Keeping Sustainability Real
Volume 133, No.
32 Friday,February 6, 2009
Sustainability, the green revolution’s buzz word, gained new meaning as dairy product and milk prices bottomed out in January. In 2009, sustainability will mean sustaining a US milk supply and sustaining the dairy processors that make dairy foods for America.
Sustainability, of course, means more than staying alive. In fact it means many different things to many different audiences.
In 2008, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) began to circle the notion of sustainability, picking up partners in National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association, and together these organizations have taken on the buzz word.
Their efforts started with a definition: The US dairy industry defines sustainability as providing consumers with the nutritious dairy products they want in a way that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible - now and for future generations. And consumers want a pony.
Alright, DMI didn’t write that last part, but the point is that consumers want it all and none of them has gotten up at 4 a.m. in a 40 below wind chill to milk a cow or leaned into a vat to Cheddar massive slabs of curd.
Sustainability needs a dose of realism - there is a cost in energy, in toil and even perhaps the occasional whiff of manure if people wish to eat.
Thankfully there is a realistic side to sustainability - realistic even when the milk price falls below $11 per hundredweight. Saving energy can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and save real dollars. And producing new forms of energy helps the environment and can provide much needed revenue to dairy producers and processors.
The “Sustainability Initiative” created by DMI and its partners last year has ground itself in a realistic approach to sustainability. In a paper, “The Dairy Industry’s Commitment to Sustainability,” DMI states that this initiative is looking at new business practices to find operational efficiencies, reduce energy costs, develop new revenue opportunities and mitigate adverse regulation.
Sustainable practices would preserve the environment by minimizing material waste, maximizing efficient use of energy and water and chemicals.
If this effort can keep its eye on these kinds of practical improvements, then sustainability will be more than a buzzword in a corporate mission statement.
In December, DMI listed a set of projects to address the practical improvements above. For dairy processors, DMI’s Sustainability Initiative settled on three projects:
1. Dairy Processor Carbon Reduction for Energy Efficiency - benchmarking energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions at dairy plants and creating and publishing validated case studies that demonstrate economic feasibility and resource requirements for efficiency improvements.
2. Non-thermal Ultra-Violet Processing - a pilot project in using UV in place of thermal pasteurization in milk processing.
3. Next Generation CIP - research to assess reduced-temperature Clean-In-Place processes in pilot plants, validate energy savings and promote adoption.
For the first project above, DMI needs to reach out to real manufacturers. Individual dairy processors already have innovated in saving and re-using BTUs around the plant, found alternate, renewable feedstocks for boilers, reduced water and chemical usage, reduced peak electricity usage, treated plant waste streams and engineered other practices that save energy and protect the environment.
The fact is, dairy is a clean industry and dairy processors have wrung waste and loss out of every step in their processes to stay competitive.
The next opportunity is producing energy - methane or electricity - from the waste streams at dairy plants and dairy farms. DMI has recognized this pro-active approach to sustainability, and in two of its sustainability research projects the organization has focused on energy generation on the farm using manure digesters.
But the Sustainability Initiative may be missing a similar opportunity that dairy processors have to produce energy from whey permeate and waste water streams.
Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research will focus on processor opportunities to generate energy at the Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference in April.
A recession in 2009 will reduce dairy processor margins and investments. In a market environment where only necessary investments survive, DMI and its partners will be incented to get to the core of sustainability: process efficiency and energy reduction or generation.
Saving the planet will be a great side benefit of any process that is stripped of waste, loss and inefficiency. r
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at