Stewart Leeth, Chief Sustainability Officer
Ahead of the publication of our Sustainability Impact Report, we spoke with Stewart Leeth, our chief sustainability officer, about our achievements in 2020 and the opportunities ahead.
Q: As your sustainability strategy evolves, Smithfield is introducing three new pillars: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Health and Wellness; and Worker Health and Safety. Tell us about the new pillars and how you see them advancing the company’s sustainability strategy and overall goals.
A: The introduction of our new pillars is consistent with the breadth of our sustainability strategy and how it has evolved over time. They represent areas that are important to the company and our stakeholders. Historically, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Worker Health and Safety have always been elements of our People pillar. Now, as stand-alone priorities, we can highlight our singular efforts and accomplishments under each. For example, through our comprehensive Unity and Action strategy, which we announced internally in June, we acknowledged that we can expand our efforts to create a more inclusive culture at Smithfield and support a more equal and just society. We believe that requires action, above all. Our actions and dedicated programs are focused in three areas — making a meaningful impact in our management ranks, creating educational opportunities to attract diverse talent and broadening diversity across the agricultural supply chain. Our Health and Wellness pillar gives us an opportunity to highlight the importance of animal protein in the human diet. We also call out how the animals we harvest for food provide byproducts that help the human condition in ways people don’t realize: heparin and insulin for diabetes management, valves for heart surgery, and regenerative innovations to build cellular materials for burns and injuries.
Q: Tell us more about the Worker Health and Safety pillar, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A: Keeping our employees healthy and safe has been the critical focus of our response to COVID-19. We invested more than $800 million in our overarching COVID-19 response in 2020, as we fulfilled our obligation to help secure and maintain the food supply. Our global health and safety program (Smithfield Injury Prevention System, or SIPS), team and safety engagement culture drive continuous health and safety improvements across our organization.
Together, they are helping us progress to our new goal of companywide International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 45001 Occupational Health and Safety certification by 2025. They are also responsible for a Smithfield safety record that not only beats our industry peers, but also tracks better than a broad range of nonmanufacturing industry sectors.
Q: The pandemic has shed light on the fragility of the global food system and worsened food insecurity issues in the United States and globally. How did Smithfield’s sustainability programs and systems address these challenges?
A: The pandemic has made people think about where their food comes from and has reminded us that for most of human existence, the food supply has been precarious. In contrast, the quantity, quality and accessibility of food produced today is much better than in the past. Smithfield serves an important role in this regard by continuing to produce safe and affordable food responsibly — and especially during the pandemic — and investing in the health and safety of our employees to ensure the continuity of the food supply. At the same time, we improved and expanded our sustainability program. We significantly lowered the use of land, water, energy, feed and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per pound of protein produced over time, and our efforts to continue those improvements remain constant even through the pandemic.
Q: Despite the many challenges in 2020, what are you most excited about in 2021 or beyond for the future of sustainability at Smithfield?
A: Looking ahead, it’s good to see that, even with the attention paid to the pandemic, sustainability remains top of mind. Smithfield is well prepared. We’ve refreshed our sustainability platform for the next 10 years and have goals and targets to address climate change, water, waste, worker safety, diversity needs and all the issues that we’ve identified as critical to our success. And we are already seeing progress. Operating through the pandemic, while not easy, has reminded us that sustainability is deeply embedded in our organization, that it strengthens our adaptability and resilience and that we have the confidence of our stakeholders and in our purpose.