Sustainable goals

by Keith Nunes
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Several stakeholders within the U.S. dairy industry have committed to a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. The announcement was made by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization that consists of companies across the dairy supply chain, including producer organizations, dairy cooperatives, processors and manufacturers such as Hilmar Cheese Co., Leprino Foods, Dairylea Cooperative Inc., Anderson Erickson Dairy, Land O’Lakes and Dairy Farmers of America.

The industry-wide effort initially will focus on the fluid milk value chain — from farm to table — and includes a series of projects that will reduce energy use, increase efficiency and help the industry tap into new sources of income.

"Consumers increasingly demand nutritious dairy products that are produced, packaged and distributed in an environmentally sustainable way, and the U.S. dairy industry intends to meet their needs proactively," said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc. "The dairy industry has a long history of environmental stewardship. Through this sustainability initiative, we continue our legacy of producing high-quality nutritious foods that enrich and sustain life."

Solutions identified for the reduction effort include implementing energy-saving best practices across all supply chain segments, removing barriers to the adoption of methane digesters, and implementing pilot programs to test alternatives to thermal pasteurization for raw milk and reduced-temperature clean-in-place processing technologies.

"Our goal is to help dairy companies to thrive for generations while increasing the health and well-being of consumers, communities, the U.S. dairy industry and the planet," said Connie Tipton, president and c.e.o. of the International Dairy Foods Association. "This industrywide sustainability initiative offers an outstanding opportunity for all members of the dairy industry."

Mark Naczi, c.e.o. of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc., as well as executive vice-president of strategic industry analyses and evaluation for Dairy Management, Inc., said the impetus for the project was Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and its focus on sustainability, specifically fluid milk.

"Companies have always been working on environmental issues, but looking at sustainability from an industry perspective has been going on one and a half years," he said. "It was suggested we look at this issue with an industry-wide approach. Dairy Management, Inc. and the Innovation Center were the point for that initiative. We kicked it off during January of last year. We had a summit in June and the focal point was to look at greenhouse gas emissions."

After the various groups involved held their sustainability summit, the members that made up the industry Sustainability Council thatincludesindustrymembersaswellasWal-Martandseveralnongovernment organization, were faced with 23 potential greenhouse gas emission reduction projects.

"Then came the hard job of getting to a manageable number of projects," Mr. Naczi said. "We had several interdisciplinary teams look at each initiative and focus on key parameters we established. Each project had to show a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and show a business value to the industry; they had to generate additional dollars or savings. Many of the projects built on already existing initiatives; they represent cross industry approaches that a lot of independent companies cannot do on their own."

The efforts (see sidebar at right) range from basic energy audits on-farm and in manufacturing facilities to broader initiatives such as packaging lifecycle assessments, using ultraviolet light for the pasteurization of milk and methods to improve distribution efforts.

"There are definitely deadlines, but some of them are very long term," Mr. Naczi said. "The lowest hanging fruit are the farm energy audit programs and energy audits in plants. They will be the fastest to get going. For the dairy energy, power development and biogas projects there is probably something like a three-year window until we see the technology worked and staged out."

The energy audit program will address topics such as pump efficiency, lighting, wiring and other processes that may be studied to ensure they are working optimally.

"What this group wants to do is develop a resource that quantifies these savings and do a better job of predicting what the payback will be," Mr. Naczi said. "We have several plants that have volunteered to do the pilot work. Once we know where there are savings we will work to communicate the practices to the industry."

The packaging lifecycle program will assess the new gallon packages that have been introduced to the market, and look at brick packs in UHT. Mr. Naczi said he was not sure if the initiative will look at alternative resin packages.

"One of our challenges going forward is to improve our sustainability in packaging," he said. "We are looking at developing different standards for different types of packaging. What this project will involve is an assessment of dozens of different types of packaging in the production environment. Obviously, packaging sustainability won’t be the only criteria; convenience, for example will still be important. This is an issue where it is better for the industry to do the study rather than individual companies."

Mr. Naczi added that once a project is completed, the result will be communicated through industry associations and various other industry media.

"We’ve tried hard to make sure we are working hand in hand with all parts of the value chain," he said. "We are trying not to reinvent something."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Dairy Business News, March 2009, starting on Page 8. Click here to search that archive.

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