‘Bovine to bottle’: UK’s largest dairy cooperative lays out 2050 net zero plans

Reducing land used for growing livestock feed and avoiding nitrogen surpluses from excess fertiliser use are core elements of a path to net zero laid out by the UK’s largest dairy co-op, in what is the first UK industry roadmap to be approved of by a UN-WWF backed initiative.

This week Arla UK -  which collects over 3.2 billion litres of milk a year, and has the UK dairy industry’s largest milk pool, comprising 3,200 farmers - has published how it intends to meet its carbon net zero 2050 target, including details on how it will reduce its scope one and two carbon emissions by 2030 by 63%, and cut scope three emissions by 30% by 2030.

Arla’s targets have been approved by the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi) - a UN and WWF backed initiative - as consistent with emissions reductions required to keep global warming to 1.5⁰C, and is the first large dairy company in the UK to receive this approval.

Scope 1 emissions covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. 

Scope 2 emissions covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company.

Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain - in the case of Arla, this includes emissions coming from farming itself.

Source: Carbon Trust

According to Arla, the five main areas that its emissions come from are farming - accounting for the vast majority of emissions at 83% - followed by production (4%), packaging (2%), logistics and transport (2%), and ‘other areas’ - largely coming from purchased whey - at 9%.

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To tackle farm emissions - classified as scope three - the cooperative is aiming to make the biggest dent through helping farmers take up “more sustainable feed practices”, which is supposed to account for 27% of the 2030 goal to reduce scope 3 emissions by 30%.   

“Optimising farm resource use”, including measures such as avoiding nitrogen surpluses produced by excess fertiliser use, and improving crop yields to reduce land use associated with growing cow feed, is meant to contribute to 26% of this target. 

Arla says that it has calculated that by refining a cow’s diet to include exactly 16% of protein, it can “not only produce the optimum volume and quality of milk, but also avoid excess emissions”. 

Regarding scope one and two emissions, the cooperative says that switching from using petrol and diesel to alternative fuels such as biogas - generated from slurry -  is set to contribute to 86% of the emissions reductions that Arla says it needs to make in transport and logistics by 2030.

As part of this, Arla plans to see 41% of its total fleet powered by biogas by 2030. While the cooperative says that some of this biogas will be purchased from third party suppliers, the company says that it is continuing to invest in generating biogas from slurry to expand its fleet of “poo powered” trucks.

Commenting, Ben Wood, senior sustainability manager for Arla UK, said: “Dairy has a defining decade ahead. The demand for dairy is growing around the world and we have a growing population to feed. But we must face into the challenges of reducing emissions to create a healthy planet alongside healthy people.”

He said that getting approval for Arla’s scope one and two emissions from the SBTi was a key milestone and that being one of the first dairy companies globally to get this approval “highlights [Arla’s] commitment to sustainable food”.

This week, DEFRA also launched a UK-wide call for evidence to “better understand the views associated with the use of feed products that can reduce methane emissions from livestock”.