Ben & Jerry’s launches pilot program to cut dairy farm emissions

Dive Brief:

  • Ben & Jerry’s has announced a pilot program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on 15 of its dairy farms to half of the industry average by 2024. “Project Mootopia” will implement regenerative agricultural practices and new technology to cut emissions at farms in Vermont and the Netherlands.
  • The initiatives include the use of feed additives to control methane emissions, using technology to manage emissions from manure, and increasing carbon sequestration by growing more grass and other feed crops. If successful, Ben & Jerry’s will roll out these initiatives to farms across its global dairy supply chain.
  • Ben & Jerry’s received $9.3 million to prove and scale the initiatives from parent company Unilever’s Climate and Nature Fund. This project, aimed to help Ben & Jerry’s achieve its goal of reducing its emissions intensity by 40% by 2025, comes as the dairy industry grapples with how to lessen its environmental impact.

Dive Insight:

Ben & Jerry’s has long prioritized sustainability. But cutting emissions requires a significant shift in how its products are produced. According to the company, dairy ingredients account for over half of its total greenhouse gas emissions, which is why it is focusing on its farms for this initiative.

Livestock accounts for 31% of methane emissions produced from human activities in the U.S., according to the University of Wisconsin, with dairy and beef cattle major contributors. Demand for dairy is also increasing, with production expected to increase by 22% by 2030, according to sustainability investor group FAIRR.

One powerful way that Ben & Jerry’s is addressing its dairy emissions is by tackling enteric fermentation — or cow burps. FAIRR found that enteric fermentation is the largest driver of emissions from livestock, accounting for 39% of emissions. Ben & Jerry’s plans to feed the dairy cows rumen modifiers like red seaweed, which the company said could cut the methane emissions from the animals’ burps by 82%. 

Ben & Jerry’s use of feed additives to control enteric fermentation is becoming increasingly popular in the livestock industry. Ingredients manufacturer Royal DSM has created a feed additive that it says can uppress the enzyme that produces methane in beef cows and reduce emissions by 90%. The company told Food Dive it is working with meat giants like JBS on implementing the feed as it awaits regulatory approval from the federal government.

Taylor Ricketts, director of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont, said that the company is achieving more measurable goals that get to the root of an issue.

“Too often, corporations buy up carbon offsets from somewhere else to claim they are ‘carbon neutral,” Ricketts said in a statement. “Ben & Jerry’s is taking a more meaningful and direct approach: attacking the systemic causes of climate change in its own supply chain.”

As the impact of the dairy industry on global greenhouse gas emissions has come into greater focus, several food producers have made tackling the issue a priority, and are using different approaches. Butter giant Land O’Lakes announced in 2018 that it is working with technology company CalBio on methane digesters for its farms. And last year, cheese producer Bel Brands announced a partnership with Dairy Farmers of America to implement milk cooling practices that use less energy, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.