Transforming the dairy industry together

29th March 2021

Representing 30% of global dairy volume, SAI Platform’s Dairy Working Group brings together a diverse group of stakeholders, including dairy manufacturers and dairy processors as well as Dairy National Programmes. Collectively, the Dairy Working Group wields a significant amount of influence and with that the responsibility to achieve a sector-wide impact and make dairy more sustainable.

SAI Platform caught up with newly elected co-chairs of the Dairy Working Group, Hansel New, Director of Sustainability Programs at Dairy Farmers of America and Klaas Jan van Calker, Global Sustainable Sourcing Manager at Unilever, to speak about the challenges and opportunities inherent to creating the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP), SAI Platform’s new approach for dairy sustainability.

What motivated you to run for co-chair of the Dairy Working Group?

Hansel New: I’ve already been involved with the development of the Sustainable Dairy Partnership through the Technical Workstream and was compelled to find other ways of serving the broader working group beyond the SDP. It’s humbling to work alongside so many knowledgeable and talented professionals who are all dedicated to advancing dairy sustainability.

Klass Jan van Calker: We have such a large group of committed members in the Dairy Working Group that all are very ambitious on making the dairy sector more sustainable. Together we can show that the dairy industry is part of the solution in fighting climate change, improving biodiversity, animal welfare and livelihoods. Guiding this ambitious group in initiatives like the SDP, climate and deforestation projects is an enormous honour.

As a company representative and as an architect of the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP), how would you describe its value?

HN: The SDP leverages processor management structures and systems that dairy companies generally already have in place, relying less on external audits. This avoids redundancy and duplication of effort while providing a robust assurance model for dairy buyers. It provides buyers and processors with a common language and an agreed structure to advance sustainability on dairy farms.

KJvC: SDP defines an approach for sustainability that is focusing on impact instead of focusing on a generic standard. It acknowledges the differences between farming systems and regions and challenges processors to make impact on the material issues they have identified with their stakeholders. In addition, the approach aligns sustainable sourcing strategies so processors can really focus on creating that impact with their farms instead of focusing on assessments, checklists and audits of buyers.

The Dairy Working Group represents a broad proportion of the global dairy volume (30%), how do you see the role of the SDP as a game changer to advance dairy sustainability?  

HN: The SDP is based upon an inside-out, management system approach to continuous improvement. This isn’t just an external compliance-based approach to achieve results. It aims to drive positive impact in global supply chains with an industry-aligned metric, using the 11 Dairy Sustainability Framework Criteria as a baseline.

KJvC: The SDP brings together companies that want to collaborate on sustainability. Buyers of dairy ingredients have ambitious targets and sustainable sourcing plans, and processors want to show how they can tackle the biggest sustainability issues in dairy farming.

With the ambitions you set for the Dairy Working Group, what could be the potential challenges you might face and how are you preparing to tackle them?

HN: One challenge is to continue driving the adoption of the SDP. We’ve all worked hard to create an industry-aligned assurance model and we want to see continued adoption of the SDP across the global dairy industry to drive collective impact. When we all work together, dairy wins, so the Dairy Working Grouphas developed a suite of tools, training modules, and resources to help companies become familiar with the SDP and drive adoption. Another ongoing challenge is maintaining close communication amongst members of the Dairy Working Group  – we have adapted as best we can to remote meetings and work, but I personally look forward to the day when face-to-face sessions can resume.

KJvC: The challenges around tackling climate change, biodiversity, animal welfare and livelihoods are enormous. The only way we can tackle these issues is by working together with different actors of the supply chain, governments and NGOs. By sharing knowledge, starting collective action and aligning approaches we can create the impact that is needed.