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Cheese company Schreiber Foods talks carbon emissions and science-based targets

  • Date: 19 November 2018
  • Author: Colleen Geurts, Environmental & Sustainability Director at Schreiber Foods

Schreiber Foods is a Wisconsin-based dairy company with global reach. As the company has grown, they’ve built sustainability into their operations. Currently, the company is focused on setting science-based targets to limit their carbon emissions and, in doing so, is seeking to collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders, including World Wildlife Fund, to achieve those goals. They participate in Project Gigaton, Walmart’s supplier-focused initiative to prevent one gigaton of emissions across their global supply chain between 2015 and 2030, and through that are helping make shifts in the dairy grocery aisle. Colleen Geurts, Environmental & Sustainability Director at Schreiber Foods, shared why the company is committed to science-based targets, and the role animal digestion of feed plays in their company’s emissions.

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How does agriculture contribute to climate change and emissions outputs within your company’s supply chain?

As a dairy company, the main ingredients we purchase are milk and cheese. To help us prepare to set a science-based target, we performed a global scope 3 emissions (those attributable to our suppliers) hotspot assessment, which is the process of determining where our supply chain’s carbon footprint is the largest. Through that assessment we learned that the majority of emissions from dairy happen before the milk even leaves the farm. The emissions mainly come from dairy cows digesting feed, called enteric emissions (as in, coming from the gut). This brings an interesting challenge for Schreiber, since we don’t own any farms or dairy co-ops. We purchase milk and cheese from co-ops and dairy processors to make yogurt, cream cheese, natural cheese and processed cheese, so we need to look to our supply chain to help cut our emissions.

Why has your company decided to set a science-based target?

Science-based targets ensure we’re doing our part to reduce our emissions in line with our company’s size and future growth strategies. These targets take the guesswork out of goal setting and allow for transparency. By setting targets approved by Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), we’ll also be working to reduce risk in our supply chain and help ensure we have a sustainable industry going forward. As a customer-brand dairy company, we’re listening to our customers and making sure we set goals consistent with their aspirations, so we can support a sustainable supply and brand for them. Walmart’s Project Gigaton is one example of how we’re supporting our customers in achieving their goals.

What has the target setting journey been like so far?

It takes a huge amount of data and communication to get to the point where you can even set targets. We’ve worked across Schreiber to gather data, understand its significance and then translate these calculations into targets. This process has truly involved all parts of our business around the world. Currently we’re refining some of the data in our scope 3 assessment to complete our target setting work. We’re nearing the home stretch and plan to submit our targets for approval by SBTi soon. I’ve been very impressed by the engagement and support of our Schreiber partner’s (employees) throughout this journey!

What challenges or barriers have you faced?

Currently, our 2020 goals for GHG emissions only take into account our Scope 1 & 2 emissions. These are emissions that occur from the operations in our plants from activities like electricity and fuel use. We set a goal of 25 percent reduction in GHG emissions intensity (GHG per unit of product produced) by 2020 over a 2008 baseline and came up with a plan to achieve the goal. To date, we’ve reduced our GHG emissions intensity 23 percent over our 2008 baseline. We did it by making a plan and executing energy efficiency projects in our own facilities that are under our own control. Along with the plan and execution, it took effort and commitment to achieve progress.

One of the challenges with setting our new science-based targets for 2030 is that the majority of the emissions are coming from the things we purchase and aren’t in our direct control. We will still have a component of the goals that’s targeted to our internal operations (Scope 1 & 2), but where we can make the most difference is in our supply chain with our milk and cheese suppliers. Without collaboration and participation from our suppliers we won’t be able to achieve our goals.

The second challenge we face is how to measure progress. Dairy farmers are constantly working to find ways to be more sustainable. They are stewards of the earth, their livestock and their communities. It’s part of who they are. Since we don’t own farms or dairy co-ops, we can’t see clearly the primary data attributable to the largest piece of our GHG emissions in our carbon footprint. We’d be able to make more progress if farmers and other supply chain stakeholders adopted a consistent tool to calculate emissions and emissions improvements on the farms where we buy our milk. For that reason, we’re working with industry groups to develop tools that measure emissions – and emissions reductions –  the same way across the industry.

What advice do you have for other companies setting agriculture-related climate targets?

We don’t have it all figured out, and that’s okay. Part of the journey will be figuring out how to achieve the targets once they’re set and working together to measure progress. My advice is to work together with your customers, your suppliers, trade associations and NGOs on your journey. This way, we can ensure we’re all getting better and making a difference together. 

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