Guest post: how can NZ meat companies hit zero carbon by 2050?

Zero carbon

There’s no question about it, we need to act on climate change. Having been given 12 years by the UN to significantly change our emissions, it’s time the global community took serious action on this critical issue, writes Peter Thomsen.

New Zealand’s new Zero Carbon Bill is a great example of this kind of action. Aiming for carbon neutrality and a 24 – 47 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2050, the bill is a commendable first step towards a sustainable economy, so how can the red meat companies achieve this ambitious goal?

Solar energy, biogas, high efficiency heat pumps and practices as simple as closing the door to one’s cold store are all highly effective practices in reducing the emissions from our industry. However, as with any business decision, we face constraints; capital, risk and payback rank at the top of concerns, and with the Zero Carbon Bill looming, efforts to reduce emissions are quickly re-doubling.

One of the most attractive options for red meat companies to cut power costs and go green is a PPA (power purchase agreement). These agreements allow industry members to purchase power from a large solar farm off-site, tapping into economies of scale and low-cost solar power without exposure to large capital outlays or associated risk. Yealands Winery receives 30 percent of its energy from a solar PPA and Whittaker’s Chocolate has an agreement with Meridian Energy, delivering 100 percent renewable energy from wind. Given the fact that solar and wind have reached the point of being cheaper than their fossil fuel counterparts, renewable PPAs are often more affordable than conventional power agreements – making these solutions more and more appealing and accelerating rollout in the real world.

Overseas, anaerobic digesters have delivered strong returns for processing plants and dairies, converting effluent and high energy bi-products into valuable bio-gas. Until now, a lack of co-digestion products and poor bi-product suitability of have made it difficult to implement such digesters in NZ. Fortunately, with the Zero Carbon bill, the implementation of environmentally-friendly technologies is sure to accelerate with anaerobic digesters rolling out in the same fashion. With a strong business case elsewhere, it seems only a matter of time until these digesters are commonplace in NZ.

These are just two examples of approaches to reducing emissions in our meat industry, and although the Zero Carbon Bill may feel like a pipe dream, we cannot allow ourselves to under-estimate the potential for technological and social revolution. Technology is always advancing, and with the 2050 goal 31 years away, we should cast our minds back 30 years to see how fast things can change. In 1990, there were no mobile phones and there was no internet to speak of. The technological landscape shifts so quickly that it’s irresponsible to assume the technology we have today is that which will be used to deliver zero emissions in 2050.

New Zealand can be bold in its goals – with hard work and technological innovation it will be possible to shift our economy away from harmful emissions, delivering the New Zealand our children and their children deserve. We just might need to install some sensors to make sure the door to the cold store is closed.

Peter Thomson is business and engineering manager for family-owned project delivery company Wiley NZ, which bought the food processing design and engineering division of Milmeq earlier this year.  Formerly with Milmeq, Thomson is still based in in Dunedin in Wiley’s new New Zealand office. Wiley’s team delivers value for its clients through management consulting, process engineering, design, construction and delivery. You can contact Thomsen at


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