By Andy Whitman
Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
Last week in Vermont, Rob Michalak from Ben & Jerry’s spoke about the Caring Dairy program, a program designed to help dairy farmers run their businesses in a sustainable way – environmentally, economically, and socially.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s why I was reminded of the statement “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” That simple statement has always been true for any business. Also, if you don’t measure what you manage, it is hard for your business to tell its stewardship story.
Two decades ago, the forest products industry wrestled with this challenge when they were being bombarded with accusations about how they were deforesting the planet, reducing biodiversity, and degrading water resources. While the issues were regional – for example, in the tropics, the vast boreal forest, and the Pacific Northwest — they were jeopardizing the ability of companies to harvest wood, and this was undermining the industry everywhere.
Forest product companies were frustrated because they believed in their good stewardship practices but had no way to tell their story. Although some were measuring their environmental impacts, they quickly realized that they were not credible by going it alone. Moreover, it was too costly for each company to create their own measurement system.
It was out of this frustration that the forest products industry and other stakeholders banded together to create standardized measurement systems.
There are huge parallels between the challenges faced by the forest industry back then and the challenges faced by the dairy industry now. With these challenges, the great opportunity is to work together with other stakeholders to develop a credible system of standardized measurement. Such a system could be universal, supported by science, and practical to apply. The system would help dairy operations manage business performance, and help tell dairy’s sustainability story.
A system like this was a game changer for forest product industry. I’m participating in the development of such a system for the dairy industry, along with dairy producers and a range of other stakeholders. We are working to create a credible system of standardized measurement for dairy farms and processors. Stay tuned.