Costco’s Supply Chain and Environmental Justice in California

Authors: Sanaz Chamanara*, University of Michigan, Benjamin Goldstein , University of Michigan, Joshua P Newell, University of Michigan
Topics: Business Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Food Systems
Keywords: : Meat, Environmental Justice, Air Pollution, Particulate Matter, California, Costco, Corporate Sustainability, CSR, Political-Industrial Ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although producing beef imparts environmental burdens, we rarely know precisely where impacts occur and who is impacted. The geographical disparity of supply chains hinders our ability to determine the environmental and social costs of meat production, a hurdle towards more sustainable production and consumption of animal products. This paper combined lifecycle thinking with an environmental justice approach to map Costco’s beef supply chain in California and to explore the uneven burden of air pollution from beef production in the San Joaquin Valley of California. We use the TRACAST methodological framework to map the supply chain of a primary supplier, Harris Ranch, and the feedlots they operate in the San Joaquin Valley, a region that has some of the worst air quality in the United States. Feedlots produced ~95% of total PM2.5 emissions across the supply chain, and in the San Joaquin Valley they account for ~1/3 of total anthropogenic PM2.5 emissions in 2017. We found that PM2.5 concentrations are markedly higher around these facilities. Communities living near feedlots are often poor, contain high percentages of Hispanics and have increased disease burdens related to PM2.5 , such as asthma, heart disease and lung cancer. Based on company documents and news reports, neither Costco nor Harris Ranch are addressing this environmental injustice, for example, through more sustainable sourcing or production practices. Telling this ‘story’ opens up opportunities for companies to start addressing the environmental injustice in their supply chains through more sustainable production, and for consumers to start rethinking their livestock consumption

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