Developing the Sustainable Dairy Partnership: a game changer for dairy sustainability

4th June 2021

***This interview is an extract from the SAI Platform Annual Report 2020. Go to the SAI Platform Annual Report 2020.***

Autumn Fox has been at Mars for the past ten years. As part of the sustainable sourcing team, she partners with procurement to bring Mars’s Sustainable in a Generation Plan to life in the company’s supply chains. She became Chair of the Steering Committee for the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP) in 2019.

What challenges did you face this year and how did you overcome them?

In the first part of the year, one of our big challenges was addressing the question of how to make sure SDP reports are credible and how we can put a robust but efficient verification process in place. The technical workstream, together with members of the Dairy Working Group (DWG), spent many hours creating a verification protocol that provides guidance to dairy processors.

We also had to develop a membership approach to welcome new users of the SDP while making sure we deliver great value to SAI Platform members. Negotiating this and ensuring alignment with SAI Platform’s overall strategy and approach involved considerable effort.

Finally, we needed to put in place ways companies can effectively operationalise the SDP. We developed the learning centre that is now on the SAI Platform site for members and SDP users and introduced the next generation of training we provide to members.

Did COVID-19 present particular challenges?

It did, of course. We had to move away from the existing Dairy Working Group culture where we met in person three times a year – an approach that had really driven consensus around the SDP. But, because we’d invested so much time in previous years to building relationships and camaraderie between members, we knew we had a solid group. The time we spent in person developing the SDP, learning about local dairy operations, and building relationships paid off. The members really see the vision of what we are trying to achieve, and they want to contribute. 

We developed a new approach to our Dairy Working Group meetings and utilised new tools to support interactions. We managed to keep up the pace and meet all our targets for 2020. So, we can be really proud of what we achieved working from home.

When members join SAI Platform and they have an interest in either the SDP or the DWG, how do you make sure they benefit?

Apart from the appeal of SAI Platform itself, the one thing that’s been extremely successful in engaging new members is the testimony of existing members. They are the architects of what we’re doing with the SDP. In general, what’s appealing to new members is the fact that Dairy is now seen as an industry group leveraging value that’s also a source of knowledge, information and access to the market. Also, companies are increasingly seeing the value of aligning with companies in the same position as they are rather than going it alone. They understand that collaboration enables resilience.

The SDP was driven by collaboration to make sustainable supply chains more commercially efficient. What about other issues related to sustainability such as climate change?

The SDP is all about bringing commercial efficiency into driving sustainability more widely throughout the dairy industry around the globe, leveraging the 11 criteria of the Dairy Sustainability Framework . Also, our view of sustainability is that we’re all on a journey to address the serious challenges and risks we see in our future, and that includes climate change, animal welfare, human rights, nutrient runoff, and many other topics

How have you worked with the co-chairs of the Dairy Working Group this year?

This year, Hansel New took on the role of processor co-chair and Axelle Bodoy was the buyer co-chair. We made sure we stayed well-connected and able to coordinate everything that had to be done for the SDP and the wider DWG. For the SDP itself, we have a steering committee that meets every six to eight weeks which is made up of equal parts buyers and processors. So, you have all the chairs working closely together, with the steering committee providing the broader perspective.

What was the biggest highlight for you this year?

We fully rolled out the SDP, something we’ve been working on since before my time in the DWG! One of the ways we did this was through regional webinars and I really enjoyed seeing the excitement beginning to build in our suppliers as they were able to consider the SDP in a far more concrete way.

And what’s the one message you really want to get across?

That the SDP is live, this is happening. It’s ready for SAI Platform members in the dairy category to take out of the box and run with. You can scale it up in your networks and invite anyone you have a relationship with to join. This is a big invitation to get involved.