JBS USA CEO Tim Schellpeper discusses the food company’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2040.
According to the United Nations, the food and agriculture industry is responsible for a third of all human-produced global greenhouse gas emissions—making cutting carbon dioxide from food production a priority in the fight against climate change. In March 2020, JBS, one of the world’s leading food companies, became the first in the agriculture and food sector to commit to net-zero carbon emissions across its operations and those of its value chain by 2040.
“Given our scale, we believe we have the opportunity and a responsibility to lead change and help drive agriculture’s transition to a more sustainable future in a way that benefits everyone,” says JBS USA CEO Tim Schellpeper.
Below, Schellpeper discusses some of the actions behind the company’s ambitious sustainability pledge and how it is innovating to reach net zero.
What role can food and agricultural companies play in holding global temperature increases under 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050?
The next few years will be critical as global incomes rise and demand for food grows. In order to feed a growing population and keep global warming below the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold, our entire industry must collaborate and rapidly develop actionable solutions that reduce emissions and optimize sustainable production. Companies like JBS have to send the market signal up and down the value chain that decarbonization is a priority in everything from livestock, feed and fuel, to packaging and distribution.
What are the biggest challenges JBS is anticipating on the journey to net zero?
The single biggest challenge will be measuring and verifying progress in reducing emissions beyond our facilities. We have the commitment and clear investment strategy to reduce emissions in our own operations, but it will take partnership and collaboration to achieve net zero across our value chain. And we have to accomplish this while empowering producers, suppliers and other business partners to share in agriculture’s future success. We can’t simply mandate our way to net zero.
How is JBS innovating to meet its sustainability goals?
We are investing $100 million by 2030 in research and development projects to reduce emissions within our value chain. By collaborating with our producer partners, academic experts, and third-party organizations, we hope to serve as a catalyst in spurring a more productive and efficient food system.
Recently, we committed $230,000 to Colorado State University’s AgNext program to identify solutions for carbon sequestration and carbon maintenance in regionally diverse grazing landscapes. We are also partnering to unlock new innovative technologies with our suppliers, such as a recent multi-million dollar investment in biodegradable food-grade packaging for meat and poultry products.
JBS announced a $1 billion incremental CapEx investment in March 2021. What emission-reduction projects have received funding so far and why?
Capital funds are distributed based on the merit of proposed projects and their potential to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We have adopted a methodology where we consider the proposed project’s operational sustainability and the efficient return on dollars invested per ton of GHGs reduced—whether that is 1 ton of GHG per year or 10,000 tons.
Some funding is used to identify opportunities, such as installing metering systems that can track utility usage on a real-time basis to target future reduction investments.
Since announcing our net zero commitment in March 2021, we have already identified and approved capital projects that will eliminate approximately 6% of our U.S. emissions. Projects include installing gravity sewers in lieu of existing pumped sewer systems; capturing methane from wastewater treatment facilities; installing heat recovery systems; eliminating high-global-warming-potential refrigerants; optimizing efficiencies via enhanced communication and automation; partnering with utilities on state and NGO-sponsored “Focus on Energy” programs; and installing metering equipment to shed light on new opportunities.
What measures will be instrumental in meeting the company’s goal of 60% renewable electricity by 2030?
First, we must fully capture and utilize the renewable energy we already produce in our wastewater treatment processes. For example, in Plainwell, Michigan, we are installing a new 8-megawatt cogeneration facility that will use our biogas to produce renewable electricity.
Second, we must reduce our overall electricity usage and make capital improvements in our facilities to reduce electrical-use needs. For example, in Greeley, Colorado, we installed additional ammonia condensing equipment that reduced electrical demand in our refrigeration system by upwards of 8%. We are also harvesting low-hanging fruit, such as upgrading our facilities to LED lighting.
Third, we are implementing on-site solar photovoltaic capabilities in many facilities—including Greeley and Beardstown, Illinois—to enhance our renewable energy portfolio. We are pursuing solar options at many other facilities, leveraging the learnings from these successful projects.
Finally, we are actively partnering with third parties through power purchase agreements to obtain renewable energy certificates (RECs). We recognize that implementing renewable electricity at every facility will be challenging. Partnering with third parties to obtain RECs provides an efficient means to increase our renewable profile. In December 2021 alone, we were able to establish a 60,000 megawatt-hour/year partnership for renewable electricity to cover several of our Texas facilities.
How does the company’s commitment to reducing water intensity 15% by 2030 play into the longer-term net-zero ambition?
Water stewardship is crucial to our long-term viability, and many water-reduction projects we’ve employed in our facilities have had a dual benefit of lowering energy consumption. Our efforts to achieve net zero by 2040 will not be at the expense of our long-standing efforts to reduce water consumption and improve water quality. Success depends on a healthy ecosystem, not a tunnel-vision focus on one aspect of the ecosystem.
What impact do you hope JBS’s sustainability commitment will have on the larger food industry?
We are extremely proud of the great work that’s been done to date in our industry to continuously improve the sustainability of food production, but we recognize there is so much more that can be accomplished. Moreover, if we don’t commit to sustainability, meeting global food demand will become increasingly difficult and expensive—for everyone. We hope that our commitments help demonstrate the willingness of our industry to close that gap and lead the fight against climate change. Finally, we hope people realize that our industry—from farmers and ranchers to food companies like JBS—can be a part of the climate change solution. We all have to work together to meet this challenge—we just have to be willing to take the first step.
To learn more about JBS' sustainability commitments, please visit JBSBringingMoreToTheTable.com.