Ash Amirahmadi: ‘Being data-driven is key’

By Teodora Lyubomirova contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ash Amirahmadi: "We are working on a Sustainability Best Practice document for dairy processors with a series of workshops planned for 2023" Image: Dairy UK
Ash Amirahmadi: "We are working on a Sustainability Best Practice document for dairy processors with a series of workshops planned for 2023" Image: Dairy UK

Related tags: Sustainability, Dairy, Uk, Milk

Arla Foods UK’s MD and chairman for Dairy UK recently agreed to helm the Dairy Roadmap sustainability initiative. We spoke to him about his vision – and how climate management can deliver better business practice.

Ash Amirahmadi took over the reins of the Roadmap from NFU dairy board chair, Michael Oakes, earlier this month. This is an additional role for Amirahmadi, who is also chairman of Dairy UK and managing director of Arla, where he oversees the co-op's climate action roadmap. Of the UK Dairy Roadmap, he said it is 'fundamental for the sector in driving forward environmental improvements and bringing industry together to move forward as one'. DairyReporter spoke to Amirahmadi to find out more about his vision for the Roadmap and what lies ahead for UK dairy . . . 

How do you evaluate the work done by your predecessor, Michael Oakes?

I think Michael did a fantastic job as chair of the Roadmap. During his tenure, a total review of the Roadmap was undertaken to ensure it was fit for the future and that review involved bringing diverse stakeholders from government to NGOs to retailers as well as processors and farmers to the table. As a result, we were able to see everyone’s overlapping priorities and get agreement on a raised ambition for the Roadmap to a strong net-zero commitment. Michael also broadened our communications messages to convey the benefits and the great work done so far under the umbrella of the Roadmap and laid the foundations for greater understanding of both the benefits and opportunities that continued collective engagement in the Roadmap could bring. It’s thanks to this hard work that the Roadmap is in such a good place for a more ambitious future.

Arla has done a huge amount of work in terms of sustainability in recent times. How are you hoping to leverage this know-how to improve the overall footprint of British dairy farmers and the wider supply chain?

We have spent many years working alongside our farmer owners to accelerate the transition to sustainable dairy, and so have a good understanding of what is needed to reduce emissions. We know that dairy is a nutritious, affordable and an accessible source of food and so by ensuring we produce it in the best possible way, we can secure its place in a sustainable diet. I’m very much looking forward to applying the learnings from our journey at Arla into the Roadmap and sharing knowledge across the industry to drive the future of sustainable British dairy.

What would be of particular focus to you during your tenure? What are some of the key challenges that you've identified and would like to address?

For me, there are a number of key areas that we need to focus on. The decisions we make on the environment need to be data-led. And indeed, the decisions we’d like government to make need to be data-led. So,

we need to clearly show our progress as a sector.

There is a lot of work going on both on the processing and farming side, but this needs to be captured fully, so we can show where we are making gains and improvements and where more work is needed. We then need to make those improvements at pace – with a clear understanding of course that changes are not simple and come at a cost, but demonstrable sustainable improvement is at pace is something we need to achieve as a whole sector. During my chairmanship, I will do my utmost to support that.

I will also be focusing on ensuring that everyone understands the business case for positive climate action and increasing the communications to stakeholders and consumers.

In terms of climate targets, what are some of the critical ones that you feel are particularly important to focus on? How would you engage with the industry to ensure that stakeholders are taking action to implement any relevant measures?

In the short term, our key ambition is to get all dairy farmers to undertake carbon foot-printing by June 2023 so that our future targets are data-driven. There is a clear link between carbon footprint and production efficiency, so we are sharing this message with farmers and processors to promote engagement. 

Alongside carbon footprinting, we are collecting farm data in areas that drive emissions to develop meaningful farm-level key performance indicators and targets. At processing sites, we are working to reduce carbon emissions related to energy use. Dairy processors are investing in fuel-switching and renewable energy and taking action to reduce energy intensity.

We need to ensure that action taken to reach climate targets does not have negative impacts in other areas of sustainability, so the Roadmap is working with industry to ensure that it takes a holistic approach.

We are working on a Sustainability Best Practice document for dairy processors with a series of workshops planned for 2023 to share knowledge across the industry, so nobody gets left behind.

One of the Roadmap's ambitious initiatives is the desire to establish an industry standard for environmental sustainability training by 2025. How do you envision this to take shape?

This ambition has been superseded by our plan to release a Processor Sustainability Best Practice Guide and a series of farmer-facing Best Practice Bulletins to complement the development of key performance indicators and data-driven targets. We are collecting case studies, research output and advice from across the supply chain to feed into these documents. Rather than waiting until 2025, they will be released over the next few months and will be accessible to anyone within the industry.

There is a wealth of knowledge and experience within our industry and rather than focusing on training individuals, we believe that the best way to make progress at pace is to work together.

Producers are facing a heap of challenges, from weather-related issues to volatile energy and fertilizer prices. How would you get across to those farmers and businesses who are perhaps preoccupied with tackling the issues of today rather than adopting climate-management solutions for the longer-term?

Trading conditions are certainly tough at the moment, and they’re tough for everyone. With so many cost pressures facing businesses, it really is all hands-on deck. But the Roadmap and its sustainability objectives are a part of making businesses more sustainable, more efficient and more effective.

Continuous improvement should be a part of everything we do, especially in hard times, and it will deliver better business practice in the long run.

If there were five things that farmers could implement today to start making a change in terms of sustainability, what should these be?

I think we need to recognize that every farm is different, and what works for one farm, may not be suitable for another. That’s why looking at the data and being data-driven is so key. If farmers can understand where their biggest areas for improvement lie, that gives them a good starting to point to work from and importantly, to measure where change can be made.

We know that consumers are increasingly seeking more sustainable products. How can dairy fight for this market, and what are some of the steps that you think the British industry can take to further promote its green credentials?

It is completely understandable that all of us as consumers are looking more closely at the environmental credentials of everything we buy and consume – and we owe it to the 99% of UK households who consume our products to answer the questions they have about the sustainability of dairy.  

But

consumers can rest assured that British dairy is sustainable, and they may just be surprised to find out that British dairy cows are responsible for only 2% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and that the footprint of UK milk has been measured between one third to one half lower than the global average.

Dairy farmers and processors are working hard to support and encourage biodiversity on their farms. The sector has made good gains in terms of energy efficiency, reducing waste, increasing the recyclability of their products, and generating green energy.

These are the messages we have been communicating to consumers this year through our pre-competitive campaign ‘It’s What We’re Made of’ – which highlights and surprises consumers with the work of the Dairy Roadmap over the past 14 years to improve dairy sustainability, and which we’ll be continuing to build on into 2023.

Of course, improving our sustainability is a job that will never be finished; through the UK Dairy Roadmap, the industry is constantly driving forward new ambitions and targets to continue pushing forward our sustainability gains and making ourselves more a more efficient and greener industry. We will be working hard towards our net zero climate ambition as set out last year, as well as meeting targets on carbon foot printing, water use, food waste and recycling. 

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