Dairy Sustainability Summit yields action plan

by Keith Nunes
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Improving industry efficiency and lessening the dairy industry’s impact on the environment were the focal points of the first "Sustainability Summit for U.S. Dairy," held in mid-June at the University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center. With approximately 250 in attendance from a variety of industry disciplines, including producers, processors, non-government organizations and researchers, the meeting led to the development of an industry-wide action plan.

"Sustainability is a challenge that requires industry-wide solutions, and our efforts establish a new standard for industry collaboration," said Thomas Gallagher, chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill. "Decision makers from across the dairy value chain are working together to commit to concrete, innovative solutions. This will ensure an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable industry."

Six specific actions were included in the plan, including:

•Reducing energy use in the milk supply chain by developing technologies for next generation milk processing on the farm and in the plant.

•Establishing a mechanism to optimize returns to the dairy industry from a carbon credit trading system that encourages the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

•Reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency for dairy farmers and processors through financially viable best management practices and tools that calculate individual farm energy and alternative energy opportunities.

•Supplying green power to communities by expanding the use of methane digesters.

•Stimulating development of low-cost, low-carbon, consumer acceptable packaging.

•Reducing cooling costs and emissions associated with refrigeration by expanding economically feasible, environmentally responsible and consumer-accepted dairy products.

"Dairy’s leadership in sustainability builds on our traditions of environmental stewardship and providing products that contribute to a healthy lifestyle," Mr. Gallagher said.

Sustainability a focus at Dean

While the Sustainability Summit for U.S. Dairy was one of the first industry-wide efforts to generate ideas and develop best practices for the industry, individual companies have been addressing the issue. In April, Dean Foods Co., Dallas, published its Corporate Social Responsibility Update and highlighted company efforts to improve its impact on the environment. Initiatives implemented throughout Dean Foods include simple ideas such as converting the lighting in its facilities to compact fluorescent bulbs, and investing in improving its refrigeration controls, which will allow it to reduce electricity use by an average of 3 million kilowatt hours for every facility converted.

In May, Dean Foods announced it also is developing an anaerobic digester at its Big Sky Dairy near Gooding, Idaho, in conjunction with AgPower Partners L.L.C. The digester will capture animal waste from the farm and use the methane from the process to generate electricity.

"Managing greenhouse gas emissions and animal waste is one of the dairy industry’s biggest challenges," said Gregg Engles, chairman and chief executive officer of Dean Foods.

When completed, the digester project is expected to have the generation capacity of more than one megawatt per hour of renewable energy, which will be sold into the local power grid and should provide enough renewable energy annually to power approximately 650 homes, according to the company.

New packaging, added efficiency

Consumers buying fresh milk from Costco Wholesale Corp. stores have experienced the impact of sustainability first-hand. The company started selling milk in square gallon containers last year, and the trend has expanded as Sam’s Club, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has begun to use the containers as well, offering them in 189 stores throughout the country.

"There are many efficiencies and benefits to case-less milk jugs and one of the best advantages is that we can pass on the lower cost to our members and they benefit from the extended shelf life and added freshness," said Heather Mayo, vice-president of merchandising for Sam’s Club.

The square shape of the jug and flat spout means neither crates nor racks are needed to distribute or display the products. It is estimated by the company that trucks shipping the milk from the processor to the store may accommodate 9% more milk. The ability to ship more milk per load reduces the amount of fuel used to distribute the products.

The initiatives proposed at the Sustainability Summit for U.S. Dairy will be refined for possible testing and evaluation in the market. The goal, Mr. Gallagher said, will be to field-test several projects to determine their real-world viability.

"Now is the time to harness our combined talents to address these issues," he said. "Through the Sustainability Summit, we were able to identify common interests and establish a realistic action plan that has the potential to transform the industry."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Dairy Business News, July 22, 2008, starting on Page 12. Click here to search that archive.

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