Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review

I bought a box of Clif Bars at the Grocery Outlet last week – specifically Chocolate Peanut Butter bars from Cliff’s Sweet and Salty range. It cost $6.99 for a large box of 12 bars at the Grocery Outlet, compared to $18 if bought directly from Clif Bar. You can find them on sale online for as little as $13, but the GO price is still almost 50% cheaper.

Clif chocolate peanut butter bars – review

Each Clif bar is 68 grams, providing 260 calories, 10 g of protein, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 4 g of fiber, 20 g of sugars, a few minerals and a little vitamin E. It’s fairly typical of Clif energy bars in that it’s moderately nutrient-dense but pretty high in sugar and not as nutritious as a meal composed of veggies (no energy bar really achieves that, but some come closer). I’m just realizing that the Purely Elizabeth bars that I reviewed last month are also marketed as Salty & Sweet and I had also tried the peanut butter version. I didn’t even think I liked peanut butter that much!

Peanuts are a good source of protein and because peanut plants are legumes, fixing their own nitrogen from the air, they can also be a sustainable crop. I usually try to buy organic peanut products from a reputable source – not only for the environment but also for heath (avoiding pesticide and aflatoxin residues). Clif do use organic peanuts in their bars and, in fact, most of the ingredients are certified organic.

The wrapper is sadly not compostable (few are, but it can be done – see my recent review of Alter Eco) but it’s pretty lightweight. The bar has some crispy & crunchy bits (e.g., chopped peanuts) adding important texture that’s sometimes missing in energy bars. It’s not overly salty or sweet, which is good, but also not knocking my socks off in terms of flavor. However, I think it’s a good option for hiking or having around the house during a global pandemic, when you don’t want to go shopping too often. Actually, the more I eat it the more I kinda like it – you could think of it as a more muted, and more ethical, alternative to a Snickers bar.

Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review. A photo of Clif's Chocolate Peanut Butter bar from Cliff’s Sweet and Salty range, together with the wrapper, showing the ingredients and nutritional info.

Ethical rating for Clif sweet and salty bars

A few years ago, on the Green Stars Project, I wrote two posts on energy bars – one that contains ethical ratings for several brands (and a recipe for making your own) and another that specifically looks at the ethics of Kind Bars (which I think deserve a low rating of 2 Green Stars). I’m going to take the Clif bar review that I wrote in 2015 and update it here, since that was a few years ago. Overall, Clif has continued to do well on reducing the company’s impact (such as greenhouse gas emissions and waste) and working with non-profits to support projects related to renewable energy, reforestation, and community well-being.

Overall, I think that these Clif bars deserve 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • 82% of all Ingredients used by Clif are organic and/or certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Clif has a goal to divert at least 90% of company waste from landfill. Recently Clif announced that its bakeries in Idaho and Indiana have already reached this goal and are pursuing zero waste certification.
  • The Clif bar wrapper is not compostable but Clif is working on a goal of 100% of its packaging being reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. However, Clif could make compostable wrappers work in 2021 if it really wanted to.
  • The box that contains Clif Bars is FSC-certified and made from recycled (and recyclable) paperboard.
  • Clif Bar’s own facilities use 100% renewable electricity.
  • Clif Bar building are built with sustainability in mind (LEED green building certification)
  • Thanks to collaborations with Native Energy, Cliff offset core emissions since the company began (going back 18 years) – not just with carbon credits but by financing renewable energy and sustainability projects.
  • Clif Bar is also working with Native Energy and other non-profits (American Forests) to compensate for emissions from tangential activities like corporate travel and supply chains.
  • Clif is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop solar farms that also work as pollinator habitats.
  • Clif has a strong workforce culture of social and environmental responsibility, ranging from paid volunteer time to subsidies clean transportation.
  • Cacao and palm oil is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that receives some criticism for its standards or enforcement of these standards. I’d prefer to see organic, shade-grown cacao that’s certified Fair Trade and also palm oil (which Clif Bar sources from South America) that’s certified by Palm Done Right.
  • It looks like Clif is no longer a member of 1% for the Planet and also not a certified B-Corporation (which I was surprised to see).
  • Overall, Clif Bar does a great job at describing the social and environmental impact of company operations, with stories within stories that start in Clif’s Aspirations page.
Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review. A photo of a box of Clif's Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter bars next to an individual bar. Beneath it is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars.

Overall, there’s room for improvement in some areas but Clif has been an industry leader in key areas such as addressing climate change.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Clif chocolate peanut butter bars:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Published by jkaybay

I have two sites, both focused on ethical consumerism. The Green Stars Project (https://greenstarsproject.org/) aims to start a movement based on crowd-sourced ethical ratings. Ethical Bargains (https://ethicalbargains.org/) is focused on new products that I've bought at the Grocery Outlet.

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