From Tyson Foods' New Pact to POET's Partnership with the City of Sioux Falls, Corporate Sustainability Partnerships Have Impact Beyond Company Doors
Sustainability has been a recent buzzword in the business community, and for good reason. There’s growing recognition that corporate social responsibility is important. And in many cases, consumers and companies that work for other companies are asking for more of it.
Many U.S. businesses and other organizations increasingly are seeking mutually beneficial agreements to enhance the sustainability of their operations. The benefits of such partnerships often extend beyond the companies’ doors to tackle important environmental and social issues like climate change and sustainable food production.
That’s the case in a recently renewed partnership between POET Biorefining – Chancellor and the Sioux Falls Regional Sanitary Landfill, both of which are in southeastern South Dakota.
Under POET’s agreement with the City of Sioux Falls, methane gas formed by decomposing waste at a landfill is piped underground for 11 miles and burned at the biofuel- producing plant near the small town of Chancellor to help create renewable fuel. The practice began in 2009, and a second, 10-year agreement recently was reached.
The plant — which has two other energy sources that further offset fossil fuel — is a model for sustainability and has evolved into “one of the greatest renewable energy stories on the planet,” said POET CEO Jeff Broin.
Over the last 10 years, the plant’s use of landfill gas during its production process has offset nearly 200,000 metric tons of CO2 from natural gas. That’s equal to one year of greenhouse gas emissions from 23,000 homes.
POET Agreement Is ‘Win-win’
The agreement brings benefits both for sustainability and citizens, political leaders noted at a press conference for the new agreement at POET’s headquarters.
“Thanks to our partnership with POET, the city is able to provide a renewable fuel to POET’s biofuel production operations to make a renewable fuel,” said Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken. “Landfill gas sales to POET also keeps landfill fees low. All around, a win-win for sustainable energy and landfill customers in the five-county service area.”
“It’s been a huge success for both parties. We’re so excited to have it and to extend out that contract for another 10 years,” said Rachel Kloos, Plant Manager. “It has been just an amazing project from the very get-go.”
Mark Cotter, Sioux Falls’ Director of Public Works, agrees. “It’s really been a great public-private partnership, a win-win for both sides,” Cotter said. “It’s a very responsible way to manage landfill gas.”
The Chancellor facility’s agreement with the landfill, which serves a five- county area, has had documented benefits.
The steady supply of methane, or landfill gas, provides about 10 percent of the fuel needed to run a boiler and corn dryers at the ethanol plant, and the cost is typically below the market rate for natural gas.
Meanwhile, the agreement generates approximately $1.5 million in revenue per year for landfill operations, said Dustin Hansen, the city’s former Landfill Supervisor. He recently became Sioux Falls’ Street Manager.
The revenue from selling landfill gas allows Sioux Falls to hold down fees charged to the public for disposing trash, Hansen and Cotter said. The city has avoided increasing tipping fees at the landfill for several years. “We’ve got some of the lowest landfill rates in the region,” Cotter said.
The partnership with the Chancellor plant got started when Sioux Falls officials started looking for an industrial customer for the landfill gas, and the POET plant stepped forward.
Before the partnership was worked out in about 2008, the potentially dangerous gas produced at the landfill was wasted. It was collected and burned off into the atmosphere.
Now, a network of about 150 vertical and horizontal wells in new and old disposal pits collect the gas, which is created by the decomposition of cellulosic waste, such as food and lawn clippings. The gas is transported to the Chancellor area in a 12-inch, plastic pipe that is buried along public rights of way.
At the bioprocessing plant, the gas is used to power a boiler and dryers to dry distillers grain.
Bart Plocher, General Manager at POET Biorefining – Chancellor, expects the plant to continue to burn all the gas the that the landfill can produce in coming years as the plant strives to create a better environment with its practices as well as its products.
“In terms of embodying what we try to do, there are few practical applications that are quite as clear as the landfill agreement with the City of Sioux Falls,” Plocher said.
Having access to landfill gas gives the plant more diversity in market options to meet its energy needs, Kloos said. Making use of a non-fossil energy source also is civically responsible for a company that produces green fuel, she said.
“Part of our mission is to be environmentally friendly. This fits into that perfectly,” she said. “We’ve got to practice what we preach.”
The Chancellor plant preserves resources in other ways, too. It also burns chips from scrap wood as a supplemental energy source to help reduce consumption of natural gas and electricity. The plant also strives to hold down water consumption, even though water availability is not a widespread problem in the Northern Plains, Kloos said.
“Sustainability sometimes isn’t the easy choice, but it’s the right choice,” she said.
Tyson Partnership Could Have Wide-reaching Impact
Another sustainability agreement on a national scale stands to offer far- reaching benefits as well by helping to meet growing consumer demand for sustainably grown food.
The agreement that was announced in January unites Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. and the Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, in New York. The two organizations are working together on a pilot program to identify and advance sustainable farming practices.
“We know that long-term success requires industry leadership coupled with strategic partnership and innovation,” said Caroline Ahn, Manager of Executive Communications for Tyson. “Collaboration enables us to learn and share best practices with like-minded organizations.”
The agreement between Tyson and the EDF could have far-reaching influence on agricultural production because positive practices that emerge from the project are expected to be shared with the public.
Any changes made by Tyson, alone, would be significant because Tyson is the largest food-production company in the United States and one of the biggest in the world. About 20 percent of the chicken, beef and pork produced in the United States comes from the company.
The Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF, is a nonprofit, environmental- advocacy organization with widespread influence.
The agreement between the two entities is intended to develop initiatives that will support Tyson’s sustainability goals and help meet growing consumer demand for sustainably grown food.
“Working with EDF enables us to bring together the best of our joint expertise in supply chain and sustainable agriculture while delivering value to growers, businesses and the environment,” Ahn said.
Jenny Ahlen, Director of the Supply Chain EDF+Business Program at EDF, said the prospect of Tyson proving that farming practices can be good for the planet as well as profits has game- changing potential. Scientific analysis will be used to measure the benefits and impact of sustainable farming practices.
The Farmers Business Network and MyFarms have been enlisted to enroll farmers who will provide information about production practices. The information will help Tyson and EDF make supply-chain assessments.
The information also could result in data that will help farmers, said Charles Baron, Cofounder and Vice President of Product for the Farmers Business Network, or FBN. The FBN is based in San Carlos, Calif. and has an operations center in Sioux Falls.
“There’s a whole host of things that farmers could be getting compensated for if we could create markets for them and provide tracking or traceability all the way back to the field,” Baron said. “We want our growers to get more revenue for what’s unique about their farm or something unique about the crops that they’re growing.”