Stonyfield helped build the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s wind turbine in South Dakota through NativeEnergy.
While Stonyfield Farm’s efforts in the mid-1990s focused on reducing energy use at our Yogurt Works, we recognized that despite our best efforts, the factory was still emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) via energy use, thus contributing to climate change. Hearing of an electric utility that had invested in reforestation projects to “offset” the GHG emissions from its operations, we set out to learn how we could do the same for our energy use.
As this was more than a decade before Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth would raise mainstream awareness of climate change, and hardly anyone had heard of a “carbon offset,” there were virtually no publicly available resources on how to offset emissions. With help and expertise from Mark Trexler, then with Trexler & Associates, in 1997 Stonyfield Farm became the first U.S. manufacturer to offset the carbon impact of 100% of its facility energy use—both electricity and heating fuels.
Stonyfield helped build the Schrack family’s manure digester to generate heat and electricity for the farm.
Offsets are activities that either remove existing carbon from the atmosphere or prevent additional carbon from being released into the atmosphere. They’re offsite activities that do not directly involve a company’s own emissions. We’ve offset all of our facility energy emissions every year since 1997 with investments in projects such as wind energy, farm methane recovery, and reforestation. Since 1997, we’ve offset over 40,000 metric tons of global-warming gases, which is equal to taking 7,300 cars off the road for one year.
We took the lessons we learned from the difficulty we experienced back in 1996 in trying to figure out how to offset our emissions, and we put them into a how-to manual for other companies interested in doing the same. Since then, a plethora of internet resources on how to offset emissions have come into existence.
Offsets should not be done in lieu of onsite reductions, and they are not a first step, but they are an important part of a comprehensive climate change strategy.
Our carbon offset investments to date include:
- Reforestation. With funding from Stonyfield Farm, the OregonForest Resource Trust (OFRT) oversaw the planting of deforested watershed and riparian habitat in Oregon. Besides its benefits directly related to climate change, the OFRT project promotes salmon recovery, provides wildlife habitat, and improves water quality and soil stability.
- Energy efficiency. Stonyfield Farm was the first company in private industry to invest funds in an innovative project in northern China to construct energy-efficient straw bale homes.The project reduced the amount of coal used by these households by 70–90% while improving the quality of life and health of people in the local communities.
- Methane recovery. Stonyfield Farm invested in a project to capture and use methane vented from sealed coalmines in Ohio and other states. Underground mining operations release large volumes of methane, which is a potent GHG. The methane must be vented so that it doesn’t build up and cause explosions. And after mining operations have ceased, the vents continue to emit methane for 20–30 years. In this project, a small, modular power generation set was attached onto the vent; it generates electricity with the methane emissions. Such projects reduce GHGs both indirectly, by creating offset electricity, and directly, by capturing the methane.
- Efficiency: boiler upgrades at public schools. GHGs were reduced by replacing old, inefficient oil burners with new ones that use natural gas. Additional efficiency gains were achieved by installing new control systems.
- Biogas. Through NativeEnergy, Stonyfield Farm supported a project by Essex, Vermont’s wastewater treatment facility to turn their anaerobic digester gas (methane that was previously flared) into energy using two 30 kW microturbines. The power generated by these turbines supplements that produced by the New England utility grid.
- Wind energy. Also through NativeEnergy, Stonyfield Farm invested in a handful of new wind energy projects. The first was the Rosebud Sioux Indian Tribe’s wind turbine project in South Dakota. An economic development and educational initiative, the tribally owned and operated wind turbine generates clean power and is interconnected to the electric grid, replacing other sources of power. Similar projects have included a new wind farm in an Alaskan Native village in Toksook Bay, Alaska; new wind turbines on Midwestern farmland, benefitting American farmers; and, most recently, the Greensburg, Kansas Wind Farm.
- Manure digester/methane co-generation. Again through NativeEnergy, Stonyfield Farm has supported a project on the Schrack Family Dairy Farm in Loganton, Pennsylvania. The 165kW renewable energy generator converts methane in an anaerobic manure digester into electricity. The waste heat from the generator is also used to meet a portion of the farm’s heating needs.