Horizon Organic has committed to becoming carbon-positive across its entire supply chain by 2025. The company, which is part of Danone North America, said in an announcement it would be the first national dairy brand to achieve this status.
Carbon-positive is a step further than carbon neutrality, Horizon explained. It means the company plans to remove, reduce or offset additional emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America, said in a release that time is up to do something about climate change, and food and farming must evolve. "This includes helping our farmer partners implement breakthrough regenerative soil practices, cow feed and diet management programs, and energy efficiency. These steps and more will play a significant role in helping Horizon Organic become carbon positive," he said.
If Horizon is able to achieve its goal of becoming carbon-positive over the next five years, it could help to position the company as a greener and more environmentally friendly dairy producer. The company already gained Certified B Corp status in 2018 along with its parent, Danone North America, so this latest move appears to be another one on the path toward greater sustainability.
Horizon is starting off with Growing Years whole milk half gallons — its first certified carbon-neutral product — which it said will debut by the end of next year. Product certifications in partnership with family farms will continue through 2025, and the brand said it has started working on the certification process with The Carbon Trust.
In addition, Horizon will assist its more than 600 farmers with low- and no-cost loans from an initial $15 million fund to provide capital, training, technology and tools to enhance sustainability practices. Other company efforts will involve working on soil health initiatives and renewable energy sources.
Horizon said it has almost finished a full life-cycle assessment with an independent third-party review scheduled to be completed this year. This assessment is meant to benchmark specific goals as the company moves toward carbon-positive status.
Many CPG firms make sustainability pledges, but it can be difficult to quantify how they're actually doing without some sort of analysis or assessment along the way — preferably featuring a review process involving outside entities.
Some other food companies are moving in this direction and have completed life cycle assessments. Beyond Meat commissioned a life cycle analysis of its Beyond Burger in 2018, which showed manufacturing their product generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a quarter-pound of U.S. beef. Impossible Foods released a life-cycle assessment last year showing its latest Impossible Burger recipe has a 89% smaller carbon footprint than a real beef burger.
Others are putting their sustainability bona fides on their labels. Beginning this year, Quorn is starting to put carbon footprint data on some of its most popular meatless products sold online, while those sold at retail are scheduled to carry the new labels in June.
Horizon's move toward becoming carbon positive is more significant than any of those companies, however. Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Quorn all promote themselves as more sustainable than the animal-sourced items they can replace. Horizon's products, however, actually come from cows. If the company can achieve its goal, it goes to show that traditional animal agriculture — which the United Nations found represents 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions — doesn't have to be so destructive to the environment.
Horizon is following in the footsteps of Canada's Maple Leaf Foods, which makes meat products and is the parent company of plant-based producer Greenleaf Foods. Maple Leaf said last fall it had become the first major food company to achieve carbon neutrality.
If conventional dairy and meat producers can hit this target — and go beyond it, as Horizon plans to do — it could change up the sustainability picture and put more pressure on food and beverage companies that have not yet stepped up to the plate. Consumers increasingly consider the sustainability of products they purchase, so there are solid reasons for any lagging producers to do it sooner rather than later.