U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment — A Review

Dairy cows out at Pt. ReyesThe U.S. Sustainable Dairy Commitment is a collective effort involving the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, and dairy farmers, processors, retailers and businesses. The purpose of the commitment is to work together to “provide products that are nutritious, produced responsibly and economically viable for all.” [1]

The original sustainability commitment, signed between the Innovation Center and USDA in 2008, provides that the dairy industry will be proactive in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Specifically, the industry-wide, voluntary goal is to reduce U.S. dairy’s GHGs by 25% by the year 2020. Additionally, dairy producers have seen the following benefits [2]:

  • More than 6,000 producers received a total of $287 million through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program to implement conservation practices
  • USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program invested more than $53 million to install anaerobic digesters on dairy farms (anaerobic digesters basically break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, and thus reducing the amount of landfill gas emission into the atmosphere)
  • Over 350 on-farm and in-plant energy audits were conducted, and nearly $640,000 in cost-share grants were provided for energy efficiency equipment

It is exciting that the dairy industry has accepted the challenge to reduce GHGs and make dairy processes more efficient, both for the sake of the environment and the economy. As an animal lover, I do wish there was some language about also incorporating humane practices, however it appears that humane practices are included in the requirement to produce dairy products responsibly. I’m sure that’s already written down somewhere in the industry guidelines, but it would be nice for this sustainability commitment to also include a pledge to engage in practices that are healthier for the environment, more efficient for the economy, and more humane in the treatment of animals in the dairy industry.

Are there are dairy buffs out there who’ve had any experience with this Sustainability Commitment? After reading a few articles from various news sources, and of course, the Innovation Center’s website, I’m very curious to see what impact this is having in the diary industry, and if dairy producers/processors are seeing a difference.

To learn more from the folks at the Innovation Center, you can visit their website at www.usdairy.com.

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* Please note, I am not an expert in anything dairy, except for the fact that I love the products. All views expressed in this article are my personal opinions and do not reflect the views of any organization with which I am affiliated. Please forgive any ignorance to practices or industry standards. Any comments are welcome!

[1] See Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy website at www.usdairy.com/sustainability

[2] Gallagher, Tom, “U.S. dairy’s sustainability commitment realizes benefits for dairy producers”, June 4, 2013,  http://dairybusiness.com/seo/headline.php?title=u-s-dairy-s-sustainability-commitment-realize&date=2013-06-04&table=features.  Gallagher is the C.E.O. of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

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Sebastopol, CA to require solar power on new homes, buildings

What a cool idea. Solar panels on top of each and every newly constructed home or building! I recently had a discussion with some cohorts here in Petaluma about how great it would be if people would just start using all the rooftops in the city to generate power using solar panels. Well, sounds like Sebastopol has the same idea.

As I read in the Press Democrat’s online article from May 8th [1], Sebastopol City Council recently voted unanimously to require solar power systems on new homes and commercial buildings. Sebastopol is now the second city to make such a move, following Lancaster, CA, which is located in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Nice work, Sebastopol. I’m sure there will be a number of details to work out moving forward, but I’m excited about the idea of using alternative energy in Sonoma County.

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[1] Story covered by Staff Writer Guy Kovner of the Press Democrat. You can go to the website at www.pressdemocrat.com and search under the “Politics” section. Or click on the hyperlink in the body of this post above to go to Kovner’s article.

(Photo courtesy Wiki Commons)

I don’t know much about fracking, but I know what it looks like!

We hear so much about hydro fracking, commonly known as “fracking”.  It is the process of fracturing layers of rock using pressurized water to release natural gas and petroleum products from deep in the ground.  It requires an available supply of water and it seems to be significantly adding to our available reserves of natural gas.  BP (yes, that BP) describes fracking this way. [1]

Even though I don’t know anything about the science of fracking, I have seen it up close and personal.  First come the trucks.  They are all shapes and sizes.  They are almost universally big, loud, and heavy.  They damage the roads and churn dust over farmland and trees.  This truck is used to drill the wells, but other trucks deliver pipe and all the other equipment involved in the drilling process.

Water is piped in from the nearest substantial lake or river.  In a drought like this, the tremendous rate at which this water is consumed impacts the availability and cleanliness of water available for humans, livestock and crops. Environmental concerns include water contamination, oil and gas spills, disposal of waste water and other waste products. J. Daniel Arthur [2] estimates the average well consumes 3 to 5 million gallons of water over its lifetime.  It may be too soon to truly assess the potential environmental impact on our air, the water and the land.

Huge storage tanks are placed on the land, surrounded by chain-link fences. They are an eyesore at best.  Perhaps because silos are so common in agricultural areas, this seems to be the least problematic aspect of these fields.

The sounds associated with the drilling process are muted by the baffles that surround the operations.  These baffles are eventually removed. In the meantime, they create a visual barrier to the activities going on inside.

The machinery used in the fracking process is totally beyond my beginning science background.  This equipment reminded me of a grownup science project.  Presumably  it is removed when the well is depleted.  

Hidden from view after they are installed, these large pipes carry natural gas to market.  Buried in the earth, they will be out of sight, but they won’t be out of mind.  Nothing can be built over the land where they are buried.

Whatever the economic benefit to the landowners, the impact of fracturing shale for the purposes of extracting natural gas and other petroleum products, makes us long for the days when energy came from simpler devices.

[1] explxplow.com; bp.com

[2] An overview of modern shale gas development in the United States, 2008.

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As always, the opinions expressed in this blog do not represent the opinions of our friends, our families or our employers.

Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City”

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on political organizing, environmental policy, and sustainable living.

During the second half of law school, I decided to venture outside of our building and take a few classes in the Public Administration program. I met some wonderful people, great professors, and was able to explore new ideas and approaches to looking at public issues. In one of my classes with Adjunct Professor Jim Scott, I read a book called Triumph of the City, where I explored the structure of a city and what it provides for society. At the same time, I was doing some research about micro-lending with one of my manager’s at MARC, so the idea of investing in human capital really jumped out at me.

Here is an excerpt from my 2011 paper on community development ideas (which overall focused on what tools could be used in Kansas City). This section of the paper revolves around Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, and what ideas I derived from reading the book. Enjoy!

I. The Structure of a City and its Indication for Society – A Look at Triumph of the City

In his book Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser argues that the city is the optimal structure for human interaction because it promotes human relations, innovation, and the necessary investment in human capital to make society thrive. He argues that cities are healthier and more environmentally friendly than living in suburban or rural communities. Even for cities that have suffered economic hardship, Glaeser holds strong to the idea that the people of a struggling city have a better chance of success than those living outside of cities, because cities foster creative thinking, communication, and investment in human capital. Ultimately, human capital is an essential factor for maintaining a successful community.

Glaeser’s primary argument in this book is that the most important investment you can make for a city is in education and innovation, which ties in with his idea that investment in human capital allows the people within the community to be more productive, make more money, and even be happier than those living elsewhere.[1] Using New York as an example of the archetypal city, he shows how the cluster of human capital helped the city remain successful through several different turnovers of the primary industry. From transportation and shipping in the 1800s, to the garment industry in the 1900s, and then the breakthrough of financial entrepreneurs in the 1970s, New York has remained a successful city through constant innovative thinking and implementation of new ideas. We also see the same example of metropolitan success through the education and ideas in Bangalore, the technology of Silicon Valley, the thinkers of Athens, and the collection of scholars in Baghdad.[2]

Cities foster face-to-face interaction, which helps create an efficient means of relaying ideas and other communications by allowing people to explain things to each other in person, rather than over countless e-interactions that inevitably result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. With multiplicity of cultures mixed together within the bounds of a city, this face-to-face communication is also important to respecting each other’s customs and traditions.

One city that did not succeed the way most cities do is Detroit, but Glaeser urges that Detroit’s decline resulted from a single-industry focus and the lack of investment in human capital.[3] With a struggling auto industry, the city was doomed to decline because its leaders failed to attract new minds and innovative ideas the way New York had done in the 1970s. As a city filled with less-skilled workers focused within a single industry, Detroit had no one to pick up the slack of the declining auto industry which consumed the city. There was a detrimental lack of re-education in the community, which meant the city ultimately lacked the resources to entice new industries.

There are several reliable predictors of urban growth that Glaeser emphasizes, including education and the presence of a poor population. Education is important because the productivity of a city is dependent on the level of edUcation of the population living within the city.[4] Glaeser also points to a city’s poor population as an indicator of the city’s success. Great cities attract poor people, and therefore have a more prevalent poor population than those cities which lack public services and amenities that poor people want and need, and are unable to obtain in rural slums.[5]

One distraction I find in his text is Glaeser’s insistence that the level of education and presence of a poor population are two important indicators of a city’s success, yet he also seems to think they provide the greatest obstacles. He describes the U.S. education system as providing too little learning to too many children. He also describes the overwhelming cost of maintaining public services for cities when the poor populations are largely unable to contribute to such cost. For both of the reasons described above, the wealthier populations move out into the suburbs, where private or charter schools employ better teachers, and money put toward public infrastructure benefits those supporting the cost. It seems to me, the very indicators that Glaeser lists as the most reliable predictors of a city’s success are also the very conditions that then push the money outside of the city, which only furthers a city’s decline.[6]

A city is not necessarily the best structure for everyone at every time. While high-density living is a good structure for encouraging new ideas and innovation, there is also something to be said for the importance of fostering stronger, almost family-like relationships within a smaller community. Strong urban neighborhoods can sometimes create their own familial relationships, but that assumes the members of those communities reach out to each other in person. Some of the same problems people face with the ability of modern technology – mostly, the ability to go through an entire day without actually having to deal with anyone face to face – are the same struggles that people face in the big city. People can be anonymous, they can avoid confrontation, and they can be ignored simply because of the sheer mass of people surrounding them. In a large city, a person can become just a number, whereas in smaller communities, everyone has a name.

Overall, Glaeser’s focus on investment in human capital and strengthening urban cities is very important for halting urban decline, however, there are other factors to consider when determining what the best structure is for society. The city certainly promotes productivity, provides a centralized location for innovation and communication, and has many environmental benefits. Additionally, there are a number of reasons why a city may not be ideal, including a decreased sense of safety, rising costs to support declining public infrastructure, and the potential lack of the sense of community.[7]

However, regardless of the structure, the need for education and entrepreneurship is essential for the continued growth and productivity of any local community. Whether in a city or a rural village, investment in human capital will help society as a whole become better education, more productive, and help individuals receiving the benefit of those investments feel more responsible and accountable to their local community.

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[1] Glaeser, Edward, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, The Penguin Press, New York, 2011,  6-7

[2] Glaeser, 18-22

[3] 53

[4] 253

[5] 70-71

[6] 258; He acknowledges that cities cannot and should not have to bear the burden or cost of urban poverty alone. Urban poverty and rising costs of maintaining urban public infrastructure certainly contributes to urban flight, but those remaining in the urban core should not then have to pick up the slack just because others decided they did not want to pay for or deal with urban challenges anymore. To me, this is why we need economic development tools to encourage activity and investment in the urban parts of the city. As Glaeser later mentions on p. 268 of his book, those who want to live in the suburbs should be able to do so, but not without understanding the true costs of expanding into the suburbs, and helping to pay for those costs.

[7] While I do believe an urban city is an important structure to maintain in our society, my biggest concern with the way cities work today is that they are also the biggest contributors to the suburban movement. I think suburbs as a structure are generally very taxing on society as a whole. They are great places for families to have a safe place for their children, but cause excessive strain by families living in huge houses, driving huge cars, and generally undervaluing the limited resources available. For cities to truly shine, I think suburbs need to be better controlled, and that is a problem I do not know how to solve.

Water, Water Everywhere, in San Francisco Bay….But a precious resource, indeed

It’s a beautiful part of the world. San Francisco Bay has become our new home this last year, and we’ve loved exploring the area. Last week we took the Larkspur Ferry into the city, and seeing the water and beautiful views reminded me of why I care so much about the health of the environment and protection of our natural resources.

Many of our dinner conversations lately have circled around one of the most precious natural resources: water. With all the water that surrounds us here…the bay, the ocean, the rivers…it is easy to forget how important it is to conserve water. In California, our water bill is by far our highest priced utility. It costs so much because there are so many people in California who draw from a rather limited water supply. It makes me wonder, do people really pay attention to their water usage? When taking a shower, does someone turn on the water and wait 5 minutes for it to get to just the right temperature? What about landscaping. When designing the layout for the front yard, does someone in California choose local plants and landscaping that doesn’t require an excessive amount of water, or lush grass that requires water every other day? These have all been on my mind lately.

I imagine this will be an ongoing discussion for me, so I encourage you to include your thoughts. I am also interested to know how people feel about water usage in different parts of the U.S., or even the world.

I encourage you to take note of the amount of water you use in a day, and see where in your routine you might be able to save a gallon or ten. If everyone made an effort to conserve water, and only use what they needed, surely we could better protect such a precious resource.

Water, Water every where, Nor any drop to drink

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner[1] , the narrator describes the lack of drinkable water while sailing on an ocean of salt water. 

The lack of available safe, drinkable water can result from many causes: drought, when there simply is no available water; polluted water resulting from toxic waste and agricultural pesticides; water polluted as a result of inadequate treatment of sewage from human and animal waste and water that is too salty to drink.    

 

Here in the Midwest, water surrounds us.  We have lakes, rivers and streams. We swim in it, bathe in it, freely water our lawns and gardens with it, and simply admire it.  But we are lucky.

Even in parts of the U.S., water is precious.  But while water it California and other western states can be expensive, it is still available.  In agricultural areas, particularly in areas of Texas, ponds may have plentiful water in the spring but dry by late summer.  

In times of drought, the lack of water can ruin a crop or cause ranchers to sell off portions of their herds.  Even then, safe water is almost universally available in the United States for human consumption.   

 World-wide, there is a different story.  Roughly 10% to 11% of the world’s population, between 783 million to 1 billion people, does not have access to safe water[2].  In the developing world, 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers[3].  1.4 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation.  This amounts to around 4,000 deaths a day[4].  The death rate from lack of safe water is greater than the death rate from war.  The lack of water, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa also results in crop failures, frequent famines and also a significant factor in the loss of life of humans and animals.

 In The World is Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Freidman quotes Michael J. Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard that: “’We have a responsibility to preserve the earth’s resources and natural wonders in and of themselves’ because they constitute the very web of life on which all living creatures on this planet depend.” 

 Clean water is not a partisan issue.  It is not an issue that appeals only to those who are “left leaning” or “right leaning”.  It is a human issue.  We can clean water, dig wells to make it accessible, install pipes and faucets to move it around and make it easy to control the flow and movement of water.  Most of all, we can care about the people for whom the availability of water is a life–and death–challenge.

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Our opinions, are our opinions alone, and do not represent the opinions of our employers, our friends, our relatives, our husbands, or even each other.   


[1] Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published in 1798

[2] WHO/UNICEF, WaterAid, Water.Org.

[3] UN

[4] WHO

Green Begins With You

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

There are so many different ways to be “green” nowadays. Being green can mean anything from reducing the miles you drive in your car every day to growing your own food. For many people, recycling is the first big step into reducing waste and helping the environment.

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The idea is that reducing waste is the most important step. Reusing items also helps reduce waste but still allows for consumption. And then comes recycling. If you are unable to avoid consuming products that will cause waste, it is important to consume products that are recyclable (or at least the packaging is recyclable). While recycling still has a higher carbon footprint that reducing or reusing, it at least prevents waste from entering our already overflowing landfills and allows us to reuse those materials in another form.


Recycling is easy. In most places, it’s ridiculously easy. Many refuse companies like Deffenbaugh, Unicycler, etc. offer curbside pick-up of both trash and recycling. In Petaluma (and other parts of California), our waste management service also provides a green waste bin for compost and yard waste. Between recycling and compost, we rarely have more than a single bag of trash in the week. Often times, we don’t even put out the trash bin every week because there’s hardly anything to put out.

Green bins can be found all over the place. In parks, airports, office buildings. Where do you see green bins? We’d love to know!