The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy held its Sustainability Council meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. On Wednesday, the Council announced the winners of its first Sustainability Awards. I was a member of the judging panel, which included experts from universities (UW-Madison and Univ. Minnesota), government organizations (Dept. of Energy, EPA), dairy science groups (Innovation Center), retailers (Walmart), dairy associations (IDFA and National Milk Producers Federation) and the media. (See the entire list and read more about the award winners.)
After lunch, we headed to the White House for a 2-hour meeting with administration officials. To get into the White House, we had to pre-register a month ago and provide our birth date, SSN and home address for security purposes. Once at the White House, we passed through a security checkpoint where our photo IDs were checked against a database. Then we went inside a building. There our photo IDs were checked again and we were handed a security pass to wear around our neck. We went through a screening checkpoint, like at the airport. Then we were escorted to the auditorium.
The meeting was held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which is on the White House grounds. There were about 75 to 80 in our group. The meeting consisted of 2 one-hour panels featuring dairy farmers, dairy processors and administration officials.
Cecilia Munoz welcomed us. She is the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Anything you want to bring before the President (except international affairs) has to go through Ms. Munoz. That’s how high-level this meeting was. She told the group that Washington “can’t be effective policy makers without the expertise and knowledge of people working in the industry.”
The first panel was titled “Improving Sustainability, While Strengthening Local Economies.” The government panelists were Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council of Environmental Quality; Krysta Harden, chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Larry Elworth, chief agricultural counselor, Environmental Protection Agency. Representing the dairy industry were Paul Rovey, chairman of Dairy Management Inc.; Jed Davis, director of sustainability for Cabot Creamery Cooperative; and Jim Werkhoven, president of Werkhoven Dairy Inc.
Sutley praised the dairy industry for its efforts in sustainability. Harden called the industry “truly leaders” in this area. Elworth, from the EPA, liked the science-based approach the Innovation Center is taking toward measuring sustainable practices.
The second panel was “Energy and the Dairy Industry.” The panel included: Jon Carson, director, Office of Public Engagement; Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the President, Energy and Climate Change; and Todd Campbell, alternative energy advisor, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Representing the dairy industry were Mike McCloskey, CEO of Fair Oaks Dairy; Dale Bunton, senior director of engineering for Dean Foods; and David Darr, vp of sustainability and public affairs for Dairy Farmers of America.
Carson urged dairy farmers and processors to tell their sustainability stories creatively. Campbell termed the industry’s practices “progressive.”
This was an important meeting for several reasons. It gave the industry face time with key government decision makers to talk about concerns and their successes in energy savings and green practices. The government agencies heard these stories first hand. The dairy delegation also got first-hand information about the government’s agenda and direction.
Through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the industry has pledged to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2020. It is developing the science to measure GHG and developing the measurement tools so that processors and producers have a baseline starting point for measuring.
I have been writing for business magazines for 30 years. This visit to the White House ranks in my top 5 career highlights.