Organisations can instantly become saints in the eyes of the media if they add the word “eco-friendly” to their vocabulary. Yet despite their promises of cutting back on greenhouse gases, or boycotting suppliers that exploit human rights, sometimes the promises are nothing but words. Words uttered to keep their precious sales from plummeting.
PepsiCo are one of the many organisations that have adopted an eco-friendly conscience, and one of their main desires in their 2015 Action Plan plan is to make sure that their sourcing of palm oil does not contribute to deforestation. Note that they do not promise to stop using palm oil, but that their method of sourcing will come from more “sustainable” means.
Okay, this is better than nothing, but is it realistic? Can they do this without being un-environentally friendly in other areas? Without breaking human rights violations in the process?
According to Sustainable Brands, PepsiCo purchases over 427,500 tonnes of palm oil per year, but even with PepsiCo's new plan, it's nearly impossible for us as consumers to work out what percentage of this number comes from sustainable means. I mean heck, PepsiCo apparently doesn't even know.
The action plan has a number of admirable and useful goals for PepsiCo, but considering a lot of these goals are supposed to be accomplished by 2016, I fail to see how this can be done cleanly. To have every supply chain mapped to the mill of origin, to have every partner and direct supplier be a member of RSPO and CDP, to have their suppliers minimize the need to expand their farmlands, all by the end of the year, doesn't sound too doable. Particularly since PepsiCo have a worrying track record when it comes to their Palm Oil use, and their carbon footprints.
And what do they even mean “by 2016”? By the end of the year? At any point during the year? Should they have done it all by now? The document is vague, and leaves so much room for interpretation and presumption.
I suppose the key phrase that they keep using in the document is “begin a dialogue,” because what they actually plan is to just start up a conversation about these issues, rather than actually stop damaging the environment. In other words; anyone can ask their suppliers to minimize farming in vulnerable areas, but not all of them will actually do it.
This is why praising companies for their new eco-friendly ways is dangerous, because they may not actually be doing what they promise, or maybe they will, but there's no telling whether they'll go about it in a dangerous and environmentally destructive way.
One of the aspects of the action plan that sticks out to me is the fact that PepsiCo promises to “ask suppliers to identify the use of derivatives in our ingredients,” which is so well worded that it makes the reader feel included in the process. But just because PepsiCo want to be told these things, doesn't mean that we as consumers will ever be told ourselves.
On top of this, the final few lines of the action report also leaves itself open for interpretation. PepsiCo states that they will “periodically report on our progress against our policies, commitments, and this action plan.” Now this sounds better, but again, report to whom? And where are the reports so far? I also notice that there is no deadline for this promise, which in itself doesn't feel right to me.
This vague and lazy document is quite typical of PepsiCo, who have come under fire in the past for not coming through with their promises. As one of PepsiCo's biggest critics, the Rainforest Action Network created the #ChallengePepsi campaign in 2015 after discovering a problematic loophole in PepsiCo's so called anti-palm oil promises. According to RAN's report, it was discovered that PepsiCo’s actually exempts Indofood, their joint-partner, from their new eco-friendly requirements.
This is a clear indication that whatever Indofood is doing, is something PepsiCo cannot live without. And due to research on their palm oil activities, we already know Indofood are strong contributors to deforestation. If this doesn't answer the question about PepsiCo's ability to sustain their promises, then I don't know what would.
Since then, the only change to this set up that has been outlined in their more recent action plan, is that PepsiCo has “Began communication with IndoFood JV (IFL) on sourcing only sustainable palm oil for PepsiCo products, and following the company’s policies and programs for all PepsiCo products.” It may have only been a year since this action plan was written, but PepsiCo has been saying this sort of thing for years, and there's nothing really of substance being said, other than “we'll have a chat about it amongst ourselves.”
We need to keep an eye out for any official reports if they are made public, or lack there of. Because if we don't see any documentation, and more importantly if we don't see results, then there's a chance nothing is actually being done to help the environment at all.
PepsiCo's unrealistic and in-genuine action plan may lead to small changes for the social and physical environment, but we urge readers and consumers of their products to do as much research as they can before deciding to support their so called “co-friendly” cause. Because no large and prosperous organisation is going to give us an honest answer about their true intentions.