The dairy giant is not pulling any punches in the description of its own sustainability performance, Dileepa Fonseka reports

Fonterra has published what it says is an “honest and transparent” 50-page account of its sustainability performance. 

In it the company acknowledges the emissions intensity on Fonterra’s farms – the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per kilogram of milk solids – is at its highest in 10 years. 

“We know we’ve got work to do.”

CEO Miles Hurrell said the co-operative has had a “tough year” while its director of sustainability Carolyn Mortland acknowledges there’s room for improvement. 

“We know we’ve got work to do,” Mortland said.

“This is about setting out sights on what we want to achieve.”

But Fonterra has also drastically reduced the amount of waste it is sending to landfill and is on track to meet its longer-term targets for emissions and energy use within its manufacturing processes. 

Emissions intensity

Mortland said emissions intensity, the amount of emissions for every kilogram of milk solids, had dropped by 20 percent over 25 years but progress had “stalled” on this front over the last few years.

And in the last year that progress has reversed.

In a conference call with journalists on Thursday afternoon Mortland said drought conditions led to a greater use of feed by farmers during that period leading to a higher level of emissions per kilogram of milk solids.

Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell says the company has stuck with its sustainability focus during a challenging year.

She is pinning her hopes for future emissions reductions on emissions profile reports – to be rolled out to every farm in late 2020 – which will give farmers a better idea of how changes like feed use increase farm emissions. 

“There are some on-farm changes that farmers can make that will have an impact – positive or negative – on their emissions.”

Mortland cited the water quality experience and said once farmers were given a better data on how their individual farms contributed to water quality issues they had made changes to the way their farms operated. 

Emissions profiles could lead to the same thing over time, she said. 

“They will be able to see what the impact on emissions are – which is going to be increasingly important to farmers over time.”

Healthy people, healthy environment, healthy business

The sustainability report measures the co-operative’s impact on society and the environment, and its economic performance. 

Mortland said Fonterra had maintained its focus on sustainability despite financial and cost-cutting pressures at the co-operative. 

Hurrell said it would have been easy to abandon its sustainability goals during a “tough year” – but it hadn’t.

Fonterra says the emissions profiles of farms will prove more important to individual farmers as time goes on. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The company pressed ahead with the trial of its Brightwater wood-biomass “co-fire” plant, which generates electricity using wood biomass as a partial substitute for coal. 

At the “co-fire” plant both wood and coal are used to generate electricity for the processing of milk. 

Fonterra estimates the plant will save 2400 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

“We have in fact continued to make progress. We’ve underlined our commitment to the importance of sustainability and firmed up plans to do more on climate change, coal, waste and sustainable packaging.”

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