The Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change: the dairy industry takes global warming by the horns


Three years ago, dairy companies from all over the world – including Danone – signed an agreement to share their strength and knowledge to further the fight against climate change, with their specific issues in mind. Here is how they plan to do that.


The Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change is a “statement of commitment by the dairy supply chain to take action to address climate change.” It was signed three years ago, on 24th September 2009, during the World Dairy Summit in Berlin. On that day, six parties decided to “make history” by signing this unprecedented agreement: the International Dairy Federation (FIL-IDF), the Federación Panamericana de Lechería (Panamerican Dairy Federation, FEPALE), the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI), the Global Dairy Platform, the European Dairy Association (eda) and the Eastern & Southern African Dairy Association (ESADA). This Agenda was different in that it was written, agreed on and signed by the dairy industry alone, because industry professionals realised that they needed to combine their forces and expertise if they wanted to achieve real change on global warming. Here is the story of the Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change: why it came into force, what its aims are and what it needs to be a success.

The most visible sign of decades of effort

The dairy industry, like most agricultural supply chains, relies a great deal on natural resources, and therefore on their quality. It thus has an economic interest in the preservation of the environment. On the other hand, among human activities overall it is among those which have a more significant impact on the environment. The industry is well aware of this, as witnessed by the official declaration made when the statement was signed, “studies to date have estimated that for milk production, cradle-to-farm gate emissions globally contribute up to 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A significant source of emissions in the dairy supply chain is methane, produced from the natural digestive process of cows (known as enteric fermentation). Nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide are also by-products of dairy production.” The genesis of the Global Dairy Agenda for Action is rooted in this acknowledgment. The declaration also states that over the last 60 years, the dairy industry has reduced its carbon footprint by 63%.

The Global Dairy Agenda for Action is the natural step to further the dairy industry’s commitment to address climate change,

says its website. In other words, it is a more visible sign of the efforts the dairy supply chain has been making for decades – and an expression of the will to go further. So far, the dairy industry has been able to improve production efficiencies and nutrition management. But more cooperation between the different actors is needed in order to achieve the goal of “providing consumers with the nutritious dairy products they want, in a way that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible.” “Pooling knowledge and resources” is the way the Agenda has chosen to increase its influence and efficiency as it addresses this challenge. It has also defined a range of more specific aims: reduce emissions, guarantee energy and transport efficiency, decrease milk and milk product waste, work on resource efficiency (which concerns mainly packaging and waste), and improve the management and analysis of the dairy product life cycle.

Sharing a rich range of expertise

Which brings us to the “how?” How do these actors work together, what tools do they have to confront the issue and what will they focus their efforts on?In each of the domains tackled by the agreement, the contribution of all of the parties is much needed, as they operate all over the world, in very different situations and with different tools that can mutually be enriched. Some of these goals call for “robust science” and high technology, others for in-depth field expertise, others for innovative research, etc. For instance, a standard methodology framework for assessing the carbon footprint of dairy businesses must be promoted. In this area, Danone (part of the agreement through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform) brings its expertise to the table in the shape of the Danprint tool,

a tool for measuring the carbon footprint of a company‘s products from the beginning to the end of the process, across all the group’s activities.

When it comes to helping farmers develop a better understanding of agricultural emissions and how they can reduce those on their farm, field work is a must – and this will be very different depending on whether you are in South America, in Africa or in France. Information held and progress in research should be passed on to others: sharing is the key to develop cost-effective solutions.

The dairy industry in its own environment

The dairy industry also wishes to raise awareness on both its role in climate change, and its contribution to global nutritional, social and economic well-being. This is in fact an important point, which was elaborated on in the Agenda: in addition to taking responsibility themselves, the signatories also issued a call for action from policy makers.

We seek the support of policy makers to provide a supportive regulatory policy environment in which the sector can deliver the above outlined commitments, without compromise to the dairy industry contribution to global nutritional, economic and social wellbeing.

As it is always the case with sustainability, initiatives must be perennial, viable and profitable to be durable. Without a favourable legislative framework, this is much less likely to be achieved: corporate companies have no interest in trying to make a change if it impairs their competitiveness and activities. By working together and clearly stating their ambition to improve their impact on the environment, some of these companies have taken a major first step and sent a strong signal. The signal is that private entities are developing their power in the field of sustainability, where their range of action is almost infinite – provided that they are supported by their own environment. This is just the start, and they are not likely to stop here.