Reese’s are not a great product, but as far as larger companies go, the Hershey company has some initiatives worth noting. They seem genuinely committed, financially and ethically, to supporting the populations that grow their cocoa and they have a handful of sustainability goals that they have met or are realistically working towards. The question, however, then becomes: are they meeting these goals because they are really doing something, or because the plans were deliberately designed to be easily met and cleverly publicized? Evidence points to the latter.
Reese’s peanut butter cups are, unsurprisingly, primarily made of milk chocolate and peanuts. They also have sugar, salt, dextrose, and some preservatives. There are many certifications, goals, and qualifications around the cocoa used by the Hershey Co., (which owns Reese’s) and I am starting to think these are in place specifically to confuse the consumer. All of Hershey’s cocoa is certified by either Fair Trade USA, or the Rainforest Alliance as of 2020. Unfortunately, both of these certifications are questionable. Fair Trade USA has a history of valuing companies and profits over worker welfare, which is what they are actually reviewing. The company has a lack of transparency in their certification process, does not actually ensure that workers are paid well even if farmers are receiving more money for their products, and has notoriously failed to monitor their certified companies. Additionally, Fair Trade USA certifies an end product rather than the whole supply chain, meaning a product could receive the certification despite ethical violations in their supply chain. The Rainforest Alliance apparently was at one point a reliable certification, but in recent years rewrote their policies to be less strict, less specific, and less enforceable, massively devaluing the certification. Also, the certification no longer relies on strict rules for what is allowed and what is not, instead employing guidelines that companies can check on and verify for themselves. They also have no explanation for how they enforce their policies or timelines for how rapidly a company should improve in order to retain their certification. On the positive side, Hershey is working towards sourcing all of their chocolate from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025 (they were at 77% by the end of 2020) to ensure transparent supply chains that are more easily monitored for ethical and human rights violations. They have no child labor and actually have an initiative that is contributing money and resources to removing child labor from the chocolate industry on the whole. Cocoa production can be a great source of deforestation, but the rainforest alliance certifications ensure that deforestation is minimized and efforts are made towards efficient farming practices for smaller spaces and restoration for cleared or damaged land. Of course, this does bring us back to the fact that only some of their chocolate has this certification. Peanuts are a really naturally sustainable product (check out the review of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups to learn more about that) and Reese’s sources theirs from the Southern U.S.. Dextrose is a simple sugar in Reese’s cups that is sourced from either corn or wheat, two products that are largely unsustainable. The farming process of corn contributes massively to air pollution because so much fertilizer is used on the crop. Wheat is also a crop that creates a lot of air pollution through farming techniques and fertilizer use. The peanut butter cups are wrapped in paper and then again in plastic, neither of which are recyclable. On the whole, it seems like Hershey is trying to make their efforts seem admirable but are truly not doing as much as they appear to be.
How It’s Made: 0.2
Reese’s have a wide international supply chain, resulting in massive emissions from materials being shipped around the world, and a production process that seems to be run almost entirely by machines, meaning it is likely to be extremely energy intensive. These machines appear to control the vast majority of the process, from sorting roasting and grinding peanuts, to melting chocolate, pumping it into cups and projecting air to spread it before peanut butter is added, and packaging the finished product. There is no doubt these machines require extreme amounts of energy to run. Hershey’s cocoa comes from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, their peanuts are grown in the southeast U.S., their sugar is sourced from Minnesota, milk fat from New Zealand, milk powder from California, and all of these materials have to be sent to the Reese’s factory in Hershey, PA. Shipping the milk fat alone to Hershey would release about 380 pounds of CO2 per 2200 lbs of product. Also, on the whole, Hershey’s scope 3 emissions, which shipping falls under, have been barely reduced, going down only 12.6% in 2020 compared to 2018. On the plus side, their scope 1 and 2 emissions have decreased 23.7% since 2018, which puts them well on their way to cut these 50% by 2030. Sugar processing is an extremely water and energy intensive process; although, sugar beets are grown without burning unlike sugar cane, so that’s a positive. On the flip side, almost all of the sugar beets grown in the USA come from GMO seeds designed to resist roundup. This means the crops are treated with the carcinogenic herbicide which also negatively impacts livestock and water supplies. In terms of cocoa production, Hershey is a member of the cocoa and forests initiative, which is an international organization dedicated to growing cocoa while combatting and minimizing deforestation. This is worth noting because deforestation is traditionally a massive issue in cocoa production. Hershey should attempt to localize their supply chain or, at the least, offset their emissions if they want to truly be a sustainable company.
Reese’s is owned by the Hershey company and, on the whole, I have mixed feelings about this corporation. The company has an awareness of sustainability, and projects many goals and efforts towards this end, however it is fairly obvious that what they really care about is themselves rather than the planet. They have a lot of initiatives related to sustainability, environmental issues, ethics, and social and racial justice. These initiatives seem to be a mixture of projects doing sincere good, and greenwashing. Hershey supports farmer groups that allow cocoa farmers to increase their negotiating power and have more control over their earnings and product, as well as giving them new skills and direct funds. The company also has a program where they produce nutritional supplements in Cote d’Ivoire made from locally grown peanuts and distributed to school children in need of greater nutrition or simply food. Hershey has clear sustainability goals and is working towards them, albeit a bit slowly. Their scope 3 emissions only reduced 12.6% in 2020 compared to 2018. Currently 77% of Hershey packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable with a goal to be at 100% by 2030, so this is one area where they seem to be exceeding their goals. They also have goals related to employment of people of color and women, which I appreciate as their sustainability goals do not only relate to recycling or limiting plastic. In their sustainability report, one thing Hershey leans heavily on is conducting “risk assessments” in terms of sustainability for lots of areas of their operations, but they don’t say what they will do with this information which to me feels like an extremely performative effort. I think one reason Hershey is succeeding and exceeding their goals so dramatically is that they set low standards for themselves to begin with. For example, in 2015 the company committed to reduce 25 million pounds of packaging by 2025 and completed this goal by 2020; in response to this, they set a new goal to cut 25 million more pounds by 2030. If they already learned that they could meet this goal in 5 years, why would the company not run with this and set higher goals for themselves either by cutting more plastic, or by doing so in a shorter timespan if their commitment was truly to sustainability, rather than to boosting their corporate image?