A decade or so ago, sustainability was largely viewed through an environmental lens. But that lens has since expanded to encompass much more.

“The contemporary sustainability mindset involves a greater awareness of practices and products beyond sustainable attributes, including those perceived to impact the greater social and economic good,” notes the Hartman Group, a food and beverage consultancy, in its August 13 newsletter.

That reality certainly is reflected in the sustainability efforts of certain dairy processors. Back in July, for example, Greek yogurt maker Chobani LLC announced a comprehensive new program called “Milk Matters.” The program aims to further the company’s commitment to positive transformation of its “milkshed” by supporting the economic, environmental and social impacts of its No. 1 ingredient: fresh milk from local farms.

Milk Matters was designed to address the unprecedented challenges being faced by today’s dairy industry, Chobani said. It takes a comprehensive approach to bringing transparency to dairy, providing support for the entire dairy community and preserving long-term viability for the industry. The program will include co-op partners, dairy farms and third-parties such as Fair Trade USA, the World Wildlife Fund, National Milk Producers Federation, Cornell University, state programs and community foundations in Idaho and New York to validate the continued progress, Chobani said. Milk Matters is working toward 100% implementation by 2025.

And in August, Stonyfield Organic announced that it was one of the founding collaborators of Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment’s OpenTEAM (Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management), the first open-source technology ecosystem in the world to address soil health and mitigate climate change. The farmer-driven, interoperable platform has the goal of providing farmers around the world with the best possible knowledge to improve soil health, the organizations said.

For its part, Land O’Lakes Ventures37 — the new name for Land O’Lakes International Development — has been advancing the broader definition of sustainability since 1981. Part of the mega-cooperative Land O’Lakes Inc., the nonprofit organization aims to help businesses grow, “linking farmers to markets and empowering communities to thrive” via dairy-, livestock- and crop-related ventures.


A consumer disconnect

Meanwhile, anti-dairy forces are working hard to convince consumers to move away from dairy products, citing the dairy industry’s negative impacts on the environment, animal welfare and more.

And despite the impressive efforts of the aforementioned dairy companies (and many others), that’s a real problem. Why? Consumers actually say they have difficultly identifying companies that are sustainable, according to the Hartman Group.

“That makes it particularly important for manufacturers and others to clearly and shrewdly communicate their sustainability efforts,” the company said in its newsletter.

Sustainability-minded certifications (e.g., Certified Humane), communicated on the product label, certainly can help in some cases. But they cannot disseminate the commendable but complicated sustainability efforts of many dairy processors. So what is a dairy company to do?

One actionable idea is to break up the descriptions of those efforts into easy-to-understand snippets that fit on the back of a carton, cup or pack. In other words, deliver the message one piece at a time instead of trying to communicate the entire thing all at once.

Dairy processors could accomplish the same thing via their brand websites and social media posts. By focusing on one aspect of a complex program at a time — in language that consumers can understand — they greatly increase the likelihood that their messages will be heard.

“The communication should be straightforward so that shoppers can quickly and easily understand how buying a particular product will make a difference,” the Hartman Group says in its newsletter. “It is important to avoid preaching or even trying to educate on complex issues.”