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Carbon: It’s Good in Your Bicycle But Not in Your Footprint - “What’s in Our Cup?” Series

December 14, 2011 | Amy VanHaren

Sourcing Value 8: From the farm to the cup, we work every day to reduce our carbon footprint.

You don't want to leave a carbon footprint

At Stonyfield, we believe climate change is one of the most critical issues of our time. Emissions from food production are a major factor in climate change - according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) roughly 11% of all greenhouse gasses caused by human activity come from agriculture. This doesn’t sit well with our mission to protect and restore the planet. That’s why we added a sourcing value on carbon—to assure that the decisions we make as a business can have a positive impact on reducing climate change.

Carbon Footprint: Before we could make positive change, we needed to understand the extent of our impact. We started asking these questions in the 1990’s - far before the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ became a household term. Early on, we measured our emissions from the energy used to power our factory. In the late 1990s, we performed our first comprehensive carbon footprint. Milk production on the farm turned out to be the biggest contributor to our footprint - 52% of our emissions. After that surprising discovery, all the other numbers seemed to pale in comparison: 13% manufacturing, 10% packaging, 9% distribution, 7% refrigeration (retail and at home) 6% transportation, 3% non-milk ingredients, and 2% disposal. Since milk is the biggest part of our footprint, we’ve focused our efforts on reducing emissions there first.

Greener Cow. Ready for a long string of big words? Enteric fermentation (that’s the process that cows use to digest carbs) is the largest anthropogenic (the greenhouse gases caused by human activity) source of methane emissions in the United States. Less delicately put: gassy cows are no good for the environment. Stonyfield’s Greener Cow project was born out of the observation that cows eating spring gasses, rich in omega-3s, were less gassy than those munching on late season forage. This is because the omega-3 rich feed rebalances the cow’s rumen, where digestion occurs, and reduces the waste by-product methane.

To simulate this natural occurrence, we conducted a pilot project, on 15 Organic Valley dairy farms in Vermont where cows enjoyed a diet high in natural omega-3 sources, such as alfalfa, flax, hemp and of course grasses. Through the Greener Cow pilot project, we were able to reduce the enteric emissions from the cows by as much as 18% (average of 12%). An added benefit that we’ve observed through the program is that the cows also produced healthier milk with 29% more omega-3s. Increasing the omega-3 level in the feed also lowers the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, a balance that regulates key human physiological functions. We think that’s a pretty excellent by-product – way better than…methane!

Bring on the frozen fruit! While dairy is almost always on our minds (and spoons), this year we have a plan to reduce our emissions from non-milk ingredients by 11% or 329 tons of CO2! We plan to do this by optimizing the way fruit is packaged and stored before it gets put into a cup of yogurt. We look for every opportunity to reduce emissions from freezing fruit before it's used, and use bigger containers for storage so we can use fewer of them.

What’s in your cup? Packaging isn’t the load on carbon footprint that milk production is, but we don’t fancy unsustainable yogurt cups to be our legacy either. We've closely examined all our yogurt packaging options and continue to do so. We chose polypropylene (#5), the lightest-weight plastic that would protect our product, because it helps us prevent the manufacture and disposal of hundreds of tons of plastic per year, resulting in environmental savings from the decreased emissions. And in 2010, we launched a plant-based plastic cup that reduces our packaging emissions by 48%. Exploring sustainable packing is an on-going journey – all part of our quest for a smaller carbon footprint.

Mission Action Program (MAP) Sure, our goals are lofty. But, our mission compels us to make sure our entire company signs on for the big picture. To do this, we’ve created MAP – a company wide program developed to involve all our employees in bringing our environmental mission to life. We formed nine cross-functional employee teams to address areas of our business that have the greatest environmental impact, including one on facility greenhouse gas emissions. Through MAP we’ve managed to reduce emissions across the board, not just in milk and other ingredients:
• Achieved 46% absolute reduction in transportation GHG 2006-2010 ($7.6 million in savings).
• Prevented 18 tractor-trailer loads plastic per year ($3.2 million in savings).
• Reduced facility energy and GHG 11% 2007 - 2010 ($2 million in savings).
• Reduced solid waste by 39% 2007 - 2010 ($450,000 in savings).
• Click here for more environmental milestones.

So you see, just about the only thing that isn’t green at Stonyfield is the color of our yogurt! We’re working hard to lessen our carbon footprint everywhere we can and make advances, in science and business, that leave the earth a little better off than we found it. This might be our last sourcing value but it is definitely NOT the least.

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