Environmental Sustainability

It's the job of the dairy farmer to make nutritious food and also leave the world in a better place than when they found it. The U.S. dairy industry has set aggressive new 2050 environmental sustainability goals. These goals support a vision that dairy can be an environmental solution.

People are asking questions about their food, where it comes from, and how it impacts the environment.

Every type of food we eat has an environmental impact, including products that identify as plant-based. Overall, food accounts for 10-30% of a U.S. household’s carbon footprint. Other aspects of lifestyle, including travel and housing, make up a larger percentage of an individual’s footprint.

The key is to find the sweet spot – foods that together provide the greatest nutritional value to us, with a minimal environmental footprint. Dairy is accessible, affordable, and its health benefits are supported by a robust body of science. The essential nutrients found in dairy products can actually be difficult to replace with other foods.

With improvements in animal breeding, animal health programs, cow comfort, and farm management practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk has shrunk significantly over the past several decades.

Despite what you may have seen in sensational headlines and documentaries, currently, dairy makes up approximately only 2% of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions.  As of 2007, producing a gallon of milk uses 90% less land and 65% less water, with a 63% smaller carbon footprint than in 1944. Also, dairy in the U.S. creates the lowest amount of greenhouse gases per gallon of milk compared to the rest of the world.

While the industry has made progress, there is definitely more work to be done. The dairy community is committed to continuous improvement, which is why new aggressive 2050 environmental sustainability goals have been established. 

Specifically, the U.S. Dairy 2050 Environmental Sustainability Goals are:

  • Achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) neutrality 1
  • Optimize water use while maximizing recycling
  • Improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients

1 In October 2021, the wording of the goal was clarified to reflect the intent of the work and U.S. dairy’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The original wording stated “to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”. It has been changed to “to achieve GHG neutrality by 2050.”

Explore our videos and resources below to learn how dairy can be a part of the climate solution.

Dairy’s Surprising Tie to Renewable Energy

See how dairy farmers are using “cow power”—among other sustainable practices like manure management—to ensure dairy is part of the environmental solution.

 

Learn More

Will Removing Dairy Cows Help Stop Climate Change?

Here’s a crazy idea: What if all milk production came to a halt? A group of scientists went beyond guessing and discovered that a reduction or pause in dairy production would lead to a drastic reduction in access to essential nutrients for many Americans.

Learn More

Cows and Climate

Learn more about greenhouse gases from livestock in the Cows and Climate video series with Dr. Frank Mitloehner, Professor and Air Quality Specialist at UC Davis. The series explains livestock’s role in the global food system and our environment, focusing on climate change, and promoting collaborative and research-based solutions that can further reduce emissions.

Link to Full Video Series Playlist
DAIRY FARMING IN NEW ENGLAND

Environmental Sustainability in Action

  • cows eating
    What Dairy
    Cows Eat

    Cows are ruminants. Dairy cows can eat and unlock nutrients in foods humans can’t eat that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

    More on What Cows Eat
  • seeds sprouting
    Carbon Smart
    Dairy Farming

    Our soil effects the water, air, and food supply. Learn more about how dairy farms tackle climate change with our soil.

    Carbon Smart Dairy Farming
  • Manure Management

    One cow can produce up to 100 pounds of manure each day so it's important to ensure it's taken care of properly.

    Manure Management
  • rail city cow power sign
    Energy Use

    Farmers are stewards of the land and spend so much time caring extensively for their fields. Understand how dairy farms are energy efficient.

    Energy Use
  • Water Stewardship

    Water is the essence of life so making sure it's kept safe and clean is a serious job. Get an inside look at how dairy farmers use water responsibly.

    Water Stewardship
  • girl feeding cows
    Dairy FAQs

    Have more questions about dairy or dairy farming? Check out the FAQs to answer all your burning questions.

    Farm FAQs

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