Conversations tied to dairy processor sustainability typically focus on plant-level efforts such as wastewater reduction or reuse, energy-efficiency-minded improvements and recyclable product packaging. However, a number of dairy processors are looking far beyond their plant doors these days to help tackle bigger-picture sustainability issues.

One of those dairy processors is Danone North America. This Certified B Corporation long has sought out opportunities outside its own doors to effect positive change on the environmental and social fronts.

Among the company’s latest initiatives are new commitments to improve water stewardship as part of the Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) AgWater Challenge.

Launched in 2016, the AgWater Challenge encourages better water stewardship among the world's most influential food and beverage companies. According to Ceres, which describes itself as “a nonprofit organization transforming the economy to build a just and sustainable future for people and the planet,” Danone North America already was part of the challenge and made previous commitments to it. (Dairy processor General Mills also did so.)

But in August, the AgWater Challenge released a new area of focus, asking companies to go a step further by committing to sustainable agriculture principles that have a positive effect on water resources via soil health and nutrient management practices. These practices support crop productivity, reduce erosion, increase water-holding capacity, promote biodiversity, improve water quality and, in many cases, increase soil carbon levels, Ceres notes. Furthermore, the commitments detail how companies will support farmers and advocate for collective actions that are key components to improving local water outcomes.

This second set of commitments from Danone North America, along with a set of commitments from dairy supplier Ingredion Incorporated, facilitated the addition of 1.1 acres over the next 10 years to the land farmed with both water stewardship and sustainable agriculture in mind, Ceres notes.

“These two commitments set a high water mark for businesses to protect freshwater resources in their agricultural supply chains,” Ceres says. “With the global food sector using 70% of the world’s freshwater supply, food and beverage companies play an important role in protecting water quality and supply.”

For its part, Danone North America promised to:

  • Expand efforts to promote soil health and water outcomes on 82,000 acres in existing programs and on an additional 18,000 acres across the United States by 2025, focusing on dairy feed and almonds.

  • Offer incentive programs covering 100% of acres and farmers associated with that commitment by 2025, including technical assistance through EcoPractices assessments and support for farmers to identify and secure financial assistance to foster the adoption of said practices.

  • Participate in collective watershed action in high-water-risk watersheds via collaboration with appropriate nongovernmental organizations.


Others’ efforts are impressive, too

Danone North America is not the only dairy processor that is looking beyond its facilities’ doors to benefit the planet, of course.

Cultured dairy brand Good Culture recently partnered with Dairy Farmers of America to create the Path to Pasture program. The program will help support soil health and utilization of pasture on family dairy farms, Good Culture notes.

Through the program, DFA’s sustainability team and associated nonprofits, funds from Good Culture will be leveraged to provide farmers with education about — and access to —sustainable, regenerative agriculture farming practices that are critical in delivering nutrient-dense foods to the masses. The Path to Pasture pilot program will initially be offered to farmers located in the Minnesota and Wisconsin milkshed who are interested in enhancing soil or pasture health, Good Culture says.

And back in 2019, Greek yogurt maker Chobani LLC announced the launch of a program to further its commitment to positive transformation of its “milkshed” — supporting the economic, environmental and social impacts of its No. 1 ingredient: fresh milk from local farms. The Milk Matters program will encompass Chobani's commitment to its milkshed, as well as efforts to support greater transparency across dairy farms.

The program is to include co-op partners, dairy farms and third parties such as Fair Trade USA, WWF, National Milk Producers Federation, Cornell University, state programs and community foundations in Idaho and New York to validate the continued progress, Chobani said at the time of the announcement. Milk Matters is working toward 100% implementation by 2025.

And many other dairy processors have great sustainability stories to tell. That’s not only welcome news for the industry, but also welcome news for the planet.

If you want to hear more of these types of stories — and perhaps find inspiration for your own company’s sustainability journey, stay tuned. The July issue of Dairy Foods will be dedicated entirely to sustainability, featuring laudable initiatives on both the processor and supplier sides — and much more.