A Deeper Dive Into Pillars of Net Zero Initiative

  • 4 min read September 9, 2020
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

More and more of the conversations I have with people these days eventually end up in the same place – dairy’s impact on the environment.

Increasingly, people are prioritizing environmental sustainability, which creates expectations for action not only by the dairy industry but all businesses. According to an Innova Market Insights report, 85 percent of consumers said they expect companies to invest in sustainability within the next year.

Farmers and brands need to listen and respond if we want to stay relevant, preserve market access and increased demand for dairy products, both domestically and globally. We can begin by expressing our values in managing our cows and the land and natural resources entrusted to us. As we build trust with consumers, who vote with their wallet, we will build sales.

The Net Zero Initiative (NZI) is a pathway to demonstrating our commitment to environmental stewardship. NZI unites the assets and expertise of farmers, trade groups and industry organizations to achieve significant improvements on our farms. It is part of how U.S dairy will reach the collective environmental goals announced in April by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. You may have seen other industries and companies, such as Amazon, announce similar goals.

Let me be clear: Not every farm will reach net zero, but together as an industry we can. Also, this isn’t just for big farms. NZI’s purpose is to help all farms make efficient, economical production improvements while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water impacts. It advances proven and new technologies and practices in feed production, cow care, energy efficiency and manure management, and is designed to improve profitability for our farms, no matter the size.

Potential revenue streams include:

  • Environmental Services Markets: carbon and water, translating environmental improvements to assets that can be sold
  • Manure-Based Products: compost and fertilizers, making access to markets and revenue opportunities broadly available for more farmers
  • Renewable Energy: identifying opportunities to enhance renewable fuel and electricity incentives and markets

I sometimes hear farmers say NZI feels like another mandate but that’s not the case. Here’s what I want you to know: 1. Every farm can, and in many cases is already doing, something to help us as the U.S. dairy community reach net zero or better. 2. The learnings garnered from NZI – research, pilot and learning farms – will help us reach our 2050 goals over time, not immediately. 3. You are not being asked to do everything NZI encompasses.  

There are three pillars of NZI:

  • Groundwork
  • Dairy Scale for Good
  • Collective Impact

Each is integral to NZI’s success and worthy of a deeper dive, so I am beginning a series of blogs that will take an in-depth look at each pillar, beginning with Collective Impact.

The organizations engaged include Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), National Milk Producers Federation, Newtrient, U.S. Dairy Export Council and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. The checkoff lead for Collective Impact is Karen Scanlon, senior vice president, sustainability initiatives for DMI and the Innovation Center.

Through Collective Impact, we will support broad, voluntary adoption of proven best practices and technologies. We will share the positive environmental impact that farms of varying geographies, sizes and capabilities are making together.

Collective Impact will increase recognition for the work so many of us already are doing. There is much to learn from farmers around the country about how we reduce erosion, build soil health, protect water, improve energy efficiency and much more.

Through local experts, public data, researchers and dairy community partners, Collective Impact will compile this knowledge to better understand adoption and success rates for practices such as reduced tillage, cover crops, filter strips, optimized feed rations, LED lighting, nutrient management and manure storage. This knowledge will be shared so others can benefit from what already is working well. Knowing what isn’t working well will focus efforts addressing barriers, such as insufficient technical assistance or financial incentives.

For example, Duane and I installed LED lighting in our barn a few years ago that reduces our energy use and saves money. This is an example of what will be captured, evaluated for value and shared with farmers across the country.

To discover more about practices and technologies that work for small and mid-size dairies, Collective Impact will collaborate with farmers and supply chain partners on demonstration projects that will serve as models for replication.

Recording our collective good work supports our case that dairy has been a longtime environmental solution, giving people another reason that they can trust in and enjoy their favorite dairy foods.

As we move forward, remember this: there is no one combination of practices and technologies that will work for every farm. Collective Impact will help you identify what works for you to improve soil, save water, manage manure and nutrients and improve your bottom line, while being recognized for improvements you make every day.

Let us remain united as this work takes us where we need to be.