Going green: Arla Foods aims for net-zero carbon dairy by 2050
11 Mar 2019 --- Europe’s largest dairy cooperative, Arla Foods, has pledged to operate globally from a carbon net zero standpoint by 2050. These goals will be “entirely offset by improvements elsewhere in the supply chain and be even more closely aligned with nature to increase biodiversity further,” the company writes.
These new targets come after the cooperative, owned by 10,300 farmers in Britain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium, shows business growth can be achieved without significant environmental impact. While Arla Foods has managed to annually produce more than 40 percent more milk since 2005 output levels, its CO2 emissions have reduced by 22 percent across production and packaging and its on farms' CO2 emissions per kilo of milk have decreased by 24 percent since 1990.
Livestock farming alone is responsible for up to 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, according to the United Nations (UN). People need to change the way they use energy to eat, travel and live, for example by reducing their meat and dairy consumption, driving electric vehicles or taking public transport, and buying low-carbon products, according to the UN.
“One of the greatest challenges facing us all is providing natural, nutritious food for a growing population while reducing our collective impact on the world around us. Arla has already shown this is possible and the new ambitions will ensure Arla’s farmers, production sites and products continue to play their part in developing a sustainable world for everyone,” Arla Foods UK Managing Director, Ash Amirahmadi explains.
David Christensen, an Arla Foods UK Farmer, based in Oxfordshire, tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “The biggest challenge is the cow herself, the way her stomach works and releases methane and other gases. For us, that is the part which is hardest to alter. We can make sure our cows are healthy, make sure they are at their most efficient and we can also look at new ways of feeding which could reduce methane and other gases.”
According to Christensen, these initiatives are not only about what consumers want, but the entire population as a whole. “We all want to play our part in ensuring long term survival of the plant – consumers, the public and as importantly what we, as farmers want to do to help. There is stewardship in running your own farm – and that extends to the broader environment as well,” he says. “Many people are driving why we should set these targets – not just the consumers alone.”
“We've come a long way already, but there is still a lot that can be done. The key thing is being cost-effective and profitable at the same time,” Christensen notes. “This is often about efficiency; the more efficient you are, the more sustained your business will be.”
“So that’s as good a driver for these actions as anything else,” he claims.
“We want customers to still enjoy dairy without worrying about its footprint and effect on the planet – as a dairy farmer that is very important to me,” Christensen continues. “It's not just about consumers, they are essential to this, but I also want a clear conscience in what I'm doing – in doing the right thing for the planet,” he says.
While the targets are ambitious and will require radical changes across its business in the decades to come, Arla Foods believes they are possible as a result of the rapid pace of change in technology and ever-increasing on-farm efficiencies.
According to the company, Arla’s UK examples of best practice have already proven this:
- The first carbon net-zero milk processing facility in the world – the company’s state-of-the-art milk processing facility at Aylesbury, in the UK, was developed to be the first carbon net-zero facility of its kind by using biogas produced on site and anaerobic digestion. The site has since created a circular economy for its operations working with Olleco and McDonald’s;
- Four hundred and twenty-four tons of potential food waste redistributed to Fareshare – Arla Foods agreed with FareShare to redistribute surplus products via its networks to frontline charities who prepare meals for vulnerable people. In 2018, Arla Foods provided 424 tons of dairy products to FareShare, enough to make more than 1 million meals for people in need;
- A 48 percent reduction in Arla’s UK plastic carbon footprint – that’s equivalent to 72,937 tons since 2005 or taking over two million 4 pint milk bottles off the shelf. Arla Foods has achieved this by reducing the weight of its standard milk bottles by 25.5 percent and using up to 40 percent recycled plastic in them and making 84 percent of the packaging produced in the UK recyclable
- Thinking responsibly in everything Arla Foods does – no palm oil is used in Arla Foods products made in the UK. Where it is required in products made outside of the UK all palm oil and palm oil products come from 100 percent, RSPO-certified growers that have been independently verified. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) cites Arla as leading the way in its buyers’ scorecard;
- Applying cooperative principles to nature – being part of a cooperative means working together. Arla’s farmer-owners work with the nature around them to apply the best environmental measures for the land they farm. This means while Click to Enlargeevery Arla Foods farmer works differently, they are all working for a more sustainable world.
Examples of actions taken by Arla’s UK farmer-owners to drive sustainable change include:
- Ninety percent of cows owned by Arla’s UK farmer owners graze on grass outdoors. On average, these cows graze for 16 hours a day, 180 days of the year. Grazing is just one of many land management systems that helps absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere;
- Almost 1,500 Arla farms open parts of their land to public use, with farmers taking responsibility for the care and maintenance of Britain’s hedgerows and more than 10,000 kilometers of public footpaths;
- Approximately 2,200 acres of land owned by Arla farmers is left fallow for wildlife to flourish;
- Many farmers use renewable energy sources, across Arla’s 10,300 farmer owners the electricity produced on farms equals 61 percent of total electricity usage on farms.
Arla Foods farmer owner Arthur Fearnall explains: “Every day Arla farmers take steps to support and shape Britain’s countryside. No one feels the effects of varying weather patterns more than farmers, and it has a direct impact on the animals we care for, the food we produce and the money we make.”
“We’ve taken some big steps at Arla Foods, but we can’t take our feet off the pedal. Every business and individual in every walk of life will need to think about their impact on the world in the years to come,” he concludes.
By Elizabeth Green
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