Smithfield Foods Joins the Growing List of Sustainability Leaders. Who's Next?

The largest pork company in the world, Smithfield Foods, just committed to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 across its upstream U.S. supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This goal is the first of its kind in the livestock sector; and is thus big news.

It is also a long time in the making. Over the past 20 years, EDF and Smithfield have not always seen eye to eye.Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDF Although we have opposed Smithfield on some critical issues, we have collaborated  on others. Most recently, EDF and Smithfield worked together to help farmers who grow grain for hog feed use fertilizer efficiently and improve soil health. The business and environmental benefits that Smithfield discovered through that effort led the company to want to do more, resulting in today’s industry-leading commitment.

As part of the commitment, one area where Smithfield will work to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint—and one that EDF applauds—is in manure management.

In the past, EDF has pressed Smithfield to improve its manure management, particularly the use of uncovered hog manure lagoons. Now, within the first five years of its commitment, Smithfield will install manure management practices, including covered lagoons, on at least 30 percent of company-owned farms. These changes will eliminate harmful methane emissions and reduce ammonia nitrogen, which contributes to human respiratory illness and impairs water quality. Furthermore, Smithfield will work with its contract growers to expand the use of those practices over the full term of its commitment.

It’s inspiring to see Smithfield’s overall climate commitment and willingness to change its position on an issue like manure management. It shows how NGO/corporate collaborations can work over the long term.

With its climate commitment, Smithfield has set the bar for other livestock companies. We encourage others to follow Smithfield’s lead and set their own public targets based in strong science to reduce the climate and environmental impacts of animal agriculture and food production.

Sustainability in food supply chains: a challenge worth tackling

The climate crisis can’t be solved without addressing emissions from livestock and agriculture:

Food and agriculture companies, however, face major barriers in setting and achieving supply chain sustainability commitments. As a general rule, the majority of their environmental impacts come from the many disparate farms that grow the grains, produce, and animals that end up in our food. For companies that often do not even know the locations of those farms, it is a major challenge to influence those farmers to become more sustainable.

At the same time, food and agriculture companies see that consumers are demanding increased transparency and responsibility for all of their impacts, particularly those on human health, the environment, and animal welfare. The challenge is to figure out how to make needed improvements without substantial price increases at the grocery checkout.

The business case for sustainability – and collaboration

Companies like Smithfield are watching consumer trends and placing a bet that sustainability will be good for their bottom line. They can’t reap these benefits, though, unless they focus on providing value to the farmers in their supply chains. This value can come in many forms – some companies are offering premiums for sustainably grown grain, while others are helping farmers access programs and technologies that reduce the costs of farming.

As a vertically integrated company that owns grain elevators, feed mills, hog farms, and pork processing plants, Smithfield has a unique view into its own supply chain. But many don’t know that Smithfield purchases half of its hogs on the open market, which means the company only has clear visibility through half of its supply chain for pork. In setting a goal for its entire upstream supply chain, Smithfield is committing to work with others in the agriculture industry to assist a broad range of hog and grain farmers adopt more sustainable practices.

Smithfield’s collaboration with EDF demonstrated that the company could improve sustainability in feed grain production, the most remote link of its supply chain, in a way that benefits its business.

This success created the opening to go further, developing Smithfield’s new greenhouse gas target and putting the company in a leadership position in its industry. While Smithfield is the first livestock company to set a major greenhouse gas reduction goal, a sustainable food supply depends on it not being the last.

Who’s next?

Faith-Based Investors Call on Exxon, Valero and Others to Support Methane Regulations

Since the president announced in January a national goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry nearly in half by 2025, an outpouring of voices has supported the move. Now, EPA has proposed rules to help meet that target, and we’ve seen another wave of support – everyone from editorial boards in the heart of oil and gas country to massive investors like California’s pension funds has recognized that the rules are a manageable, commonsense means for reducing methane pollution.

ICCR-logoThe one voice that’s been silent? The companies with the opportunity to adopt the proven, cost-effective technologies and services to not only reduce pollution but also prevent the waste of the very energy resource they’re producing. Now another voice has emerged to make the case directly to these companies that it’s worth constructively engaging in the rulemaking process: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a group of shareholders dedicated to promoting environmentally and socially responsible corporate practices.

Several shareholders from ICCR’s coalition sent letters today to dozens of energy companies in which they invest, voicing their concern about the impact of methane emissions on the climate and public health. As You Sow, BCAM, Mercy Investments, Miller Howard, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Trillium Asset Management, and others made their case to companies whose shares they own, including some of the biggest names in the business, like Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Kinder Morgan, and Valero.

Specifically, the investors asked the companies to file public comments on EPA’s proposed methane rules, sharing the companies’ data and experience with methane monitoring and management and providing perspective on how the methane rules can be designed to reduce emissions cost effectively. They also urged the companies to guide their powerful trade associations –which have been some of the most vocal opponents of the rules – to engage honestly and transparently in the rulemaking process. Read more

2015: A Year of Business and Policy Action on Climate

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFFor most of us, New Year’s marks the time when we set annual resolutions (personal and professional) and get to work on tackling the priorities for the year ahead. In my hometown of Washington, DC a new year also means that Congress comes back into session, lawmakers and speechwriters ready their agendas and proposals, and the president delivers the State of the Union address.

From what we heard last night and in recent announcements, 2015 could be a big year for action on climate – from government and the private sector alike. But big results will take leadership on all fronts.

Leadership from our government…

Addressing climate change is supported by the vast majority of Americans and the Obama administration is taking bold steps to curb the United States’ contribution to climate change. Last night, we saw President Obama tell the nation “no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change” in his State of the Union address. The President also strongly reiterated his commitment to work to ensure “American leadership drives international action” on climate change.

It is clear that climate change is an urgent national priority. Fortunately, the Administration is carrying out its promises under the Climate Action Plan, and steps taken and soon-to-be-taken have helped put us on the right path. From the proposal to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, expected fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, to last week’s announcement of steps to address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, we have seen a lot of progress to address climate change since the last State of the Union. Further, the November announcement of a joint China-U.S. agreement to address climate change on a global scale underscores how crucial U.S. leadership is at this juncture in achieving a binding worldwide climate deal. Much more work remains and leadership at all levels will be necessary to meet our climate goals. Read more

Fleet Emissions Down Significantly in 2009

Emissions from fleet vehicles are down 17% from 2008 levels and 18% from 2006 levels, according to the State of Green Business 2010 annual report released today. The emissions data was provided by six of the seven largest fleet management companies.

Pages from StateOfGreenBusiness2010

While the sour economic condition was definitely a factor in the size of this decrease, the numbers likely also reflect – and to a significant degree – the fact that over the recent years corporate fleets have made strides to lower per vehicle emissions.

A likely leading non-economic factor in reducing emissions is the adoption of vehicle “right-sizing” practices. Abbott Labs, Infinity Insurance and Owens Corning were among the first companies to demonstrate the value of moving from moving to more efficiency vehicles on a wide-scale. The record gas prices of 2008 gave the shift real momentum. The 2009 emissions data reflects the first full year of operations by the more-efficient vehicles that were cycled into fleets in the mid-2008 buy cycle.

Read more about our work with these companies and partner PHH Arval.

The expansion of other emission reduction tactics is also likely reflected in these numbers. Over the past two years, there has been a proliferation of efforts that work with drivers to adopt fuel-smart driving practices. Here at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we noted the many companies entering this space in our 2009 Innovations Review and also create a suite of materials for fleets to use.

Increased use of efforts to improve routing and reduce idling likely also has contributed to the emissions decline. Leading fleets, including Carrier and Poland Spring, have leveraged telematics software to improve operational efficiency.

Read more in these case studies about Carrier [PDF] and Poland Spring [PDF].

I am optimistic that the trend in fleet emission reductions will continue as the economy recovers of the coming years.

From measuring emissions, right-sizing vehicles, improving routing, reducing idling and improving driving habitats, corporate fleets are broadly adopting strategies to reduce their emissions.