What is the Carbon Footprint of a Gallon of Milk?

  • Article
  • Infographic
  • 2 min read January 15, 2016

With folks being more mindful about what they eat, and how that impacts the environment, we know some may wonder what is the carbon footprint of milk? We're happy we can help: A gallon of milk produced in the U.S. has a carbon footprint of 17.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to research conducted by the University of Arkansas.

The same study showed that dairy production as a whole accounts for approximately 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions; by comparison, the largest source of emissions in the country is electricity generation, which produces 31 percent.

This research was the first step taken by U.S. dairy farms and companies who began working together in 2009 toward a voluntary commitment to reduce dairy’s carbon footprint by 25 percent by 2020.

This commitment built on a history of continuous improvement: As of 2007, producing a gallon of milk uses 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water, with a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint than in 1944, thanks to improvements made by dairy farmers in cow comfort, cow health and nutrition, and breeding.

When taking nutritional value into account, milk is an efficient use of resources. For example, only 8.4 percent of U.S. cropland is used for milk production, but milk contributes significant nutrition to the U.S. diet, including:  

The milk carbon footprint study surveyed hundreds of dairy farms, 50 dairy plants and transportation data to understand dairy’s carbon footprint from farm to table.  

Interestingly, it showed that management practices had more effect on the carbon footprint than geographic region or the size of the farm or business. In other words, the size or location of a dairy farm or plant is less important than the practices used in the operation.

Recent work has helped to determine which farm activities are likely to generate the most greenhouse gases on a farm, and encourage sharing of new technologies and management techniques, giving farmers more options than ever to find the right solution for them.

This work is just part of the dairy sustainability story. Learn more at here.