Sustainability 2009: An Opportunity for Dairy

Crashes, crises, turmoil and economic downturns globally – what a mess! What does this mean for sustainability and sustainable packaging for dairy? Well, it means good things.

This is a good time for the dairy industry to rethink its future from a more holistic viewpoint. Take, for example, milk packaging. Just look at what Wal-Mart did to the plastic gallon milk bottle. A squared-off design allows the jugs to be palletized; more of them fit on a truck, taking costs out of the system and improving distribution (enhanced efficiency), warehousing and merchandising while reducing packaging materials and decreasing greenhouse gases.

The one thing they seemed to forget in the effort was the consumer. We have heard from moms that pouring out the milk is prone to spills. Still a good effort, but packaging changes need to have consumer input, the same as ingredient and product changes.

Yes, the economy is down and organizations now have the opportunity to look at and rethink sustainability from a couple of vantage points.

There is real opportunity for the dairy industry and its supporting organizations to develop a sustainability or sustainable packaging leadership strategy. The focus would be toward innovation and growth, and the model to use is triple bottom-line/transparency (TBL/T). Important considerations would include economic, social and environmental components, along with the recognition of transparency, including metrics, measurement and reporting development.

The other big opportunity is to conduct “system approach” sustainability and sustainable-packaging audits. This work goes past traditional productivity efforts because it also involves a TBL/T approach. This approach will provide significantly more dollar savings, and will also help companies see where the big opportunities are, plus they will also help start or build on metrics, measures and reporting. These kinds of programs can range from methane digesters at the farm level (renewable energy/energy credits) to renewable materials and enhanced recovery programs. If it were not for sustainability, these kinds of big program opportunities would not be on the table.

Moreover, a tough economic climate is the right time to tee up this kind of work. Big ideas and big opportunities come up about once a decade, so said Bob McVicker, VP of R&D at Kraft in the 1980s and ’90s. When the opportunities arise, leaders see them and some organizations do them and move away from the pack. Are you a leader or a follower?

OK, it’s early 2009 and you want to do more with sustainability. How do you get started?

• Develop a vision – Be sure it links to overall company strategy (TBL/T focus).

• Create a mission – Identify what you want to do and be sure to identify senior sponsors to champion the program.

• Develop goals and objectives – This should include training and knowledge building.

• Develop metrics, measures, and reporting – You will have to do this pretty soon anyway as new legislation around carbon, water, waste and cap and trade come on stream.

• Look for best-practice examples – There are already hundreds out there globally, but you have to look.

Finally, be committed and get it into company and personal goals.

This is the right thing to do for the planet, and it is a big win for your company or organization. The opportunities are all business building. So get started now – time’s a-wasting!