The next frontier: Sustainable agriculture
By 2050 it is expected that 9 billion people will inhabit the earth. Finding ways to meet the food needs of a growing population will pose a number of challenges, particularly in developing countries where usable land, water, and other vital natural resources are scarce. The inherent link between climate change and agriculture will also be a key issue to address as the world looks for new and innovative ways to produce viable food options for an expanding population.
According to the Food and Agriculture Administration, we will need to produce 70% more food by 2050. It is imperative that we have an integrated and sustainable approach across the agricultural sectors – farming, forestry, and fisheries – to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of this needed agricultural yield.
At Green Century, our shareholder advocacy program has helped produce measurable results that are creating a more sustainable system for the cultivation and production of agricultural commodities and may potentially benefit the long-term performance of our investments.
Below is one of the highlights from our work toward a more sustainable agricultural system. Visit our impact page to learn more about our other efforts, including reducing food waste, protecting pollinators, and our Forest Protection Campaign, which is working to address the link between agriculture, which is the largest contributor to deforestation, and impacts on the climate.
Globally, more than 14% of planet-warming emissions come from the keeping of cows, chickens, pigs and other animals. Beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas, and lentils. Increasingly, consumers are looking for plant-based alternatives to animal protein for environmental and health reasons.
Given this information and the knowledge that protein consumption in the U.S. and around the world continues to rise, our Shareholder Advocates were able to identify a new and unique area of opportunity to engage companies on an issue that is not only important in terms of environmental impact, but also accounts for market trends and consumer preferences.
For companies like Tyson Foods,* one of the largest meat processors in the country, this growing demand poses both a potential business risk and an opportunity. We raised this issue with Tyson, and were able to successfully withdraw our shareholder proposal after the company announced it had invested in a minority stake of 5% in the alternative meat producer, Beyond Meat*. Tyson also established a $150 million venture fund to invest in food startups focused on alternative proteins. As recently as March 7, 2017, Tyson CEO, Tom Hayes said, “If you take a look at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) stats, protein consumption is growing around the world—and it continues to grow. It’s not just hot in the US; it’s hot everywhere, people want protein, so whether it’s animal-based protein or plant-based protein, they have an appetite for it. Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction.”
With billions of more people to feed in the coming century, the need for a more sustainable agricultural system is increasingly urgent. Luckily, the opportunities the investment and business communities have to help steer us towards a better world are endless.
*No securities mentioned were held in the portfolios of any of the Green Century Funds as of March 31, 2017. References to specific securities, which will change due to ongoing management of the Funds, should not be construed as a recommendation by the Funds, their administrator, or their distributor.
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