How Yili is targeting the ‘low-carbon consumption’ trend: From ‘no ink’ packaging to China’s first carbon neutral yogurt

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Yili's 'zero carbon milk' was unvailed at the Boao Forum / Pic: Yili
Yili's 'zero carbon milk' was unvailed at the Boao Forum / Pic: Yili

Related tags Yili carbon neutral

Earlier this year, Chinese dairy giant Yili set out its ambition for a carbon neutral future. The company is leveraging innovation to build more sustainable production processes and products. Here’s how.

Yili has said it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. The Chinese dairy giant has set interim targets for 2030 and 2040 to establish key milestones on this path.

In 2010, it first established a ‘carbon inventory team’ to carry out carbon inventory in accordance with international standards. By 2030, this system will cover all suppliers in the company’s supply chain. Energy efficiency will ‘increase substantially’ within its own operations by this time. And, by 2040, Yili aims to have achieved ‘remarkable results’ towards a ‘green transformation’ across its ‘entire industrial chain’.

Asia’s largest dairy group said it is also driving ‘upstream and downstream partners’ to ‘jointly promote carbon reduction in the entire value chain’. The company set up the Yili Group Net-Zero Carbon Alliance with 43 of its global strategic partners. Yili recognized Tetra Pak, FrieslandCampina, Chr. Hansen, Roquette, and four other suppliers as Low Carbon Pioneers in Yili’s Global Supply Chain.

As a nation, China has committed to reaching peak carbon by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

Many pundits have observed the country's ambitious carbon agenda is informed by the dual motivation of avoiding the most devastating consequences of climate change while capitalising on the immense economic opportunities and geopolitical advantages of a low carbon transition. A spate of recent investment and product launches would suggest that Yili, the nation's largest dairy processor, recognises the advantages that a green transition can afford to players in the Chinese FMCG space.

“Based on the general trend of sustainable environmental protection under the guidance of national policies, Yili actively responded and continued to promote the reduction of carbon emissions in the entire industrial chain, taking carbon neutrality as an important starting point for technological innovation and green development enterprises,”​ the dairy behemoth said in a statement.

Innovating with ‘zero carbon’ products

To support its low carbon agenda, Yili is investing in infrastructure and product innovation.

In 2021, the group started construction of China’s first ‘zero carbon’ food production facility. The company says it now operates two additional ‘zero carbon factories’ producing milk powder.

Efforts to tackle the emissions of its dairy products are also feeding through into product development. Yili was the first Chinese dairy group to begin marketing zero carbon milk, which debuted at the 2022 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.

Following the domestic launch of carbon neutral milk, Yili’s organic Jindian brand has continued to focus innovation efforts on creating more sustainable dairy products. In particular, the business has developed increasingly sustainable product formats. It has developed plant-based caps, uses packaging that has removed the aluminium foil protective layer and – this month – the group introduced its first ‘no printing’, ‘ink-free’ packs.

Instead of using ink, necessary labelling information is laser-printed onto the FTC-certified packages that also leverage recycled material and lower impact raw materials such as sugar cane.

Yili's Jindian organic milk brand develops ink-free packaging
Yili's Jindian organic milk brand develops ink-free packaging / Pic: Yili

In recent months, the company has also launched what it describes as China’s first carbon neutral yogurt under its premium Changqing brand.

Changqing ‘has sustainable development written in its genes’, Yili said as it announced the new line.

The Changqing Protein Time product received carbon neutral certification following lifecycle analysis from international inspection and certification group Bureau Veritas. This was achieved thanks to efforts to tackle air pollution and a focus on energy use in its factories and pastures, where the company purchases green electricity and promotes distributed photovoltaic power generation.

“It is precisely because of the continuous innovation in low-carbon environmental protection and the promotion of the construction and improvement of the ‘green industrial chain’ that Changqing has been able to lead the industry,”​ Yili said.

The launch of the country’s first carbon neutral yogurt brings China’s low-carbon environmental protection to ‘a higher level’ and points to the development of what Yili said is a ‘new trend’ – ‘low-carbon consumption’.

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