Smithfield Foods and the Future of Meat: Unravelling Environmental Justice

by: Daniel Vermeer, Katie Hall

Publication Date: May 29, 2024
Length: 24 pages
Product ID#: 2-036-133

Core Disciplines: Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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This case focuses on Smithfield Foods’ efforts in North Carolina to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and other hog waste pollution, while facing an increase in community activism, concerns about environmental justice, and an expectation for public companies to be good neighbors. The case is viewed through the perspective of fictional protagonist Maxie Lee, the newly appointed public affairs director of Smithfield Foods in 2021, after two significant events: (1) the company settling years of litigation resolving 26 lawsuits filed by more than 500 residents in eastern North Carolina, and (2) Smithfield entering into an agreement with Dominion Energy, pledging $500 million through 2028 to develop the first industrial-scale biogas project in eastern North Carolina. Both events are directly connected to hog waste lagoons and Smithfield’s concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Lee is tasked with crafting a five-year strategic public affairs plan for Smithfield’s executive committee within three weeks.

This case presents background on environmental justice in North Carolina, the industrialization of hog farming in the United States, and Smithfield’s sustainability efforts. The case provides insights into how CAFOs operate, background on hog waste lagoons, Smithfield’s efforts to resolve lagoon complaints, and a framework for incorporating environmental justice into making business decisions. In the conclusion of the case there are two key inflection points: Smithfield believes this partnership with Dominion Energy is the most cost-effective solution for managing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by CAFOs, but the communities in eastern North Carolina adjacent to Smithfield’s lagoons believe the company is not effectively addressing the lagoon waste problem.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Describe the business model of industrial livestock agriculture and identify its associated economic, environmental, and social benefits and liabilities.
  • Evaluate how these impacts are experienced differently across racial and socioeconomic groupings and communities.
  • Recognize tensions between business priorities for efficiency and profitability and the broader interests of different stakeholders.
  • Develop a stakeholder analysis to evaluate the interests of different stakeholders and how these might be considered in business decisions.
  • Explain the primary types of environmental justice (recognition, procedural, and distributive) and use this framework to identify gaps and opportunities for increasing justice for marginalized groups.