Food and Beverage Companies Need to Cut Carbon Emissions, or Else

fridgeTrucost, an environmental data provider, released a report revealing the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints of S&P 500 companies in a number of sectors with the intention of helping said companies prepare for the cap-and-trade costs that could come if the Waxman-Markey climate change bill is passed. It's not surprising to learn in the report that the chemical and industrial companies rank among the highest greenhouse gas emitters, but there's another giant in the emissions rankings: the food and beverage industry.

According to Trucost, the 20 food and beverage companies examined in the report—including Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Molson Coors Brewing, and General Mills— released a total of 26,898,732 metric tons of CO2 in 2007, mainly because of refrigerants and high energy use. That's more than retail, personal and household goods, automobile, and health care companies. More importantly, food and beverage is also ranked second (after chemicals) according to carbon intensity. Trucost claims that carbon-intensive companies are the most vulnerable to cap-and-trade costs since they have low profit margins and face competition from developing countries that don't have emission regulations.

So what can be done? Many food and beverage companies are already chipping away at their energy costs, presumably in anticipation of emissions regulations. MillerCoors is the world's largest operator of BERS (bio-energy recycling systems), which convert waste molecules in brewing water into methane for fuel. As a result, the company will be able to use renewable energy for 15% of its needs by 2010. And last month, Pepsi released a "Commitment 2020" plan detailing its goals to cut power use by 25% and slash water use by 25%.

These are admirable initiatives, but food and beverage companies will continue to spew greenhouse gases until the U.S. changes its laws on refrigerants. Just last year, the U.S. gave Ben & Jerry's the go-ahead to test fridges that rely on hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-free "Greenfreeze" technology. But HFC, which is 20,000 times more potent than CO2, is still widely used in the U.S. since the EPA just approved alternatives last year. PepsiCo and Coke have phased out HFC's from their vending machines, but there is still a ways to go before the whole industry switches to greenhouse gas-free refrigerants. Until that happens, companies like Kraft and Campbell Soup can expect to take big hits if Waxman-Markey passes.

[Trucost Report (PDF)]

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