting from climate chaos or pandemics.

Nestle’s Purina brand is already weighing in on these issues. “We’re committed to reducing our [climate] impact and ensuring our products are healthy, high-quality and also better for the environment along the value chain. Our sustainability initiatives focus on four key areas: sustainable packaging; protecting water resources; acting on climate change and ensuring responsible sourcing of ingredients.

“Our 2050 ambition is to strive for zero net greenhouse gas emissions. We’re working toward making 100 percent of our packaging reusable or recyclable; 100 percent renewable electricity across all of our facilities, both by 2025; developing partnerships and programs that promote regenerative farming and promoting water stewardship and conservation in both agriculture and within our own facilities,” said Sara Schaecher, strategist at Nestle Purina.


Six Key Steps

  1. Senior management needs to take a considered look at these issues and pull together a team for vulnerability assessments on carbon impact across the waterfront of how the business operates – from protein sourcing to energy and water use to ingredient and supplier performance.
  1. This is the time to refine, optimize and operationalize the company’s higher purpose and mission regarding climate in the face of growing consumer activism.
  1. Recognize the store cash register is morphing into a voting booth for pet parents to signal their beliefs and values through brand choice. How you communicate carbon footprint commitments will be critical to brand selection.
  1. More specifically, how do you plan to translate carbon footprint scoring on product packaging?
  1. On the marketing side, communications planning in trade, consumer and social channels to convey your climate commitments, looking carefully at how this will manifest in manufacturing and supply chain standards and policies.
  1. There should be sensitivity to doing anything that has the appearance of greenwashing – invoking language about climate impact instead of implementing real changes. Media and pet parents will be quick to ascertain the truth behind what brands are actually doing.


Here at Emergent, we have identified a new, expanding consumer cohort we refer to as the Eco-Sumer. They are driven by their beliefs and values around issues like climate outcomes from food (and pet food) brand choices. It’s important to recognize people are no longer buying products – they are buying better versions of themselves through products – and see their brand decisions as a flag-wave of what they believe in.

As times change, you must change with them. Consumers will be acknowledging your actions through their purchase “vote” decision.


Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent can help pet brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity and deeper meaning in their pet parent relationships and brand communication.