Decarbonizing Swine Production: Smithfield Execute on Industry-Leading Goals

In Brief

  • Reducing the carbon footprint of any business is beneficial for the environment and can add value to the company.
  • The four biggest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in pork production are manure, grain/feed supply, processing, and retail.
  • Finding efficiencies in all these areas will reduce the carbon footprint of production.
  • Smithfield has already seen a 13% reduction in its carbon footprint by identifying and implementing production efficiencies.


Smithfield Foods is a leader in pork production and processing with a presence in 28 U.S. states and seven countries around the world. Innovation is a central theme that fuels the growth of the company, and Smithfield has worked hard to ingrain sustainability throughout its value chain.

This article reviews the aggressive sustainability targets Smithfield set for the company when they started its carbon reduction efforts in earnest in 2016. The devoted business platform that was created to measure, monitor, and apply sustainability efforts continues to thrive today. And the benefits speak for themselves and are documented in Smithfield’s 2022 Sustainability Impact Report.

The Smithfield carbon reduction goals

In 2016, Smithfield made the following industry-leading environmental stewardship commitments:

  • To reduce GHG emissions across their US value chain by 25% by 2025, which was then expanded to 30% by 2030.
  • To become carbon negative in US company-owned operations by 2030. And all of this while increasing production of protein for the growing global population.

Knowing the starting point

The first task in meeting their ambitious sustainability goals was to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) to set the baseline for carbon impact across the pork production value chain. Despite regional variations in management practices, the four biggest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are:

  • Manure
  • Grain supply chain / feed
  • Processing
  • Consumers / retail

The LCA was carried out in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise. The results are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Smithfield greenhouse gas footprint, 2010 baseline measurement conducted by the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (Source: Smithfield, 2023)

As a result of the LCA, strategies and initiatives were implemented to reduce emissions across each of the four areas. A second LCA was then carried out in 2021 to establish a new baseline. The results are illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Smithfield greenhouse gas footprint, 2020 baseline (Source: Smithfield, 2023)

Compared to 2010, Smithfield had already achieved a 13% improvement in its carbon footprint, earning them recognition from around the world, including a World Sustainability Award. But work did not stop there.

1. Manure management

Smithfield has spent the last 20 years investigating the best ways to capture and convert methane into renewable energy (Figure 3). The methane that is produced naturally from manure is collected in covered lagoons or digesters before being cleaned and converted into renewable natural gas (RNG). Due to Smithfield’s size, they can capture and collect methane from several farms in central conditioning facilities.

Figure 3. Methane is collected and converted to natural gas which is then used by consumers (Source: Smithfield, 2023)

There are many benefits to using RNG including:

  • Reducing GHG emissions
  • Having a 24/7 supply of renewable energy to homes and businesses, unlike the fluctuating supply from wind or solar energy sources
  • Provision of new income streams to farmers
  • Better manure management

Transforming manure into renewable natural gas displaces 25 times more GHGs than those released by consumption of clean energy, making it carbon beneficial. Not only does this reduce Scope 1 emissions, but it also adds significant financial value. Smithfield is also drying the solid, remnant, biological material which accumulates at the bottom of the lagoons and basins. Once dried, this material can be used as commercial-grade fertilizer which is higher in nutrient concentration than the organic materials in their original form.

2. Grain farms and feed milling

Feeding animals is one of the largest costs to any protein producer. Smithfield purchases significant amounts of grain each year to feed the pigs, and this accounts for a large portion of their GHG footprint.

Improvements in feed conversion, efficiency, genetics, nutrition and herd management have helped reduce the amount of grain needed to feed animals, and work in this area continues. Getting more meat from less inputs is always the goal. Following a request from Walmart, one of their customers, on fertilizer use, Smithfield collaborated with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to create an agronomics initiative. The SmithfieldGro program gives free advice and support to grain farmers, leading to improvements in crop yields while using less fertilizer, reducing waste and minimizing carbon emissions. The program covers over 1 million acres of US farmland to date.

Smithfield nutritionists are also contributing to the sustainability efforts by identifying ways to incorporate pre-consumer food waste into animal diets. Waste from manufacturers of bread, snacks and other baked goods are being used as sources of human-grade fats, sodium and sugars. By purchasing over 400,000 tons of bakery meal to use in animal feed annually, Smithfield is diverting more than 23,000 tons of food waste away from landfill every year.

3. Processing

While processing represents the smallest part of Smithfield’s GHG emissions at 12%, there are still significant improvements and efficiencies to be made.

Firstly, Smithfield has committed to certifying 75% of its US facilities as zero-waste-to-landfill by 2025. So far, 21 facilities have achieved this target. They have also pledged to reduce their use of virgin petroleum plastic by 50% by 2025.

Secondly, Smithfield is changing the way it sources energy to make sure it comes from renewable sources such as solar and wind power. The aim is to have 50% of all electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030. As well as the source of power, Smithfield is also changing the intensity of their power usage and switching to LED lighting in all their facilities.

Water is used in huge quantities across the Smithfield vertically integrated facilities. An internal water policy and the ISO 140001:2015 environmental management system (EMS) are already in place, which will be complimented with further internationally recognized water stewardship standards by 2025.

Finally, one of the biggest efficiencies made by Smithfield in this area is optimizing use of their fleet of vehicles. Efficiencies in distribution have reduced the total distance travelled by roughly 11 million miles each year which has helped reduce diesel consumption by over 1.5 million gallons.

To reach their target, Smithfield has committed to buying 75 megawatts of electricity from Allete Clean Energy’s Diamond Spring wind site in Oklahoma. The carbon-free energy that is generated should account for more than 15% of total energy use across the US. Smithfield is also developing on-site wind energy sourcing in all their farms in Colorado and in parts of Utah.

Between 2009 and 2020, feed efficiency improved by around 5% across all Smithfield farms (Figure 4). This has a direct impact on production, but also provides linear reduction in manure and grain contributions to the overall carbon footprint.

Figure 4. Feed conversion rates on Smithfield farms between 2009 and 2020 (Source: Smithfield, 2023)

Other efficiency gains at Smithfield include:

  • Better sow productivity – the number of piglets born per sow per year
  • Increased lean carcass yield – reducing the waste from each carcass
  • Improved grain yields – producing more crop from the same acreage

4. Consumers and retail

A large part (34%) of Smithfield’s total carbon footprint comes from consumers and retail. While Smithfield only has limited control over these emissions, several efforts continue in this area to try to reduce GHG emission contribution, including:

  • Recycled packaging
  • Reusable packaging
  • Compostable packaging
  • Extending shelf life to reduce food waste
  • Reducing portion size to reduce food waste
  • Pre-cooking foods to reduce energy use for the consumer


Farmers are being hit by rising prices for their inputs which is driving up the cost of food for consumers. This, coupled with an expectation for better sustainability, is fuelling the drive for significant production efficiencies. As businesses become more efficient, their carbon footprint will reduce, benefiting everyone.

Smithfield is a leader in terms of sustainable pork production. Having first calculated their carbon footprint and identified the biggest contributing parts, they set ambitious targets for themselves. Working collaboratively and efficiently, Smithfield has already achieved great results in terms of carbon footprint reduction and production efficiencies without compromising output levels.

More information about Smithfield’s efforts in terms of sustainability can be found in their annually produced sustainability impact report.

Published on

29 January 2024


  • Environmental Footprint
  • Sustainability & Welfare
  • Sustainability
  • Swine
  • Piglet

About the Author

Kraig Westerbeek - Chief Development Officer at Monarch Renewables, a joint venture of Smithfield

Kraig Westerbeek is Chief Development Officer at Monarch Renewables, a joint venture of Smithfield


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