By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion people, according to the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York City. This growth means there will be billions more people to feed with a finite number of resources. To meet demand and maximize the use of available resources, food companies must create a more sustainable supply chain and implement innovative efforts to increase production while protecting the environment. An effective way to do this is by utilizing renewable energy.
In 2016, Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., was the first major protein company to set an ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% by 2025. To help us meet this goal, we launched Smithfield Renewables, a platform to unify and accelerate our carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts across our supply chain.
Under Smithfield Renewables, we execute renewable energy projects across farms and facilities. On farms, we transform methane emissions from hog manure into renewable natural gas (RNG) to implement these projects on 90% of our hog finishing spaces in North Carolina, Virginia, Utah, and nearly all of our hog finishing spaces in Missouri over the next 10 years. At facilities, we capture biogas from anaerobic wastewater treatment systems to create RNG, which cuts fuel costs and reduces GHG emissions.
Here are a few best practices and lessons in how to leverage renewable energy.
Focus on adding value
Renewable energy projects are an effective way to reduce carbon footprint while improving your company’s bottom line. These projects epitomize the circular economy, as they utilize a waste product—in our case, hog manure or wastewater—from operations to create value. Whatever the input, your model should reduce costs, drive efficiencies or create new sources of revenue.
Smithfield has spent years exploring renewable energy projects. Not every attempt we made was viable, and some projects generate more value than others. To be successful, businesses must maximize resources on the projects that will drive the most value. For example, our “manure-to-electricity” projects developed in 2007 continue to operate and generate valuable renewable energy, but exploring other approaches, such as converting manure into RNG, yields the maximum value for our company and stakeholders.
In February 2019, The National Provisioner featured Smithfield Foods' initial successes in creating renewable energy from hog manure at the farm level.
Implementing renewable energy projects requires a firm understanding of your company’s supply chain, the renewable energy market landscape and the available technology. Smithfield has been working with renewable energy since the 1990s, devoting a significant amount of attention to researching, exploring and perfecting sustainable ways to transform waste product into energy.
When we established our GHG reduction goal, we enlisted the help of the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise, St. Paul, Minn., and Environmental Defense Fund, New York, to identify the greatest opportunities to reduce GHG emissions across our supply chain. That research is a tool used to identify and prioritize initiatives that will have the highest impact.
The right partners are key to implementing renewable energy projects. Partnerships provide expertise and resources that one company alone may not have access to. We actively work with technology providers, utilities and government agencies to identify and develop pioneering renewable energy technologies.
To bring our renewable energy initiatives to life, we partnered with Dominion Energy, Richmond, Va., to form Align Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and transform manure on our farms into renewable energy in North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. We also launched Monarch Bioenergy in partnership with Roeslein Alternative Energy, St. Louis, Mo., to expand our “manure-to-energy” projects in Missouri and other states. At our Tar Heel, N.C., facility, we partnered with Optima BioEnergy, Raleigh, N.C., to install technology that transports wastewater-generated RNG to local homes and businesses.
Operating in a sustainable way is both good for business and necessary to feeding a growing world population. Renewable energy projects demonstrate that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive. These projects concurrently reduce a company’s environmental footprint and create value for stakeholders.