Chain of Thought

Sustainability: Dairy Industry Fights Gas Pains

If you're my age—slightly over 50—you probably don't drink much milk anymore. It tends to make us gassier than we are by nature. I HAVE cultivated a taste for almond milk in my cereal, though. My readers in the dairy supply chain won't like that admission, but I'm not alone. If you exclude the people with digestive gas issues, there's still a big population who have a problem with the dairy industry's greenhouse gas (GHG) issues.

According to a recent United Nations Food and Agricultural Report, dairy production accounts for 4 percent of man-made GHG emissions. That adds up to over 1.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases per year.

Both sets of gas problems are causing the Dairy industry significant heartburn. But the GHG issue has reached such a pain point that the industry is doing something about it—and setting a great example for all supply chains while they're at it.

The U.S. Dairy Industry just released a report on its efforts to combat GHG emissions. “The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment Progress Report” comes from the Innovation Center for the U.S. Dairy Industry. It represents the efforts of more than 500 dairy stakeholders — including environmental, academic and scientific experts — to reduce the Dairy industry's greenhouse gas emissions by about 11 percent by 2020. By doing so, the industry also expects to achieve $238 million in business value. These goals are tied to ten projects—two of which should hold great interest to this audience.

These two projects aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions tied to packaging and transporting dairy products. Here's a fun fact: Eight percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with getting a gallon of milk from farm to table comes from transportation. Packaging represents another three and a half percent.

By 2020, this industry hopes to reduce GHG emissions associated with milk transportation by more than 542,000 metric tons and fuel costs by nearly $58 million. It expects trucker payback in about a year, depending on fuel cost and usage.

Tactics include changing driver behaviors and routes and reducing idling time. The industry is also working with EPA's SmartWay program, which provides tools and resources for increasing fuel efficiency. Dairy processors and transportation providers will help the industry understand fuel savings achievable through their efficiency programs and their use of the SmartWay Program and electronic on-board recorders.

In turn, the industry will report best practices it has encountered. Take Oakhurst Dairy, for example. This family-owned company is northern New England's largest independent dairy. Based in Portland, Maine, the dairy prides itself on environmental stewardship. Back in 2004 it was one of the first organizations to sign on to a voluntary State of Maine program for cutting GHG emissions. Its goal was a 20 percent reduction by 2010. By 2008, Maine's Department of Environmental Protection and the Governor's administration recognized Oakhurst for meeting part of its carbon reduction goal ahead of schedule. By then it had achieved a 12 percent reduction.

Oakhurst implemented rerouting software on its delivery fleet, reducing travel time and resulting in a savings of 88,000 gallons of diesel in the first year. The company also converted to biodiesel fuel, reducing CO2 by more than 1,332 metric tons every year.

Beyond transportation, this company installed 2,500 square feet of solar panels on the roof of its Portland headquarters and reduced consumption of heating oil by more than 7,500 gallons per year. Solar panels at one of Oakhurst's distribution units reduced electrical usage by more than 15%.

Although I'm not a big cow-milk fan, I applaud the dairy industry for taking the bull by the horns and being a purveyor of better living through logistics.

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