From Fairfax County HQ, Mars runs global confection and pet care business – and focuses on sustainability

From its headquarters in a Fairfax County office building, Mars runs a business that employs more than 130,000 people to manufacture the company’s well-known confectionery brands and pet food and care for the world’s pets through more than 3,000 animal hospitals. With operations spread around the globe, the company also has increased its commitment to environmental sustainability.

“The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today,” Mars Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Andy Pharoah said in an interview with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

The fifth-generation family-owned company – the fourth-largest privately held company in the United States – was launched in 1911 with founder Frank Mars making the original Milky Way candy bar in his family kitchen in Tacoma, Wash. And for the past 50 years, Mars’ global headquarters has been located in downtown McLean.

Mars generates $40 billion in annual revenue, with business operations in 80 countries. With more than 60,000 U.S.-based Associates – the company’s term for its employees – and a total of 130,000 Associates worldwide, Mars’ operations are present on nearly every world continent. In the U.S., Mars operates 33 manufacturing sites and 16 offices. In McLean, Mars employs around 200 Associates — including its global executive leadership team.

The company is well known for its confectionery products such as M&Ms, Snickers and Three Musketeers bars. Mars also operates food brands, such as Ben’s Original rice. But Mars’ biggest business is actually pet care. Its pet food line, Pedigree, is one of the best-known in the world while Royal Canin, which offers pet owners specialty nutrition, is its largest global brand. Mars is also the largest employer of veterinarians in the world, with more than 3,000 veterinary hospitals in the U.S. The company says it feeds more than half of the world’s pets.

With its focus on the future, Mars operates its businesses in alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. For more than a decade Mars has been taking action to limit its impact on climate change, according to Pharoah. Through its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars has committed $1 billion to transform the way it does business – from supply chains to products and vet clinics around the world.

“Sustainability is perhaps one of the most critical issues facing the world. And as we look at our role as a business, we have the critical imperatives and we look at that in terms of how we organize our business,” Pharoah said.

A farmer inspects cocoa trees in Cote d’Ivoire. (Photo courtesy of Mars)

Climate change is a pivotal focus for Mars.

“The climate emergency is real… it’s pressing,” Pharoah said. “And it’s why we actually set our first net-zero target in 2008. That was just for our direct operations. Since then, we’ve made massive reductions in our carbon footprint from our direct operations. We are using 100 percent renewable electricity in the U.S. and in 11 other countries.”

And in 2021, the company set an extended target for its entire operations including the supply chain, “everything from farm-to-fork,” Pharoah said, to get to net-zero by 2050 and with interim targets along the way.

“We recognize this is a critical moment for businesses to take ambitious climate action and help mitigate against the worst impacts of global warming. It will require us to build a movement including industry, regulators, suppliers, customers and every one of our associates,” Pharoah said.

Mars generates electricity from the Moy Wind Farm in Inverness, Scotland. (Photo courtesy of Mars)

Mars utilizes its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, a science-based guide on the actions the company is taking to reach its goals. Its 2020 scorecard shows the company’s progress against its Healthy PlanetThriving People and Nourishing Wellbeing targets this past year. For example, according to Mars, the company now draws 54 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and in the United States Mars is using 100 percent renewable electricity. In addition, Mars launched a series of packaging pilots around the world. Mars’ land use is down, and it has reduced its palm mill partners to 100 from 1,500.

“We think it is so critical that businesses take action because these issues are bigger than just the environment,” Pharoah added. “They drive a lot of social issues: they drive poverty, they drive conflict, they drive war. And so we think it is imperative that businesses take strong action around climate.”

“For Mars, all of that incredibly vital work begins right here in McLean,” Pharoah added.

With its strong commitment to sustainability, Mars seeks to hire Associates that share its values, according to Pharoah. Currently, the company is hiring at the McLean headquarters and has ambitious expansion plans.

We’re always on the lookout for good talent, for strong and diverse talent. We’re looking for people who can fit with our purpose and can make a positive impact on the world, and on the world we want tomorrow, through how they do business each-and-every day,” Pharoah said.

With dedicated programs to help its Associates with career development, Mars also offers volunteer opportunities, and partners with local communities. In addition to being voted as one of the world’s best workplaces for eight years in a row, the company has received many additional accolades for its workplace culture.

The company operates on the basis of its “Five Principles,” a guiding philosophy focused on “Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom.” “The principles govern pretty much everything we do and all the business decisions that we make,” Pharoah said.

While most of the company’s Associates presently work virtually because of COVID-19, Mars has a spacious, open office plan in all of its locations. Associates at all levels, from entry- to C-level, work in view of one another, which Pharoah said fosters a culture of collaboration.

And, yes, Associates can bring their dogs to work. Pharoah noted that there are typically quite a few dogs wandering around the office.

With its offices throughout the country and the world, Fairfax County is a great location for Mars’ headquarters, according to Pharoah. Fairfax County has great schools and an excellent quality of life, he said, in addition to quick access to Washington Dulles International and Reagan National airports.

McLean is a critical part of our past,” Pharoah added. We love it here in McLean. We’ve been here 50 years and we’re committed to be here for the next 50 years–and longer. We want to continue to grow business here. It’s a vital and vibrant part of Mars.”