Q&A With ADAMA's Chief Sustainability Officer
This article was originally published in Chemical Week Magazine.
Juan Valero, chief sustainability officer with crop protection company ADAMA Ltd. (Tel Aviv, Israel), discusses the company’s sustainability strategy with CW’s Kartik Kohli. The strategy includes a target to reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 5% every year through 2030.
Chemical Week: Syngenta Group was launched in 2020 when Sinochem Agriculture, ADAMA and Syngenta AG came together to create a leader in sustainable agricultural innovation and technology. How do the group companies collaborate on their sustainability strategies?
Juan Valero: I’m happy to tell you that we collaborate very smoothly. The Syngenta Group shares a strong commitment to sustainability and regenerative agriculture, so we all come together with the same goals. We’ve set up a Group Sustainability Leadership Team, which is led by the Syngenta Group’s CSO and includes sustainability leaders from all Syngenta’s business units including ADAMA, Sinochem and Syngenta AG. The team meets on a regular basis and aligns on group priorities, with each business unit leveraging their own priorities to contribute to group targets.
CW: ADAMA has committed to reducing Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 5% on average every year until 2030. How does the company plan to achieve this ambitious target?
Valero: Well, our original goal was to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over 50% overall by2030, compared with 2015, and by 2022, we’d made it 45% of the way there. That’s when we set the 5%annual reduction target, to help us meet our final goal while integrating our Chinese entities.
We’ve carefully prepared a road map to reach this goal, which covers switching to a co-generation powerplant, shifting to low-emission fuels, utilizing hydrogen, adopting renewable energies and upgrading large energy consumers. We’re confident that by managing our energy mix and increasing productivity, we can hit our goals.
We have a good reason to be ambitious because we’ve already hit ambitious targets. For example, in 2022, we increased production volumes and drove a 20% increase in absolute value, but our emissions intensity showed no change compared with 2021 levels. We also lowered our corporate carbon footprint by 35%, by using new technology that generates electricity and steam from natural gas, and we cut GHG emissions by 11.4 metric tons per year for our Galil product. We’re applying the same approach to other production processes, and we hope to see similar results.
CW: Please describe the company’s environmental management infrastructure including standards and guidelines that facilitate emissions control and waste management.
Valero: We’ve set up a health, safety and environment (HSE) management system that incorporates 65 different standards and guidelines, and 12 of them relate directly to the environment and operational, sustainability, like wastewater management, carbon footprint, air emissions and waste management. We regularly audit our operations to check for compliance and sustainability, and set specific improvement goals, and recently we updated our HSE and Sustainability Policy to include process safety issues like spills and release. We also added new sustainability standards around GHG emissions and dwindling water resources. We’re proud that more than half of ADAMA's manufacturing sites are certified according to ISO 14001.
CW: What is the role of digital technology in advancing ADAMA’s sustainability programs?
Valero: We’re always focused on what’s best for farmers, so we don’t have a “one size fits all” tech solution. Instead, we’re tech agnostic, so we collaborate with lots of different tech and Farm Management Information Systems companies to give farmers whichever solution or service is best to increase efficiency and yields, reduce costs, comply with regulations and minimize impact on health, safety and the environment.
This way, we have the freedom to explore many innovative solutions. We’ve already brought more than 15 top AgTech solutions to our customers in 28 countries, like our Smart Ag Nation solution for farmers in Brazil, and BreviSmart for apple growers. Soon, we’ll be enabling drone spraying in India to reduce exposure to chemicals; improving disease modeling and precision application services that help partners in the EU comply with the European Green Deal; and expanding the Smart Ag Nation to more use cases. Our goal is always to reduce the amount of product needed to bring the best efficacy, so one of our top priorities is to use digital technology that supports our low-dose formulations.
CW: How do ADAMA’s agricultural, chemical or other products contribute to sustainability, and what is the company doing to develop new products that enhance sustainability further?
Valero: Farmers are at the forefront of the sustainability struggle, as they aim to grow enough food for everybody in the face of climate change, and we’re actively helping them with that challenge. Farmers ask us for new tools and solutions that enable them to farm sustainably and meet new regulatory requirements, consumer preferences and agronomic practices.
We’re bringing to market a growing number of highly effective, sustainable crop protection products that use innovations based on our proprietary formulation technology platforms and biological solutions. Our low-dose products achieve the same or better results with lower amounts of active ingredient; our high-load products need less packaging and have lower transportation requirements; and our biologicals are naturally derived products that control pests and disease, and improve soil health, without adding to the chemicals found in soil and water.
CW: ADAMA intends to reduce its water consumption 10% by 2024. How does the company plan to reach this goal?
Valero: ADAMA does require a significant amount of water for operational uses like production, cleaning and cooling, but we use a number of different techniques to limit our consumption. For example, we apply reverse osmosis technology to desalinate and purify production effluents to reuse the water, which saves 200,000 cubic meters of fresh water annually. When cleaning packing equipment, we use high pressure and temperature as well as smart nozzles, which reduces the volume of water needed by up to 50%. ADAMA also reuses cleaning water for multiple production cycles. By 2025, we plan to operate seven wastewater treatment plants, which can treat and reclaim 3 million cubic meters of water per year, and cut the water used by our formulation plant in Spain by 50%.
CW: How does ADAMA carry out its chemical recycling practices?
Valero: There are many ways that ADAMA recycles, reuses and recovers chemicals. At our Israeli sites, hazardous waste is reused as fuel, thereby saving on fossil fuels, and plastic barrels, IBCs and large bags are recycled at internal plastic recycling centers. We upcycle empty, used plastic containers from Brazilian and EU farmers into industrial piping, and recycle solvents, acids and bases for internal or external reuse.
CW: In 2018, ADAMA launched an ambitious project to improve the environmental impact of its Chinese facilities by relocating them to new industrial parks, while upgrading their environmental design. Please share the status of this project and say how successful it has been.
Valero: We’re delighted by the progress of our projects to upgrade our Chinese facilities, which are almost complete. We’ve relocated two major plants from old commercial areas to modern industrial parks, which allowed us to upgrade soil and groundwater protection infrastructure, implement energy-efficient production technologies and integrate state-of-the-art air and wastewater emission-control measures like regenerative thermal oxidizers and biological wastewater treatments. Most of our new production units are either already operational or are undergoing commissioning.
CW: What are ADAMA’s social responsibility commitments and please outline the company’s outreach programs toward the communities where it operates?
Valero: Social responsibility is an integral part of our business, so we take our commitments very seriously indeed. We work together with local partners to design programs and initiatives that draw on our combined capabilities, strengths and resources, ensuring long-term relationships that have a positive impact on our communities and people.
We mostly run social responsibility programs in our key regions of Israel, India, Brazil and North America, but we also encourage and support local community activities in every country where ADAMA operates. We prioritize educational programs in the fields of chemistry, agriculture and sustainability, as well as addressing issues around health, welfare and more. Whenever possible, we also build in employee engagement.
Here are some of our main outreach programs:
Science on Wheels, which promotes science education in Israel’s Bedouin community. The project delivers STEM education for 7th graders to empower children to consider new subjects and career paths. Having begun with 80 students in 2021, we expect to include 240 students in 2023.
“Marie Curie” and “Archimedes,” two academic excellence programs in chemistry for outstanding high-school students. These programs aim to increase the number of students studying chemistry at university and connect talented students with the agronomic industry. Since their launch in 2014 and 2012, respectively, 460 students have taken part in the Marie Curie program and 670 in the Archimedes program.
Connecting Children with Agriculture and Produce to People in Need, two initiatives in the US that introduce children to agriculture while also providing fresh, local produce for people in need. At one local school, we established a community garden and taught children to cultivate it, and then distributed the produce to local families in need. We also partnered with Inter-Faith Farm and Food Shuttle to sponsor activities and assist with planting, harvesting and packaging produce for local families.
Experiential Environmental Education in Costa Rica, where we sponsor educational programs in the country’s main pineapple-growing areas to teach local school children about reforestation and recovering treated soils. The programs have been running for the past three years.