By the end of the decade, many food companies will face deadlines for their emissions reductions goals. The race to invest in sustainable technology in the next few years could significantly decrease emissions, experts at sustainability nonprofit Ceres said.
In its latest report, the organization detailed how producers can use strategic investments to drive down their carbon footprints, and pointed to industry players already doing so.
Manufacturers are making their supply chains more sustainable, but they aren't investing enough in the growth of these efforts, said Meryl Richards, Ceres’ acting program director.
“We wanted to look at how they are planning for the next phase of emissions reductions, beyond available practices, because there are some sources like enteric methane, like nitrous oxide from fertilizer, that are a little bit more difficult to address and will require technological innovation,” Richards said.
Ceres highlighted The 100+ Accelerator — an accelerator program launched by big names like AB InBev, Coca-Cola and Unilever — to test agricultural solutions that could help the industry meet its climate targets. According to the program’s website, it gives up to $100,000 to startups to implement tech equipment in the food industry.
Technology that lowers methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a key part of the equation. This could include feed additives that naturally reduce methane, the report said. The Ceres report called attention to Ben & Jerry’s use of additives made with red seaweed, which the company claimed could cut emissions from cows by 82%.
For food producers who work with livestock, Ceres pointed to methane-capturing wearable devices for cattle which convert cows’ gas into water and carbon dioxide. Zelp, a startup that is piloting the tech, has received funding from dairy giant Danone and has a partnership with agriculture giant Cargill. Vaccines for cattle, which could help the animals produce antibodies that target methane-producing microbes, is another solution companies should explore, Ceres said.
Putting their money where their mouth is
Venture capital investments in food tech, which have stalled in the food space in recent years amid an uncertain economy,can provide manufacturers with new ways to drive down their emissions, according to the report.
Ceres highlighted CPG venture capital arms — such as Tyson Ventures, ADM Ventures and General Mills’ 301 Inc. — as investing in startups that can help provide solutions for the farmers in their supply chain.
The report’s focus on methane emanating from livestock draws attention to the meat sector, but Richards said investing in new efforts in the agricultural space can help producers across the industry lower their emissions.
“There are innovations going on to address emissions from fertilizer, with new green ammonia fertilizer, and then there's quite a bit of research going on around perennial grains, which would require less fertilizer and also have deeper root systems to potentially sequester more carbon,” Richards said.
These nanofertilizers could reduce the application of fertilizers, and the associated lost nutrients on farms, by 20%, Ceres said in the report.
Another effort Ceres detailed in its report is an experimental way of producing renewable energy on farms known as agrivoltaics. It involves planting crops beneath solar panels and incorporating the panels into livestock pastures. The nonprofit said this practice could nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from a farm’s energy use when paired with electric tractors and other equipment.
The potential for greater tech investments should be part of a multi-pronged strategy as food producers tackle their emissions, according to Ceres.
“There’s a number of companies that are connecting in-house R&D, doing pilot tests, or otherwise supporting market development,” Richards said. “There’s also advocacy that they can do, assuring that their lobbying is aligned with research that needs to be happening.”