Sustainability + the Dairy Industry
1,500 dairy families in California use sustainable practices
Sustainability + the Dairy Industry

We know that consumers are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making food choices for their families. They are interested in knowing that the foods they buy are produced and processed in an environmentally responsible manner. The 1,500 dairy families in California are strongly committed to utilizing sustainable practices now and in the future – from environmental, social and economic perspectives. To do this, they:

  • Provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of Californians
  • Produce healthy, nutritious and affordable dairy products for millions of families
  • Demonstrate environmental stewardship and innovation, always looking for ways to improve upon their practices.

So, what are the numbers? A 2010 Report from the UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) concluded that beef and milk production from global dairy herds account for only 4.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). This starkly contrasts with higher levels that are often reported in the media, based on older reports and questionable methodology. To break down this 4.1% even further:

  • Milk production accounts for 2.7%.
  • Beef from dairy cows and non-milk producing dairy calves account for 1.3%. 
  • It’s noteworthy that U.S. dairies (including California) have achieved the world’s lowest GHG emissions - 45% less per unit of milk produced compared to the global average.

Similar to the FAO report, a 2010 report by the University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center estimates that U.S. dairies produce about 2% of the nation’s GHG emissions. This comprehensive study showed the complexity of the dairy industry as well as the need for producers, processors, retailers and consumers to work together to reduce the overall carbon footprint. The study broke out each step of the production chain by total GHG emissions:

  • Growing feed for cows – 19% 
  • Natural methane production from cows – 25% 
  • Natural methane production from manure – 24%
  • Individual farm’s energy usage – 4%
  • Transportation, processing, packaging and distribution– 17%
  • Retailers – 6%
  • Milk consumption and disposal of milk containers– 5%
Dairy SustainabilityBetween 1944 and 2007, milk yield in the United States has increased four-fold – while using 90% less cropland, 76% less manure, 65% less water and 63% less carbon. This demonstrates the commitment that the dairy industry has made to being good stewards of the land and decreasing their environmental impact.

For more information on dairy and sustainability practices, access:

Here is a perspective on Meatless Mondays—an initiative to reduce our carbon footprint as consumers—by the Animal Agriculture Alliance.