Carbon net zero operations

Can milk be carbon neutral?

Can milk be carbon neutral?

The production of milk emits CO2e. Quite a bit, actually. But can milk be CO2e neutral? Yes, when we reduce CO2e emissions as much as possible from our cow-to-consumer value chain and then compensate for the remaining CO2e emissions by, for example, planting trees and protecting rainforest.

When we produce milk and other dairy products, greenhouse gasses are emitted. Greenhouse gasses are emitted in the production at the dairies, when the products are transported to supermarkets, when the packaging is produced and at the farm, primarily from the cows’ burps.

When a cow digests feed, it often lets out a burp. Cow burps contain the greenhouse gas methane. Methane emissions represent about half of the greenhouse gasses that are emitted, when we produce milk. Actually, about 90 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in milk production happen at farm level. You can read how our Climate Check programme helps us measure the carbon footprint of our owners’ farms here.

At Arla, we are already reducing our CO2e emissions through a series of initiatives all the way from cow to consumer. Our ambition is to reduce our CO2e emissions by 30% from 2015 to 2030 and to become completely carbon neutral before 2050. We are already on the right track, as we have reduced our CO2e emissions on farms by 23% per kg milk since 1990. On this journey, every little step and choice can make a difference.

Some of the choices that we’ve made are to make our organic product ranges Arla® ØKO in Denmark, Arla Ko® Eko in Sweden and all organic products in the Netherlands carbon neutral by reducing emissions as much as possible and compensating for what can’t yet be reduced. In Sweden, we made Arla Ko® Eko carbon neutral in September 2019, while the Danish Arla® Øko range was compensated for from November 2020. The climate neutral products in the Netherlands were introduced in March 2021.

Even though we at Arla have ambitious targets, we will never be able to reach zero emissions from our milk production. That’s because a large share of milk’s carbon footprint is methane from the cows and nitrous oxide from, primarily, the soil. The cows’ burps are a problem that we really want to solve, and we are already running and participating in a number of research projects looking into this. For example, we are looking into what feeds create the least burps, which would reduce our emissions.

You can read more about our climate ambitions here.

What does CO2e mean?

If you want to do it completely by the book, the carbon footprint from milk production should be described by the term CO2 equivalents (CO2e). The three most important greenhouse gasses are CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. CO2 is the most well-known and is usually emitted by burning fossil fuels, for example, from cars or when we heat our homes. When it comes to farming, methane and nitrous oxide are the most important greenhouse gasses. They are emitted from the animals, the fertilizer and the fields. To calculate the carbon footprint from the different gasses the term CO2e is the most commonly used.

The most recent numbers from IPCC recommend the below conversions for the following greenhouse gasses direct impact on the atmosphere:

  • 1 kg CO2 = 1 kg CO2e
  • 1 kg methane = 28 kg CO2e
  • 1 kg nitrous oxide = 265 kg CO2e

IPCC = The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Carbon neutral dairy

When we produce milk, we emit CO2e. We have already done a lot to reduce our CO2e emissions, but there will always be greenhouse grass emissions that we can’t remove. So, when we talk about some of our products being CO2e neutral, it means that we have compensated for all of the emissions. For our organic product ranges, Arla® ØKO in Denmark, Arla Ko® Eko in Sweden, and our organic products in the Netherlands, we compensate for 100 per cent of the CO2e emissions. We do this by investing in forest projects that help suck out CO2e from the atmosphere or by preserving rainforest that otherwise would have been cut down, and for Arla Ko® Eko, we have also invested in biogas. At our dairies we reduce our emissions by purchasing certificates that ensure that our share of energy usage comes from renewable sources. On top of that, organic farmers in Denmark and Sweden only use renewable energy.

What is climate compensation? And how do we do it?

Climate compensation is when the carbon footprint of our milk production is compensated for through investments in projects that make sure that the corresponding CO2e emissions are reduced elsewhere in the world. The investments in these types of projects are called carbon credits. You could say that carbon credits ensure that an equivalent amount to a company’s emissions from producing a product or a service are either “sucked out of the atmosphere” or kept from being emitted into the atmosphere elsewhere in the world. In Arla, we compensate for our CO2e emissions for the organic product ranges Arla® Ko Eko in Sweden, Arla® Øko in Denmark, and organic products in the Netherlands from cow to consumer by investing in projects that capture CO2 from being emitted to the atmosphere. That could, for example, be by planting trees, because trees bind CO2 as they grow, or by preserving rainforest that was at risk of being cut down.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, we compensate the CO2e emissions for our organic product range Arla ØKO by investing in climate projects in Eastern Africa, Brazil as well as Indonesia. In Eastern Africa, new trees are planted and in Indonesia and Brazil our investments contribute to preserving rainforest. These climate investments, or so-called climate credits, are bought through the internationally recognized supplier Natural Capital Partners. In addition to the climate projects, we compensate for the energy consumption at our dairies in Hobro, Christiansfeld and Slagelse by purchasing green certificates from wind- and biogas projects in Denmark. In the Netherlands, our organic products are produced at the dairy in Nijkerk with green electricity.

The Arla Ko® Eko range in Sweden is climate compensated by similar investments in rainforest preservation and planting of new trees. We have invested in tree planting in Uganda, and in Indonesia we support a project that preserved more than 5,300 hectares from being cut down. The Swedish organic products are also compensated for by investments in the African Biogas Partnership programme. Additionally, organic Arla farmers in Sweden and Denmark use only renewable electricity. You can read more about the compensation of Arla Ko® Eko here and in Swedish here.

Becoming carbon neutral is a long journey

Our work to reduce our CO2e emissions generated during milk production – at the farms, the dairies and in transportation – has brought us quite some way, but we will never reach zero emissions. That’s why we have chosen to compensate our emissions from cow to consumer for Arla® ØKO in Denmark, Arla Ko® Eko in Sweden and all our organic products in the Netherlands. By buying climate compensated products consumers can decide whether they wish to endorse climate compensations as part of the solution. When you buy climate compensated products, you join us in making sure that new trees are planted and that less rainforest is cut down.

But that doesn’t mean that our work to reduce our CO2e emissions in the production of our products stops. We will continue to work on reducing our CO2e emissions on the way towards becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2050.

Read more about Arla’s position on climate compensation here.

Arla’s climate ambition of becoming carbon net zero by 2050 has been created with input from scientists and NGOs in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom. The ambition of reducing CO2e by 30% from 2015 to 2030 has been developed according to the Science-Based Targets initiative to make sure that the goal contributes to the Paris Agreement. The biggest challenge that the world faces is to make sure that global warming doesn’t exceed 2 degrees, as the Paris Agreement states. The agreement was signed in 2015 as a part of the climate change conference COP21.

Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBT) is a cooperation between CDP, World Resources Institute (WRI), The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the UN’s Global Compact (UNGC).