It’s been clear to us for years that we need to improve the carbon footprint of our pork value chain. And the biggest gains can be made at the start of the chain, with the pig farmers. That’s where the most energy is consumed, and – as a study we commissioned showed – energy-saving behaviour is less developed than at slaughterhouses and retail outlets, for example. Which isn’t surprising, given that most of our pig farms are small-scale family businesses.
As the person responsible for innovation in the Keten Duurzaam Varkensvlees, this has been a major challenge for me for many years. I’m always thinking about where the biggest savings can be made, but also, crucially, how we can ensure that the environmental innovations are feasible for our farmers. It’s difficult to get finance from banks, and the average pig farmer doesn’t exactly have a fortune to invest.
All these questions are going around my head 24 hours a day. The Keten Duurzaam Varkensvlees wants to encourage its farmers to work sustainably, but the funding needs to come from somewhere. It occurred to us that maybe this meant we should offer our own funding vehicle. But how?
The answer came to me at a party in Belgium. I was talking to someone who was an energy saving consultant in Belgium. He told me that the government over there had set up a fund in conjunction with electricity suppliers, which gave businesses a way to fund energy-saving measures. And that’s when the idea began to form.
We took our idea to the bank. Through networking, we came into contact with a company that had developed tools to finance energy savings for other organisations.
The holy grail
Innovation is not a 9-to-5 thing. Innovations happen when you connect up different solutions, and they don’t always come to you at the logical times. It’s about looking for ways of doing things when there are no obvious options. And that’s how we ended up with ESCo, our own investment fund. It enables us to offer our farmers financial support, so they have room to innovate. Our fund gives pig farmers the opportunity to invest in things like different, energy-saving heating or ventilation systems for their sties. And with the savings they make from their new, cleaner heating or ventilation systems, they can pay the fund back over time. So you could say it’s like finding the holy grail: an investment that pays for itself.
In my view, this investment fund takes us one step closer to our goal of becoming an energy-neutral chain. That’s it! Now this little piggy’s off to market!