Ultimately, Wheat Thins are not a product for which social or environmental sustainability have been taken into serious consideration. Though Mondolez has made some environmental improvements, they are negligible given the company’s massive impacts and CO2 emissions. Mondolez has made relevant DEI-related pledges primarily related to increasing workplace diversity and representation, but whether they will follow through on these goals is yet to be seen. If you are looking for a sustainable and healthy snack, this would be far from my first recommendation.
The ingredients for the Original Wheat Thins are whole grain wheat flour, canola oil, sugar, cornstarch, malt syrup, salt, refiner’s syrup, leavening, and BHT as a preservative, and they are packaged in a plastic bag within a cardboard box. All the wheat used for Wheat Thins is grown in the thumb of Michigan and Nabisco’s parent company, Mondolez International, reports that they focus on sustainably sourcing wheat through collaboration with farmers to implement sustainable farming practices and through engagement with governments and NGOs. In partnership with Michigan State University and the Co-op Elevator, a Michigan-based agricultural cooperative, Mondolez has worked with farmers to implement advanced agronomy protocols designed to reduce ecological footprint, optimize fertilizer and water use, and increase yields; a six-year study showed that these protocols improved yields from 2.2 to 4.0 bushels of wheat per acre. Mondolez, however, does not report on how they source or refine their other ingredients other than cocoa and palm oil, which are not ingredients in this product. Overall, canola oil is not associated with serious environmental issues, but the water-intensive nature and negative biodiversity effects of sugarcane cultivation typically result in significant environmental harm. Mondolex reports that 94% of their packaging is designed to be recycled (this would apply to the cardboard box), but the inner plastic bag brings GHG emissions from its petroleum sources into the picture, and is ultimately destined for a landfill. Overall, Wheat Thins consider sustainability in its main ingredient, wheat, and somewhat in its paper packaging, but this concern is far from holistic.
The environmental impact of Wheat Thins’ production process can be broken down into energy use, water use, and waste production. Mondolez reports a 9% increase in energy efficiency in their manufacturing plants in 2020 resulting in a 117,000 ton reduction in CO2 emissions and 15% increase in renewable energy use resulting in a 147,109 ton reduction in CO2 emissions across the board. However, to put this reduction into perspective, Mondolez’s total CO2 emissions for 2020 were 24,611,466 tons, and actually had a net increase in emissions from 2019 by about 200,000 tons, so while these reductions are beneficial, they did not have any significant effect on the company’s overall emissions. Mondolez increased their water efficiency by 13% in 2020 resulting in a 35,700 cubic meter reduction in water use, but again, this is rendered insignificant when compared to their overall water use for the year which was 10,326,848 cubic meters. Mondolez did, however, make commendable reductions in their waste production, reducing their waste by 31% from their 2013 baseline and reducing their percentage of landfill waste from 2.97% to 2.76% in 2020. Mondolez is taking initiative in improving the impact of their production processes, but these reductions have been largely insignificant thus far. The company has potential to earn a better score in this category in the future assuming they make a more serious commitment to improvement.
Wheat Thins are made by Nabisco, which is owned by Mondolez International. Mondolez International is one of the world’s largest snack companies with revenues of $25.9 billion and operating in over 80 countries. As is typical with most massive companies, Mondolez has massive carbon emissions which, as perviously mentioned, were 24,611,466 tons in 2020. In terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Mondolez displays a mix of both legitimate and performative commitments. For their legitimate commitments, the company has pledged to double the percentage of POC and female representation in executive and leadership roles by 2024 and aims to reach $1 billion in diverse supplier spending by increasing inclusion of underrepresented in groups throughout their supply chain. Mondolez’s actions become more performative when it comes to issues like their support for the LGBTQ+ community where their big sign of support was an Instagram filter for Pride Month in partnership with the organization Proud Parent that would allow users to “hold” signs inspired by those at Pride Marches, and an Instagram post using that filter (which, by the way, was also a promotion for Oreos). They also recognize MLK day in the US as a paid holiday and Juneteenth as a US day of service, which essentially just means that they acknowledge that Juneteenth is a holiday. In terms of human rights and workplace safety, the company has had 100% of their manufacturing sites independently audited on a three-year cycle. Ultimately, Mondolez does have some commendable commitments to DEI and human rights, but is severely lacking in their environmental initiatives.