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How can sustainable land management succeed when there is also a growing global population to feed?

We can look to Stonyfield Organic as an example of a corporation that has taken sustainability seriously from its inception. The company’s newest initiative focuses even more on agriculture. Known most for its yogurt, Stonyfield recently announced a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a goal that has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

We’ll need more companies like Stonyfield if we hope to grow more food for more people and, at a minimum, on the same amount of land. Earlier this month, TriplePundit reported on the Special Report on Climate Change and Land released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Maggie Kohn summarized the report’s findings and noted progress some companies have already made toward elevating the way they grow, process and throw away food.

The IPCC report explains how our current land use contributes to climate change and how climate change affects our food systems. The report emphasizes that we must manage land sustainably and capitalize on its carbon sequestering processes if we hope to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris climate agreement. Stonyfield is a case study on how to move forward with such a plan.

How Stonyfield is pushing ahead on sustainable land management

“A commitment to sustainability was the entire reason we started Stonyfield … it is literally our DNA,” Gary Hirshberg, co-founder, chairman and “chief organic optimist” at Stonyfield Organic, told TriplePundit in an email.

Hirshberg continues:

“Whether in supporting thousands of family farmers in advancing organic and regenerative methods that avoid unnecessary toxic chemicals, sequestering more carbon, preserving habitats and promoting biodiversity or using cutting edge sustainability practices in our manufacturing, I’m proud that we’ve made a difference in the world. And we still have a long way to go. I deeply believe that the greatest hope for our planet lies in all businesses making similar commitments.”

As a mission-driven business, Stonyfield takes sustainability seriously. The company has teams across the business that do their part to cut carbon emissions at every point, include agriculture, energy, waste, packaging and logistics. Agriculture accounts for half of Stonyfield’s carbon emissions, Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield, explained to TriplePundit during a recent interview.

Setting an official science-based target has reinvigorated the company’s work on sustainability, Lundgren says. One project in the works will help Stonyfield cut carbon specifically from its agricultural activity. Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management, or OpenTEAM, will be the first open source platform to help farmers improve the health of their soil.

The project is a collaboration of Stonyfield, the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research), farmers and other food companies.

The platform aims to be a network to share knowledge and data between farmers, scientists and companies. It will be “farmer-driven,” Dave Herring, executive director of Wolfe’s Neck, told TriplePundit in an email. When the application launches, farmers will not only be able to add data to the platform, they will be able to develop their own tools within the system.

“In order for farmers to improve their practices, they first need to know how they are doing,” Herring says. “OpenTEAM, when fully operational, will give farmers real-time feedback about the outcomes of their farming practices – specific to environmental outcomes like soil, organic matter, air quality and water (retention, filtration, absorption and quality) and more.”

Part of the beauty of OpenTEAM is that it will allow farms to discover the most logical opportunity for them to improve their soil health instead of applying a general formula, Lundgren says.

Most importantly, this healthier soil will actually help sequester more carbon through increased living roots, microbial diversity and stable organic matter, a promotional video explains.

How will Stonyfield use OpenTEAM to meet its goals?

Lundgren and her team will be able to track the activities of Stonyfield’s farmers and eventually reward them for the carbon they sequester, similar to a carbon offset program.

“We think that every farm has the potential to increase soil carbon sequestration,” Lundgren says.

Stonyfield has also found that its efforts towards becoming more sustainable generally lead to cost savings. Lundgren points to lightweight packaging and reducing emissions from transport as two examples. It is unlikely that OpenTEAM will be an exception.

“When you work on improving soil health, you’re not only going to increase your carbon sequestration, but you’re also going to improve the quality of your forage and the yield of your forage. So you’re actually creating more nutrition for your cows at the same time that you’re creating climate benefits,” Lundgren explains. Healthier cows might just produce tastier milk for yogurt.

IPCC recommendations and business goals

To companies still unsure whether an investment in sustainability can be worthwhile, Lundgren says companies need to have foresight. “There is an insurance and risk-prevention strategy that is also a big part of doing this work on climate change,” she says.

“I think there are going to be challenges for everyone along the way to doing this,” Lundgren continues, “but I don’t think that those challenges are as great as the challenges that we are going to face if we don’t successfully do something to reduce the amount of carbon that we are putting into the atmosphere at a really rapid pace.”

Hirshberg says he can’t think of a sustainability investment that has not enhanced the company’s growth or profitability, and he’s confident about the company’s most recent endeavors. “OpenTeam and SBTi are just two of our most recent initiatives and I am certain they both will make huge financial sense.”

When asked what he would say to companies that are afraid to make the commitment to carbon reduction, Hirshberg added, “Today’s consumers are savvy and they’re increasingly looking for transparent, mission-driven companies using their platforms and resources to make concrete, positive impacts on the planet – Stonyfield’s success is living proof of that, and businesses who ignore these trends do so at their peril.”

Read more about Stonyfield’s story in Hirshberg’s book Stirring It Up, How to Make Money and Save the World.

Image credit: Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment

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How can sustainable land management succeed when there's also a growing global population to feed? We interviewed Stonyfield Organic co-founder Gary Hirshberg to learn more.
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