This year’s Earth Day theme is investing in our planet. IDFA is pleased to participate and contribute to the awareness building that Earth Day is all about. As individuals and businesses, we all regularly make investments. We invest in education, in fitness, in family. We invest in property and in financial stability for old age. Of course, all these activities are reliant on the Earth’s systems. We need clean air, a balanced atmosphere, clean water, natural habitats, and rich soil to make life on earth worth investing in. So, this Earth Day, let’s explore how the world’s dairy companies #InvestInOurPlanet.

#1: Dairy’s Overall Success Story: Water Quality, Land Conservation, GHG Reductions

At Dairy Forum this year, IDFA was pleased to present the findings of a recent member survey conducted in partnership with McKinsey & Company. [Download the survey summary right now.] Among the many learnings, we found that 75% of responding IDFA members are already investing in our planet by actively managing sustainability risks. These companies are investing in people to do the work, and in strategic action plans to conserve energy, re-use water, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to producing high quality and highly nutritious dairy products day in and day out, IDFA member companies are changing their business practices to consciously consider impacts on people and the planet.

The statistics demonstrating our industry’s progress are impressive:

  1. U.S. dairy’s greenhouse gas footprint is less than 2% of the nation’s total;
  2. U.S. dairy farmers now use 65% less water and 90% less land to produce 60% more milk;
  3. The carbon footprint of producing 1 gallon of milk shrunk by 19% between 2007 and 2017, requiring 30% less water and 21% less land; and
  4. There is some evidence that the efficiency and environmental management progress of the dairy industry in some major dairy exporting nations including the U.S., results in trade flows with relatively favorable GHG profiles.

#2: Investing in Subject Matter Expertise

The McKinsey survey also show that 44% of companies responding have a sustainability lead on staff and 46% have conducted a materiality assessment, meaning not only are IDFA members creating the internal policies for change, but they are also investing in people to manage that change. To better equip our members, IDFA is investing in new tools to help members better navigate their sustainability journeys and the evolving environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulatory landscape. For example, we brought our members expert ESG guidance through a PwC webinar series. IDFA has also created a new, dedicated subject matter expert position to manage sustainability and ESG issues facing our members. Yes, that’s me! I’m very pleased that IDFA heard the call from our members to expand our scope of work related to these matters. I’m confident that my teammates and I will continue to embed sustainability thinking into all IDFA work areas while collaborating with our members on innovative approaches to proactively manage the dairy industry’s environmental footprint.

#3: Investing in Energy Efficiency

Of those companies already taking action, roughly 90% of IDFA members have already invested in energy efficiency initiatives. Experts agree that such investments are both necessary and impactful as organizations around the globe consider feasible paths to decarbonization. The U.S. Department of Energy describes energy efficiency work as, “one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, reduce energy costs for consumers, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.”

#4: Investing in Regenerative Practices

Even more significant is the next indication of progress. Having captured a great deal of available energy efficiency opportunities, the dairy sector is now moving forward with next step investments to improve environmental outcomes up and down dairy supply chains. Around 43% of IDFA members are forging ahead with plans to invest in regenerative agriculture, following the lead of companies like Danone and General Mills (Yoplait).

#5: Investing in a More Circular Economy

Affecting the other end of the supply chain, 72% of IDFA member companies are investing in addressing circularity and packaging. Such investment helps the consumer goods sectors innovate to balance the need for food safety and product preservation (i.e., avoiding food waste) with packaging recyclability and waste management concerns once the packaging has reached the end of its usable life. With circularity in mind, I foresee more and more innovative solutions hitting the marketplace in the future. These solutions will aim to extend the usable life of packaging materials, utilize novel feedstocks (including captured carbon dioxide), and maybe even leverage new technologies like biomanufacturing processes to produce packaging materials and better manage waste.

This Earth Day, IDFA would like to applaud our members for taking real action to invest in our planet and the future of dairy. From dairy farmers who wish to pass their land and herds along to children, to urban dairy consumers who want their kids and grandkids to breathe clean air, we can all rally around such investments. IDFA is also energized to help guide the next wave of members who are just getting started. Along the way, we can look to the 20+ IDFA members working to establish and achieve science-based targets for GHG mitigation, as well as the growing number of B Corps in dairy, for advice and lessons learned. Investing in our planet is going to keep cows happy, keep companies innovative, and keep consumers fed. Let’s continue to grow our industry, and let’s keep doing good along the way.

IDFA Staff Expert

Mike Aquino

Director, ESG