Horizon Organic, the largest supplier of organic milk in North America, is pushing the envelope for the dairy industry with its goal to become carbon positive in just five years.
Achieving carbon neutrality, and then carbon positivity, by 2025 will require a transformation of the company’s entire value chain. “For dairy, this is no small feat,” said Deanna Bratter, senior director of public benefit and sustainable development for Danone North America, Horizon’s parent company.
The company’s first carbon-neutral product will launch by the end of 2021: a half-gallon carton of Growing Years, a whole milk the company formulated with key nutrients for young children. Past 2021, Horizon will continue certifying products in partnership with its family farms and The Carbon Trust.
Bratter emphasizes that working toward carbon neutrality and beyond is transformational for dairy, even for a brand that has prioritized sustainability, health and animal welfare since its inception in 1991. Achieving holistic carbon positivity involves every step of Horizon’s life cycle — from farm to table. This overhaul is significant, considering the 11 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by the agriculture sector.
A large component of going carbon positive begins with the farm and healthy soil. In support of Horizon’s over 600 farmers around the country, the company is allocating $15 million toward grants and low- to no-cost loans to support farmers in their journey toward greater sustainability.
“I’ve been a Horizon Organic farmer for more than 20 years, seeing firsthand how organic farming can make a difference in healthy soil, happy cows and great milk,” Ed Zimba, a Horizon Organic farmer partner at Zimba Dairy, said in a press statement.
Outside of these financial investments, the company is instituting on-farm standards and practices, including energy solutions, soil regeneration, and improvements toward cow diet and health. The effects of these initiatives will not simply be approximated. The environmental consulting firm EcoPractices is helping farms conduct analyses and track progress. Currently, EcoPractices is in year two of five of its soil health studies across Horizon’s farms. Thus far, it has assessed 11,000 acres across seven dairies in five states.
Carbon reduction efforts won’t stop at production. Horizon plans to achieve 100 percent renewable energy at its manufacturing plants, optimize shipping, and use entirely recyclable, compostable or reusable packaging. Part of this goal will already be complete by 2020 when all beverage cartons will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
In addition to these business-wide improvements, Horizon plans to co-create sustainable agriculture programs that offset additional carbon. These programs could initially look like prairie and forest restoration, but offsets could change depending on what actions make the most meaningful impacts.
Achieving carbon positivity requires incredible resources. In 2018, Danone committed >$6 million over five years to improving soil health. The company has said it is continuing its long-term investments.
Danone and Horizon see these figures as investments toward company longevity, not only as climate change is concerned, but also with how the brands relate to customers. “We believe that we have an obligation to act and to act fast, and we know that’s going to take investment, but we also know consumers want to buy products that they trust and believe in,” Bratter said.
A 2018 survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Company assessing U.S. dairy consumption preferences found that health and transparency were among the most important factors people considered when choosing what brands to support.
As part of the company’s transparency to consumers, Horizon will make its life-cycle assessment accessible to the public. Bratter said the assessment will be completed in around six weeks, and the results will give a full picture of the company’s carbon footprint and guide further action.
The quest for carbon neutrality, and then going carbon positive, is not the whole picture for Horizon Organic; the company insists it is looking at this transformation holistically. After all, the organic milk supplier is part of the world’s largest B Corp, Danone North America. Part of that certification means that the business aims to push for innovation across its industry so that it can become more socially responsible and sustainable.
“The vision and mission of the B Corp movement is to redefine success in business, and I think this program is a really great example of how Horizon is bringing that to life," Bratter said. "We can keep farming and creating great, delicious, nutritious products for consumers the same way we always have, or we can really step into that leadership phase and redefine success in business.”
Image credit: Horizon Organic/Facebook
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.