CEO, Protein Industries Canada
In the responsible transition to a greener Canadian economy, the agri-foods sector is ripe with opportunity. The potential to significantly lower the climate impact of our agri-food production is being realized through collaborative Canadian innovation, and increased investment in plant based protein specifically can be a powerful driver of climate resiliency and economic growth.
There’s no single industry to blame for our climate crisis. The legacy of unsustainable emissions and practices lies on the shoulders of every sector, and it’s on all of us, consumers and producers alike, to work to correct it. A lot of ink gets spilled about the usual suspects — energy and transportation, but some of the greatest potential for meaningful progress toward a net-zero economy is actually found in our fields, in our refrigerators, and on our forks.
Agriculture is one of Canada’s most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and there’s a lot of room for relatively straightforward gains that can be driven at a consumer and business innovation level. By changing our collective diet, even in small and approachable ways, we can help drive a considerable shift in our climate footprint, jumpstarting new economic growth in the process. With this in mind, in 2018, investment and support from the federal government spurred the creation of Protein Industries Canada, an industry-led not-for-profit tasked with fostering the innovation that will make those choices easier and more beneficial.
“Every choice a consumer makes to replace meat in their diet leads to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” says Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada. “What we’re trying to do at Protein Industries Canada is help industry create products that are more accessible to consumers who want to make the choice to use more plant-based foods in their diet because of environmental concerns.”
Every choice a consumer makes to replace meat in their diet leads to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
A huge and quantifiable difference
A recent independent report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that animal agriculture is responsible for 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly on par with the entirety of the transportation sector. By transitioning just 11 per cent of global meat consumption to plant-based proteins, they estimate we would see a 0.85 gigaton CO2 equivalent reduction by 2030, equal to about 95 per cent of the total emissions from the aviation industry. That’s a lot of payoff for something as painless as making every tenth burger with a next-generation plant-based patty.
Increasing investment in Canada’s plant-based foods sector can not only directly reduce emissions but also drive improvement on critical secondary metrics like water usage, nitrogen fixation, and carbon sequestration. “The peas, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans that we’re growing by the millions of acres in Western Canada require very little to no synthetic nitrogen fertilizer because they’ve got the ability to fix their own nitrogen and sequester carbon in soil,” explains Greuel. “Almost all of our acres are rain-fed, not on irrigated land. Pulse crops are relatively drought-tolerant and can be adapted to every soil zone in Western Canada.”
The opportunity is now
The $485 million in innovative investments that Protein Industries Canada is managing also results in considerable economic and food sovereignty benefits, creating new green jobs and securing Canada’s place at the forefront of this fast-growing industry at a time when first-movers are seeing their efforts rewarded. “This is important and time-sensitive,” says Greuel. “Canada is not the only country that woke up and realized that the plant-based food sector is going to be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. There’s a race going on a global basis to own a significant portion of the worldwide plant-based food market. If we don’t get this right in Canada today, we’re going to be playing catch-up for the next 50 years.”
At the end of the day, alternative proteins are an unbelievably potent vector for rapid and meaningful climate action. As BCG emphasizes, there’s no other sector where the CO2 equivalent savings per dollar of invested capital is higher. So, yes, the battle for net zero is going to be fought in the energy and transportation sectors, but it’s also being fought in our grocery carts.