New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has announced a new commitment to reduce its reliance on coal.

It said it will not introduce any new coal boilers across its sites or increase its capacity to burn coal.

The measure – which Fonterra said brings its commitment on coal forward by 11 years – is part of an on-going sustainability push from the cooperative – the world’s largest dairy exporter – that also includes reducing emissions by 30% across all its manufacturing operations by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050.

It also plans to cut water use by 20% across manufacturing sites by 2020 and to use 100% recyclable, reusable and compostable packaging by 2025.

Robert Spurway, chief operating officer for global operations at Fonterra, said: “One of the emerging themes in our strategy review is that sustainability will be at the heart of everything we do. As part of this, we want to step up our efforts to help New Zealand transition to a zero-carbon economy.

“Our farmer owners are already some of the most efficient producers of milk in the world. We need to match them in making sure our manufacturing operations and wider supply chain are as efficient as possible.”

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Spurway said transitioning Fonterra’s sites away from coal requires a staged approach. 

“We’re determined to go as fast as we can but there are a number of practical challenges we have to overcome,” he said.

“For example, right now New Zealand’s energy infrastructure in some parts of the country simply isn’t set up to handle our requirements. Either there aren’t alternatives to coal available or, if there are, they are not at the scale needed.

“There are also cost challenges. Transitioning to cleaner fuels will require additional investment and we need to balance this with remaining competitive. It’s right to take a staged approach.”

Fonterra said its manufacturing operations are on track to meet its target to reduce emissions by 30% across all its operations by 2030.

Fonterra has 32 production sites across the country, for which about 40% of its current processing energy is from coal. The rest is from natural gas, electricity and wood.