by Sandra Vijn, Director, Sustainability Metrics & Evaluation, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
At the Future of Food: Food Security in the 21st Century event held today, Andrea Thomas of Walmart pointed out that one of the various challenges we face is making sure consumers have the information they need to fully understand the choices they have.
Evaluating the sustainability of a product isn’t simple. It seems as if virtually every product makes some form of claim about why it is a good choice — for the consumer, for the environment and for society.
But do these claims really help us understand how sustainable these products are, compared to other products on the shelf, or against our own definition of sustainability? One of the small food stores on my street advertises “local, sustainable food.” What does that really mean?
Food marketers – from your corner grocery to the international chain of Walmart stores – are increasingly faced with this “sustainable claim” challenge. There could be a hundred different criteria used to define what a sustainable product is; and the criteria may differ from product to product.
Many organizations, companies and measurement experts are trying to find a solution to this challenge, and so is the U.S. dairy industry. Working with partners and experts from across the industry and beyond, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is identifying what measures really matter when it comes to evaluating and communicating the sustainability footprint of a gallon of milk or an ounce of cheese.
For example, scientific studies conducted for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy have told us that for greenhouse gas emissions and water, approximately 20 variables are responsible for more than 80 percent of the impact. This data is invaluable. It tells us what matters and, importantly, what doesn’t. It helps us identify what to measure so that we can focus our efforts on the biggest opportunities for improvement, establish goals, and communicate our progress.
This paper describes more about the measurement work underway for U.S. dairy.