Synlait looks to sustainable future

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Synlait is aiming to become a Certified B Corporation.
Synlait is aiming to become a Certified B Corporation.

Related tags Sustainability Milk Nutrition

New Zealand’s Synlait Milk has committed to reducing its environmental impact over the next decade by targeting key areas of its value chain.

The commitments were announced at Synlait’s annual conference in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week to staff, dairy farmers and partners.

The company said it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 35% per kilogram of milk solids on-farm (consisting of -50% nitrous oxide, -30% methane and -30% carbon dioxide) and 50% per kilogram of milk solids off-farm by 2028; reduce water consumption by 20% per kgMS both on-farm and off-farm by 2028; reduce nitrogen loss on-farm by 45% per kgMS by 2028; and boost support for best practice dairy farming through increased Lead With Pride premium payments, including a 100% PKE-free incentive.

The tiered Lead With Pride system rewards independently-certified dairy farmers for meeting best practice in four areas of environment, animal health and welfare, social responsibility and milk quality.

Electrode boiler

The company said it will also never building another coal-fired boiler and would address its existing coal infrastructure.

Synlait added it would commission New Zealand’s first large-scale electrode boiler in January 2019 to provide renewable process heat to the upcoming dairy liquids facility in Dunsandel.

Neil Betteridge, Synlait’s director of operations, said, “While we will address our coal infrastructure, we’re making a start now with an out-of-the-box energy solution for our new advanced dairy liquids facility in Dunsandel.

“Over a ten year period, the electrode boiler’s estimated emissions savings are roughly the same as emissions from 9,600 households. It’s a great alternative source of process heat – at commercial scale – to coal or diesel.”

Synlait said it will also join a global movement of organizations focused on sustainability progress by becoming a Certified B Corporation and adopting several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Finally, Synlait said it was committed to establishing a social investment fund to boost support for communities, organizations and initiatives aligned to Synlait’s sustainability goals.

Taking responsibility

John Penno, CEO and managing director, said the company was taking responsibility for its business and demonstrating leadership in the primary industry that will benefit all New Zealanders.

“People, communities and land thriving is the heart of our ambition and central to the three pillars of our sustainability strategy: environment, people and enterprise,”​ Penno stated.

“As well as responding to the irrefutable and increasing global demand for sustainable goods, we genuinely believe an enduring and profitable business has to be built on a robust foundation that supports economic, environmental and social outcomes.”

Abbie Reynolds, executive director of the Sustainable Business Council, said, “At the World Business Council for Sustainable Development conference in Switzerland in April, global businesses told me they are looking to New Zealand for solutions to some of our toughest environmental challenges, especially in agriculture.

“By setting big ambitions, and leveraging its innovation mindset, Synlait is one of the New Zealand companies extremely well positioned to do that.”

Improving on-farm sustainability

To achieve its on-farm GHG reduction targets, Synlait said it will leverage elements of the Lead With Pride framework and tailor support to each dairy farm.

David Williams, Synlait’s milk supply manager said, “28% of our farms are already certified best practice under Lead With Pride, and we have a number more working through certification. They will be a major contributor to our targets and beyond this we will work closely with our other dairy farmers to focus on opportunities they have in their business to contribute.”​  

Williams added the premiums include an annual incentive for certified dairy farmers who choose to produce milk that is 100% palm kernel expeller (PKE) free.

“PKE use doesn’t impact our footprint in New Zealand, but PKE use indirectly supports clear-felling of native forests in Indonesia,”​ Williams said.

“That results in reduced carbon sequestration, degraded soil health, harmed waterways, and dramatically changed biodiversity. It’s an international problem we can help solve through our 100% PKE-free incentive.”

Dr Harry Clark, director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, said reducing GHG emissions from New Zealand agriculture is challenging but opportunities for mitigation do currently exist and new opportunities will become available over the next ten years.

“The targets set by Synlait are ambitious but in my view are achievable within the timeframe set. We look forward to working with Synlait suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce their emissions and to help monitor progress against the company targets,”​ Clark said.

Global sustainability

Synlait is aiming to become a Certified B Corporation by meeting global standards of environmental and social performance, accountability and transparency.

There are currently 16 Certified B Corporations in New Zealand, and most are small to medium enterprises (SMEs), however, Synlait said it will be the first large scale, NZX-listed and near-billion dollar revenue business to join.

Related topics Regulation & Safety Sustainability

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