By Christopher Bonasia | The Energy Mix
Iconic ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s will work with 15 dairy farms to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2024 as part of its Project Mootopia pilot program.
“Too often, corporations buy up carbon offsets from somewhere else to claim they are ‘carbon neutral’,” said Taylor Ricketts of the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont (UVM). “Ben & Jerry’s is taking a more meaningful and direct approach: attacking the systemic causes of climate change in its own supply chain to achieve measurable, science-based targets.”
The pilot is backed by a €1-billion Climate & Nature Fund run by Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever. It includes 15 participating farms from members of the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative in the U.S. and CONO Kaasmakers in the Netherlands. Ben & Jerry’s will help the farms adopt new practices and equipment, offering technical support and paying farmers for the service of “methane destruction,” writes Fast Company.
The ice cream company says it has been working with dairy farmers, scientists, academics, and researchers to determine the best ways to reduce dairy emissions. The project will bring the results of that research together to form “a comprehensive, collaborative approach” to fighting the climate crisis by addressing three aspects of dairy farming that generate the most emissions—enteric emissions, manure, and feed crops.
One result is a “new cow-tested, cow-approved meal plan” that includes a high-quality forage diet and innovative feed additives, like red seaweed, to reduce the enteric emissions of methane—also known as cow burps—produced by a cow’s digestive tract, Ben & Jerry’s says.
Those cow burps can also be put in check with methane reduction technology such as manure digesters and separators that can produce renewable electricity and animal bedding.
Finally, growing more grass and using regenerative practices to produce grains can “help maintain healthy soils, increase carbon sequestration, lower synthetic inputs, promote biodiversity, and raise the amount of homegrown feed cows eat.”
Ben & Jerry’s plans to use findings from the pilot project to scale up effective practices and technologies across the company’s supply chains, Unilever says.
Like with other emissions reduction efforts, directly measuring emission reductions on each farm in the pilot project would be too costly. Instead, Ben & Jerry’s is using the COOL Farm Tool (CFT) modelling program, augmenting it with additional information from UVM’s model on animal feed and a separate, detailed model on manure management.
“We analyzed a number of available GHG modeling tools for their applicability to dairy farming,” Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager Jenna Evans told The Energy Mix. “There is no perfect tool, so we identified areas where it could be augmented by more detailed information on specific portions of the dairy GHG emissions footprint.”
CFT has been used globally by farmers and other businesses to model emissions since it was released in 2008. Unlike process-based models that require comprehensive data input, CFT relies on emissions factors and empirical observations to arrive at its projections, and is therefore less accurate than process-based models. But it’s also more accessible and user friendly, and its established international profile is a unique strength compared to other options, the Gund Institute says.