Q&A with Smithfield Foods: On Becoming First Major Protein Company to Slash Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Last week, Smithfield Foods announced an ambitious goal to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25 percent by 2025. This is a reduction of more than 4 million metric tons, which equates to removing 900,000 cars from the road over the next nine years. Stewart Leeth, Smithfield Foods’ vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer, spoke to CR Magazine about this commitment as well as what it means for the company, the industry, and its stakeholders. A Q&A is below.

CR Magazine: Why is this goal so important for Smithfield – what will it signify once it is achieved? 

Stewart Leeth: As the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor, Smithfield Foods faces unique environmental challenges while also having the opportunity to make a positive impact on a large scale. Therefore, it is important that we take a leading role in sustainability efforts that balance the global demand for protein with environmental concerns. For that reason, it is important for Smithfield to establish its goal to reduce GHG emissions.
Additionally, there is a business value to achieving this goal. The steps to reduce GHG emissions help our business operate more efficiently. We’re helping grain farmers make better use of fertilizer application, we’re using energy more efficiently at our facilities and we’re better tracking our product shipments—these are just a few examples of how we are saving the company both time and money.
By reaching our goal, we’re sending a signal that the private sector is willing and able to take a leading role in addressing pressing environmental concerns. For a company of any size, it’s important to remember that small changes all along a supply chain can create a significant impact.

CR: Can you talk more about what specific actions you are taking in your supply chain to reduce GHG? 

SL: This commitment impacts operations across our supply chain, on our farms, at our processing facilities and throughout our transportation network. In our grain supply chain, we are collaborating with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health, which will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from grain farms. We were honored with the opportunity to present on this topic at the 2016 Commit! Forum.
On our hog farms, we’re incorporating renewable energy and reuse projects that utilize technology, such as anaerobic digesters and lagoon covers. We plan to install these technologies on at least 30 percent of our farms. We will also continue to adopt measures that improve animal efficiency, resulting from improved feed conversion and productivity while reducing carbon emissions.
We will continue to improve energy efficiency at our processing facilities by upgrading refrigeration, boilers and other equipment. Technology upgrades will optimize our logistics network, allowing us to better manage our animal and product transportation while reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

CR: Do you think this effort will inspire others to create their own environmental sustainability goals? 

SL: At Smithfield, our first priority is to achieve our GHG reduction goal. However, we hope that others are inspired by and can learn from this project.
Aside from project specifics, our collaboration with EDF is a concept any company can benefit from and replicate. A collaboration between the world’s largest pork company and a leading nonprofit organization may appear to be an unlikely match. However, making a significant, lasting impact requires you to look outside your comfort zone to develop innovative strategies and form creative partnerships.

CR: Why is the partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund vital to meeting this goal? 

SL: To achieve an ambitious GHG reduction goal like ours, it is vital to collaborate with environmental experts. EDF served as an adviser in the development of this commitment. Additionally, Smithfield is currently collaborating with EDF to create a more sustainable supply chain by helping grain farmers improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health. This project plays a key role in helping Smithfield meet its GHG reduction goal.

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