How sustainable is that box of chocolates?

Maybe you don't imbibe every day like coffee, but an astonishingly small amount of cocoa is certified according to sustainable sourcing standards.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Chocolate has been a part of my entire life, literally, since my father was a cocoa purchasing director for privately held candy giant Mars. So, after sneaking a truffle from my post Christmas stash, I decided to devote my Valentine's Day post to exploring the sustainability implications of our collective sweet habit.

As my father could tell you, when it comes to chocolate and appropriate sustainability strategies, where the cocoa is harvested -- and how -- is probably the penultimate consideration. Here are some pretty obvious things about chocolate-making that make it hard to produce it sustainably:

  • Cocoa is usually sourced far away from where the chocolate is marketed in places like West Africa (up to 70 percent of the world's production), Malaysia and Brazil, countries that my father visited frequently when he was still working.
  • The countries where cocoa is grown depend on it heavily for their economic value, which means volume production is increasingly a pressure.

The Fair Trade movement, which certifies that particular crops or produce are grown and harvested sustainably, does cover cocoa, but only 0.1 percent of all the chocolate on the market today apparently is covered by this sort of certification today. Still, sales of chocolate certified by the Rainforest Alliance apparently doubled from 2007 to 2009, and there is reason to believe that trend continued through 2010. This article from Just Means gives props to three organizations that exemplify a commitment to sustainability agriculture. Another article from the Wall Street Journal earlier this year covers the plans of some of the bigger players when it comes to sourcing sustainably.

I grew up keenly aware of the rivalry between Mars and Hershey's in the U.S. chocolate market. Maybe that rivalry should be reconsidered along sustainability lines.

The Hershey's sustainability report, last published for the 2009 operating year, makes sourcing a key focus. The company is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative to find "responsible" cocoa sources. Hershey's joined the AIM-PROGRESS initiative in 2010, toward that end. The goal of the group is to help promote supply-chain-wide awareness of sustainable sourcing practices.

Beyond sourcing, Hershey is running a number of other sustainable measures. For example, it reduced the energy use of its U.S. manufacturing facilities by almost 10 percent in 2009, realizing savings of $3.9 millio between 2007 and 2009. It cut 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel consumption that year through fleet management practices and it is getting a handle on water management; now conducting audits at eight of its wholly owned manufacturing plants.

Hershey's priorities looking ahead include:

  • 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission by end of 2011
  • Water consumption reduction of 15 percent by 2011
  • Waste reduction of 15 percent
  • Increase recycling rate to 80 percent from 72 percent by 2012
  • Get at least one plant into a zero-waste-to-landfill status by the end of 2012

Obviously, lots of these initiatives are expected to bear fruit within a year to 18 months, so Hershey's is a company to watch for progress.

The sustainability information that I could find on the Mars web site is less comprehensive than the Hershey's information, which didn't really surprise me given how secretive the company can be. But the company has publicly said it will certify its entire cocoa supply by 2020 under the current programs for sustainable source.

At the end of 2010, in fact, Mars received the U.S. State Department's 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence, for its programs related to cocoa sustainability. The award was specifically focused on the company's efforts in the Republic of Ghana. Said Donald Teitelbaum, the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana:

"Through its development and training programs such as Mars Partnership for African Cocoa Communities of Tomorrow (IMPACT), Mars is helping to create jobs for 800,000 farmers, for drivers in the transportation industry and for workers at the ports. Every one of these jobs helps a Ghanaian farmer, driver or shipper to pay school fees for his or her children, pay the costs of health care, and to provide other essential services."

If your Valentine has a sweet tooth, it does well to consider which brands are the most focused on the cocoa sourcing issue. I know it will help me feel a little less guilty about my own M&M's habit.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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