Alternative protein is often hailed as the saving grace of the environment, as it’s become clearer that it’s better for the planet than industrial animal agriculture. This is widely agreed upon, among scientists and researchers – and it’s often only met with disagreement from the meat industry itself.
But now, a sustainability research company that rates companies on their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance is calling that into question.
Alternative protein industry
Sustainalytics spoke to the New York Times about the impact of alternative protein industry leaders Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
The firm gave Beyond Meat a ‘zero’ on its sustainability measures, the news outlet reports. And, even said it doesn’t have sufficient information to confirm whether it’s ‘fundamentally different’ to meatpacking firm, JBS.
While it’s clear that JBS, the largest beef producer in the world, has a significant environmental footprint: the problem is that neither Beyond Meat nor Impossible Foods disclose the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) its supply chain produces. This is according to ‘critics’, says NYT.
Better for the environment?
Ricardo San Martin, of the University of California, told the outlet: “The dominant narrative from the plant-based industry and the venture capitalists supporting it is that these companies are better for the environment. They’re better for health, they’re better for this and better for that.
“But it is really a black box. So much of what is in these products is undisclosed. Everybody has a supply chain, and there is a carbon footprint behind that chain.”
Despite this, Beyond Meat maintains we can positively help the planet by making the switch to plant-based. Moreover, it says its Beyond Burgers ‘can be made by generating 90 percent fewer GHGs’ than their beef counterparts.
Plant-based environmental impact
Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown told the NYT that the problem lies with the current ESG standards. They ‘simply don’t contemplate something of the magnitude that we’re doing’, Brown said. And, the company is ‘as transparent as it is reasonably possible to be’.
He added: “The existing framework doesn’t recognize, doesn’t appreciate, the overall majority of our impact, which is massive.”
An Impossible Foods spokesperson says the company is even working on a GHG inventory. And, is working on setting targets to reduce emissions.
But, while both vegan meat giants have commissioned reports on their environmental footprints, analysts say it might not tell ‘the whole story’, the NYT reports.
Brown maintains ‘it will make us less impactful because we’re wasting resources to satisfy an Excel jockey rather than to try to save the planet’, however.