By Daina Beth Solomon
MEXICO CITY, March 4 (Reuters) - Nestle SA is launching a reforestation project to plant at least 3 million trees in Mexico and Brazil in the next year and a half as the Swiss food group strives for carbon neutrality by 2050, executives told Reuters.
Nestle is one of a number of major corporations including Microsoft and Amazon that have taken on ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions, often in response to growing demands from customers and investors to step up efforts to combat climate change.
In September, Nestle - whose products range from KitKat chocolates to Nescafe coffee, Cheerios cereal and Poland Spring bottled water - signed a United Nations-backed pledge aimed at limiting global temperature rise and said it would adjust its business to prioritize renewable energy, alternative packaging materials and carbon absorption.
At a cost of $1 to $15 per tree, the first phase of Nestle's reforestation project could cost as much as $45 million for planting alone.
Laurent Freixe, Nestle's chief executive for the Americas, said the project would be a starting point for further efforts to protect the environment in places like Mexico, where the company sources coffee, cocoa, sugar and dairy products.
"If we want to sustain the economy in this country, if we want to sustain our business in this country, we need to invest in the environment and sustainability, and enhance the biodiversity of the country," Freixe said in an interview on Tuesday.
The company is working with non-profit One Tree Planted to determine which types of trees to plant and where, with Mexico's southeastern states of Tabasco and Campeche among the options.
The carbon captured by the first million trees would eventually be enough to offset the emissions of a coffee-processing plant expected to start operating in October in the southeastern state of Veracruz, said Magdi Batato, Nestle's head of operations.
The $154 million plant is expected to process 20,000 tonnes of coffee per year and employ 250 people directly. When it is fully up and running, Batato said its use of technology, automation and clean energy would make it a model among Nestle's factories.
The project was touted in 2018 by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the first major investment announcement under his administration, and a source of direct and indirect jobs that would push Mexico to become Nestle's top coffee producer. (Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon Editing by Leslie Adler)
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