US dairy works to create consistent tracking of greenhouse gas emissions for dairy processors

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

IDFA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are collaborating to provide a consistent method to report greenhouse gas emissions. ©iStock/NicoElNino
IDFA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are collaborating to provide a consistent method to report greenhouse gas emissions. ©iStock/NicoElNino
Sustainability is no longer a buzzword for US dairy processors, it has become a necessary part of their business to drive growth and meet customers’ environmental expectations, but the process of measuring their greenhouse gas emissions can be a daunting task. 

“In my view sustainability is no longer a value-based question, it’s more of a strategic component of any company that intends to grow and thrive in the future,” ​Abby Snyder, Climate Corps Fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund, said.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and IDFA have set out to help standardize the process of reporting greenhouse gas emissions.

“We needed to provide more clarity on the greenhouse gas side, which is arguably the most difficult of all the processor metrics to track, especially for folks who are just getting started,” ​Joe McMahan, sustainability director of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, told DairyReporter.

In addition, massive-scale projects such as Walmart’s Project Gigaton, which pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one gigaton by 2030, have pushed environmental tracking methods into the spotlight.

“This is driving a push for suppliers to not only have baselines and start tracking progress but also have the set reduction goals that can help meet the expectation of the customers,”​ McMahan said.

Work in progress

For dairy processors in particular assessing their greenhouse gas emissions and other sustainability metrics can be complex because there are a number of methods to do so, ranging from modern calculators to manual spreadsheets, according to Snyder.

“The measuring and reporting process can be a bit stifling for dairy processors,” ​Snyder said. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

“There’s a lot of tools you can use. It can set folks back more than it moves them forward,”​ McMahan added. 

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Graphic:Innovation Center for US Dairy

Snyder is currently working on collecting and aggregating feedback from dairy processors to identify obstacles and opportunities with the end goal of creating a credible and consistent process for reporting environmental metrics.

To aid the research process, IDFA and the dairy processing community have also developed processor-focussed sustainability metrics and guidelines detailed in the Stewardship and Sustainability Framework for US Dairy​. The Innovation Center and IDFA also collaborated on a Processor Handbook that provides guidance for processors to assess the sustainability of their operations and help set environmental goals.

“We’re really trying to build out this processor handbook to provide very clear guidance on how to consistently and credibly report against the sustainability measures for processors that are within our framework,”​ McMahan said.

FARM Environmental Stewardship Model

The Innovation Center and IDFA are working to create a consistent sustainability measuring and reporting framework across the dairy supply chain including at the farm level.

Because dairy companies and producers are increasingly asked to supply information about their sustainability progress, the US Dairy Innovation Center developed the FARM Environmental Stewardship Model to allow for the collection and dissemination of information on greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

Dairy producers complete an assessment, which will identify potential efficiency gains, cost savings, and track their environmental footprint on one platform.

An update to the module will be published at the end of June 2017 to provide further clarity and guidance to the dairy industry on measuring sustainability.

“Hopefully we can use that to start getting a better handle on the progress we’ve made on our greenhouse gas reduction since we established our first baseline in 2007,”​ McMahan said. 

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