Silver Fern Farms to join a handful of Kiwi companies offering carbon-zero products
Silver Fern Farms, the country’s largest meat processor and marketer, is poised to launch its first carbon-zero certified beef in the United States this month.
It is among just a handful of New Zealand food and beverage companies which have measured the impact of their products on the climate “from cradle to grave”, committed to reducing the impact as close to zero as possible, and offset what can’t be reduced through an internationally accredited programme run by Toitū Envirocare, a subsidiary of Government-owned Crown Research Institute Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
Others with Toitū carbon-zero certified products include dairy co-operative Fonterra, chicken producer Waitoa, beverage company Lion, wine group Yealands, and bottled water company Antipodes.
Green Party co-leader and Climate Change Minister James Shaw supports companies taking part in the voluntary carbon market.
“Every contribution that they make helps the atmosphere,” Shaw says. “If they can reduce, or zero out the emissions from a product line, it helps.
“If you could do that across the entire economy, we wouldn’t have a problem, so I’m a big supporter of the voluntary carbon market, and of businesses going the extra mile to reduce the emissions profile of their products and services, and their company operations.”
He acknowledges it can be difficult when doing the grocery shopping to know which is the best environmental option, and he looks for the tick of approval from trusted organisations like Toitū.
Otago University Associate Professor Sara Walton, who specialises in sustainability and business, agrees, saying if a product has been certified through Toitū, it has gone through an element of rigour and is underpinned by a strong science base.
“It’s really hard for the customer,” she says. “I remember buying a ream of paper and just standing there with all the different logos and I wasn’t really up to date with those logos at the time, and it was just absolutely bamboozling as to what each one meant. It is quite difficult for the consumer to actually understand.
“Personally for me, I know what Toitū do in order to give out that label, but not everyone is going to have that knowledge, so we really do need to have some understanding of the rigour behind some of these labels.
“Some of them I don’t know as well, and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, or what it means – it’s really tricky.”
She encourages people to be a “conscious consumer”.
“It’s really difficult to be perfect,” she says. “I sympathise with the consumer about the amount of information we now have about products and usually we are in a hurry, we are in the supermarket and we are racing around and we have got kids yelling at us and all the rest of it.
“It is really difficult but maybe just pick a couple of products. Just start somewhere. And as you learn about another product, add that in.”
Walton expects more companies to seek carbon-zero certification for their products in the future, and she says reducing the impact of each product is key, rather than offsetting.
“I think it will be hard for all our products to be carbon-zero unless we have a pretty radical transformation because we probably haven’t got enough room on the planet to offset.”
Toitū product manager Austin Hansell says consumers can have faith that companies with a Toitū certification are genuinely trying to do better and have a better impact on the planet.
“This really gives the consumer a sense that that impact has been understood, and is being addressed. You can feel good that it is being neutralised,” she says.
“They are taking it seriously and they’re setting a real commitment. It really sends a strong signal that that business is committed to being here for the long haul.”
Companies are more likely to seek certification for their operations than their products, because measuring the whole life cycle of a product is harder, she says.
To get its beef certified, Silver Fern Farms has had to look at how it is produced on farm, processed and distributed right up until it is in the hands of the person who will eat it and hopefully recycle the packaging. Offsets will be linked back to the farms producing the meat through new and existing tree plantings.
“Consumers are really thinking hard about where their protein comes from,” says Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer. “Red meat has had a pretty bad rap over the last number of years. We’re trying to put that right.”
The carbon-zero beef will be priced at a premium, which will flow through to farmers who supply the product.
“It’s our responsibility to get as much commercial value back to farmers and reward them for the good work that they are doing,” Limmer says. “This is a means for us to connect the market back to the farms very, very directly, and incentivize and reward what they are doing well.”
The first year of certification requires the biggest investment as a company has to build relationships with suppliers, vendors and distributors to source data and then the process builds over time to become more efficient, says Toitū’s Hansell.
To continue to hold a Toitū certification for a product, companies must reduce their carbon footprint, not just offset the impact. That is evaluated every year, and judged on a six-year cycle to allow companies the flexibility to test out different reduction methods. Some companies haven’t retained their certification and have dropped off the list.
The first food and beverage product certified by Toitū was Antipodes Water in July 2007, and the company says it the world’s first and only mineral water to be carbon-zero certified.
Antipodes bottles and distributes still and sparkling water from an aquifer in Whakatāne, which is then served in the world’s finest restaurants, hotels and through select retailers across Asia, the Middle East, North America, Russia, New Zealand and Australia, the company says on its website.
All the water bottler’s production energy is from renewable sources such as geothermal, wind and hydroelectric and the company has created wetland reserves around its water source to continuously enhance and preserve its natural environment, it says.
“Being a sustainable producer is the right thing to do for a fragile global environment,” Antipodes says, noting it is also a member of the United Nations Carbon Neutral Network of companies and countries.
Yealands Wine Group, which owns vineyards and a winery in the Awatere Valley, has certified its entire wine range.
The company’s sustainability manager Tara Smith says the winery was launched in August 2008 with the ambition of becoming a world leader in sustainable wine production. It was the first winery in the world to be Toitū carbon-zero certified from its inception in 2008, and it expanded to product certification in 2013.
Every year, the company measures its emissions, sets emission reduction targets and evaluates its performance followed by an annual audit to verify the information.
Smith says it has many carbon reduction initiatives and was one of the first members to join International Wineries for Climate Action, a group which is taking action to decarbonise the global wine industry.
The company’s Seaview winery in Marlborough generates up to a quarter of its annual energy requirements on site, via renewable generation such as solar, wind and vine prunings. Yealands has achieved freight and packaging emission reductions of about 20 per cent since 2013 by moving to lighter weight packaging and bottling closer to market.
Yealands has also undertaken environmental restoration within its property, with benefits to biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and has reduced its diesel use through introducing inter-row crops in the rows between the vines to cut down on the amount of mowing.
The company offsets all remaining emissions, often on international projects which align with its values. For the first time last year, the company included extensive tree plantings on its property to reduce the number off offsets it needed to source.
Beverage company Lion was the first in the country to achieve carbon-zero certification for a beer with The Fermentist’s Kiwi Pale Ale in 2019, and the certification was extended to all The Fermentist’s beer and cider products and the entire Christchurch brewery in 2020.
The Fermentist was closed in September last year because it was losing money however the experience helped Lion in 2020 certify its Steinlager beer range, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the New Zealand beer market.
“Lion is driven by doing the right thing for the long-term and has committed to an active and ambitious carbon reduction strategy to reduce carbon emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, aligned with the target to limit global warming to under 1.5°C,” a spokeswoman said.
“Our market research shows that our consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and want to see and influence change through the products they purchase. As a result, we decided to go down the path of carbon-zero certification to make a meaningful public commitment to them; to tell our consumers that we take climate change seriously and are doing something about it,” she said.
Lion started from a good position, having invested in the efficiency and sustainability of its Auckland brewery The Pride which opened in 2010. The brewery has since been improved further to optimise the cleaning and refrigeration and improve process heat utilisation such as boiling and pasteurisation.
The company has reduced its carbon emissions by 4.4 per cent between 2019 and 2020 and has two offsetting projects: protecting 738 hectares of Māori-owned native rainforest In Fiordland and a wind farm in Chitradurga, India.
Dairy company Fonterra launched the country’s first carbon-zero certified milk in 2020, and also has a carbon-zero certified organic butter in the United States.
“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing society, which is why we are committed to finding solutions that reduce both our own carbon footprint and that of our customers while helping to address consumer needs around sustainability,” says Fonterra’s senior manager sustainability solutions Lara Phillips.
“Achieving carbon-zero certification for our products is a great way for us to help our customers and the environment today, while we work towards our aspiration of net zero by 2050.”
The company is investing $1 billion in sustainability initiatives over the next 10 years and is committed to solving the challenge of methane emissions alongside farmers, she said.
Fonterra partnered with Foodstuffs North Island in July 2020 to launch Simply Milk, New Zealand’s first carbon-zero certified milk.
To achieve carbon-zero certification, Fonterra worked with AgResearch to calculate all the emissions associated with making Simply Milk, right from the farm to disposal, which are then offset through credits from projects that sequester or reduce emissions, including native forest regeneration in New Zealand and renewable energy projects overseas.
Five of Anchor’s specialty milks were also certified carbon-zero in November 2020, including Anchor Calci-Plus, Protein-Plus, Organic, Silver Top and Zero Lacto milk.
In March 2021, Fonterra’s global ingredients business, NZMP, made carbon-zero certified organic butter available to customers in the United States.
Poultry company Inghams last year gained carbon-zero certification for its Waitoa free-range chicken and its Let’s Eat range of plant-based meat alternatives.
“We think it makes sense to change what we do so that our products are more sustainable,” a Waitoa spokeswoman says. “Our industry, food production and farming, are changing. We want to be leading the way and to continue to deliver for our consumers.
“Our research shows that sustainability is important to New Zealand consumers, which aligns with our values. By offering carbon-zero certified products, we are making it easier for consumers to reduce the footprint of their lifestyles.”
As well as reducing the environmental impact of its products, the company is offsetting with projects relevant to its business.
The projects include a permanent forest sink initiative in Marlborough where land must be retired from farming and have at least 30 per cent cover of forest species that will reach a height of 5 metres at maturity. Overseas it has picked projects which provide clean cooking methods in Ghana and Bangladesh, reforestation in East Africa and improving water quality in Sub Saharan Africa.
For Silver Fern Farms, the carbon-zero beef pilot in the US is just the beginning. While the opportunity was first identified for consumers in the US market, which is its second-largest, customers in its largest market of China are also showing interest and it’s likely to also roll the programme out to lamb and venison.
The company also expects to offer carbon-zero meat in New Zealand in the future, Limmer says.
“There is only one direction of travel for our industry and Silver Fern Farms wants to be out the front leading,” he says.