One hundred and seventy thousand New Zealanders took to the streets to protest the lack of urgency on climate change.
This is my plea to Fonterra to step up, show leadership, and deal with its pollution-based processing with urgency.
As a "Fonterra Shareholders Fund" investor, I naively considered a letter to Fonterra, challenging its inadequate response regarding coal use did warrant a reply. It was written to the new, hopefully improved, Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell. Alas, as with a similar letter sent a year or so ago to Theo Spearing, nothing but stony silence.
Happy, it would seem, having weathered the negative fire storm regarding this issue in the press late June early July. Its strategy a simple one: Keep quiet and it will go away.
Back then it was shamed into committing to not increasing their coal use. Outstanding, not.
Robert Spurway, chief operating officer for Fonterra global operations is quoted "One of the emerging themes in our strategy review is that sustainability will be at the heart of everything we do …" If that was the case, then why is very little mentioned in the annual report card about current unsustainability and what on earth the plans might be to resolve it?
Nothing meaningful is mentioned about its ceaseless coal burn to dehydrate milk into powder. That is 500,000 tons of coal per annum; 1.4 million tonnes of C02 sent into the atmosphere; enough to blanket every square metre of dairy land in New Zealand with a 5cm C02 gas duvet; Every year.
Just in case this fact is not registering, for every 1kg of milk powder produced by a coal-powered dairy plant, approximately 800g of coal is burnt releasing 2.2kg of CO2, which, as a gas, equals 1242 litres. Imagine the size of that balloon over your head, times 640,000; Every year. That does not include Fonterra's emissions from their gas-fired plants.
It appears New Zealand dairy farmers are cool with this? No apparent dissent or concern? The co-operative they own and are a part of, are happy to sweep it under the carpet with happy, smiley farmers "opening their gates". Sustainability of the milk pay-out is all that concerns or is there simply no awareness of the downstream pollution the processing facilities generate?
In my letter, I suggested Fonterra's recently reported one plant at a time approach to moving away from coal was not good enough. How long will that take with 40 per cent of the facilities currently powered by coal? To its credit, the cooperative has stated in the annual report: "Our targets are to reduce our GHG emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050."
I suggested Fonterra front-foot the issue and regularly report back to the NZ public as, this issue is so big, it is actually a national problem. Plus I suggested looking for partners (renewable energy companies) to fund quick change. After all, Fonterra is a tad short of capital currently. Is it seeking help? Who knows?
It would appear it cannot even help itself. Fonterra funds DairyNZ to the tune of $55 million. Out of a total budget of $86 million, and a project budget of about $50 million, not one project is directed at resolving this massive pollution pollution problem. It will however, spend $1.6 million on public relations ('Vision is clear' initiative). Go figure.
It does appear quick to cosy up to Government and why not? Millions of taxpayer dollars are given back to the dairy farming community whenever it hiccups. The latest example being the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme with the taxpayer forking out an estimated $615 million by completion. The problem is clearly beyond Fonterra's capacity to deal with rapidly. At the very least some sort of no-interest, deferred payment loan scheme could be negotiated?
Come on Fonterra, you are an integral part of the New Zealand community. I can understand you feel under siege but lay your climate cards on the table, seek help and you might be surprised how the rest of us respond. Knock down your walls.
Needless to say, I am conflicted. I believe Fonterra can be a great company and on the one hand, I wish to retain my shareholding.
My view is that a scaled down organic-based, dairy industry using the best regenerative farming practices, and supplying into zero emission processing facilities can be the future. But it needs to start happening at scale immediately. However, in this vacuum of information and environmental leadership, my humble holding of shares will be on the block by Christmas.
• Michael Kampkes is employed in the building trade and is an opinion writer advocating societal change to combat climate change.