- The National Advertising Review Board recommended JBS USA stop making “aspirational” claims about its goal to reach net zero emissions by 2040. According to a release from the board, JBS has agreed to comply with this recommendation.
- The claims, which were challenged by the nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, seem to communicate that the meat producer’s plan has been evaluated and that there is a reasonable expectation that it can reach that emissions goal, the board found. However, they said, JBS is currently in the exploratory stage of figuring out how it can meet that target.
- Many food companies have made ambitious sustainability goals, and some experts have said their claims amounted to greenwashing. Because of the meat industry’s large carbon footprint, companies in this space have been scrutinized for their sustainability plans.
It’s difficult to deny that beef has an outsized environmental footprint.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, cattle are responsible for 65% of all emissions from animal farming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found a single cow produces between 154 and 264 pounds of methane gas a year.
A goal from the world’s largest meat producer to reach net zero emissions within two decades is enough to turn heads and cause people to take notice. But it’s also extremely difficult to achieve.
This is why the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called into question advertising claims, including “Bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible,” and “Leading change across the food industry and achieving our goal of net zero by 2040 will be a challenge. Anything less is not an option.”
The National Advertising Division of BBB National Programs ruled these claims were too aspirational in February. The division asked JBS to withdraw those claims at that time, but noted it was not precluding the meat giant from making narrower statements about researching potential methods to drive a reduction in emissions.
JBS appealed the decision to the National Advertising Review Board, saying the challenged claims send a message that the company has a detailed plan in place to reach its net-zero emissions goal. The meat processor argued that the claim is substantiated by the “foundational work” it had done toward that goal to date.
JBS did not respond to Food Dive’s request for comment, but the release about the final decision says the company disagrees with the way both bodies interpreted consumer perception about its net zero goals.
For its part, JBS has been moving forward with measures to increase its overall sustainability. In January, the company purchased renewable energy certificates — proof that energy is coming from renewable and environmentally responsible sources — for a thermoelectric plant it owns in Brazil.
However, the company has also come under fire for its sustainability-related actions.
In 2021, the company sold $3.2 billion worth of “green bonds” through which the company agreed to pay bondholders a premium if they didn’t reach greenhouse gas emission targets. In January, activist group Mighty Earth filed a complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, saying the company is already failing to meet targets. No further information about the investigation has been disclosed.
This decision by the National Advertising Review Board — and JBS’s willingness to comply with it — represents progress toward accountability.
Sustainability goals are central to food and beverage companies’ business models, but this incident shows they are expected to back up everything they claim. While there is nothing wrong with aspirational sustainability goals, companies need to differentiate between what they hope for and what they actually can do.