Dairy Sustainability Framework | U.S. Dairy

Environmental Sustainability

All food production comes with an environmental footprint. Responsible food production works to minimize that footprint. Given how important dairy is to the American diet, producing dairy has a surprisingly small impact on the environment.

In 2008, U.S. dairy was the first in the food agricultural sector to conduct a full life cycle assessment at a national level which showed it contributes just 2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to increasingly modern and innovative dairy farming practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly, requiring 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007.

We’ve made progress, but we’re not stopping there. The dairy community is committed to conserving natural resources and making further progress. Our 2050 goals support a vision that dairy is an environmental solution, addressing the areas where U.S. dairy collectively can have the greatest impact. 

Specifically, the goals are: 

  • Become carbon neutral or better: Both the goal and 2050 timing align with what we believe is achievable based on today’s science, technology and innovation.
  • Optimize water use while maximizing recycling: This encourages dairy farms and businesses to make the best water management decisions, including using each gallon of water as many times as is appropriate, for their individual operations. This approach is intended to help account for regional differences in water sources and use, and incorporates recycling, which is a practice at both the farm and processor levels.
  • Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients: This goal highlights the interconnectivity of manure/nutrient management, soil health and water quality.

The Net Zero Initiative (NZI) is an industry-wide, on-farm effort that will play a key role in helping U.S. dairy continue to make progress toward these goals. Through foundational research, on-farm pilots and development of new product markets, NZI is breaking down barriers to make technology and best practices more accessible and affordable to farms of all sizes and geographies – recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all solution. NZI has four key areas of focus, including feed production, manure handling and nutrient management, cow care and efficiency, and on-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy use.

U.S. dairy is on a journey and remains committed to ongoing progress, to leaving a positive environmental footprint and to doing its part to nourish the planet for future generations.


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