The Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) organized a virtual In Focus meeting on the topic of sustainability on the 5th of May.
The aim of the half-day forum was to cover all key topics within the tobacco and nicotine industries that impact transformation and sustainability of the tobacco industry, while facing environmental problems such as global warming, deforestation and waste disposal which have become urgent challenges.
One of most impactful stakeholders are tobacco companies. The first panel discussion titled “Leadership in a sustainable world” dealt with how these companies can better respond to the challenges while remaining profitable.
One of the largest and most powerful companies in the tobacco industry, Philip Morris International (PMI), was part of the discussion.
Sarah Bostwick Stromoski is head of sustainability stakeholder engagement Philip Morris International:
“Sustainability and leadership for PMI is about responding to and fulfilling the expectations of the world around us. This means evolving and changing. Sustainability and tobacco companies are not intuitively paired by most people. As many of you may know, that is one way that PMI are transforming our entire business to end smoking. We aim to phase out cigarettes for a smoke free future and build new businesses in wellness and healthcare to have a positive impact on society.”
The company is, indeed, going through a major transformation in its business:
“We have publicly set a goal: by 2025 we aim to generate one billion in revenue from new businesses in wellness and healthcare that seek to have a positive impact on society. The main tool we use to inform our priorities in light of societal expectations is our materiality assessment. We have just refreshed it and published the result in February. It helps us determine what our priorities should be.”
“This is nothing new. A lot of companies do sustainability materiality assessment. What makes this one interesting and I hope worth your time and consideration is that it takes into account the principles of double materiality. This concept acknowledges that businesses should assess both the risk and opportunities, linked to environmental, social and governance topics (ESG), and influence enterprise value creation. It is important to understand the impact that ESG can have on society and the planet around it. Those are inward and outward impacts and that is the concept of double materiality.”
Ronald Ngwira from PYXUS Agriculture Limited in Malawi was part of the discussion too. He has had over 24 years of experience in the agribusiness landscape in Malawi. Malawi is one of the smallest countries in the world and at the same time, one of Africa’s largest tobacco leaf producers (In2018, 95,356 tons of tobacco were harvested in Malawi). Its tobacco dependency has had a huge impact, economically, socially, and environmentally, while the country faces urgent challenges such as floods, droughts and deforestation risks.
As the ability to grow tobacco into the future is critical to the country he noted that the climate changes and social expectations have become more complex. A couple of tangible positive results have been noted by PYXUS to reverse the trend, notably responsible water management and a supply of sustainably produced wood.
Karen Hall is Director of Sustainability at Universal Leaf Tobacco Company in the United States. She shared her perspective on this topic affirming that a virtuous circle is possible:
“In our global supply chain we provide farmers with a variety of programs to sustainably raise tobacco. This means growing tobacco while being mindful of basic human rights and the environment, and doing so in such a way that farmers profit’s are preserved.”
A growing number of companies are becoming aware that business development and risk management are an integral part of sustainability. Some of them such as PMI have even initiated a transformation to make sustainability profitable. The challenge remains to create sustainable positive global impact for individuals and the collective.