Clover Sonoma remade the milk carton to help reduce greenhouse gases
Trying to combat climate change, Clover Sonoma is casting a wide net throughout its operations to curb greenhouse gases. That includes the dumpster.
The Petaluma-based dairy processor has for years worked to improve its environmental stewardship. The effort took on even greater importance since 2016 when it became a B Corporation. Such companies are graded on their earth friendly measures, treatment of workers, overall relationship with the local community and business governance.
For Clover, the range of actions include working with the 30 dairies that send their milk to the processor to generate products from organic milk to cream cheese to butter. In addition, a new carbon farming test project is set to begin later this year.
The collaboration with the dairy farmers makes sense because the family-owned company found that about two-thirds of its overall greenhouse gas emissions are tied to farming practices, said Kristal Corson, chief revenue officer of the regional dairy powerhouse with about 260 employees and $235 million in annual revenue the past year.
“In addition to sort of helping farms figure out ways they can be more sustainable and doing those different efforts, we've also been trying to attack it on the packaging,” Corson said.
Clover Sonoma’s cartons, containers and wrappings are the second-largest source of its greenhouse gases at about 12%. That even outpaces transportation of milk with delivery trucks, which contribute an estimated 7% of emissions.
The spotlight on packaging led Clover to a notable achievement last summer, when it unveiled the first milk carton in the United States made from renewable sources. While it may not go back to the old days of the milkman picking up the used glass bottles in exchange for new ones, Clover intends to make a big environmental contribution by incorporating the new product design into all of its milk cartons by 2025.
“It’s all going to be about packaging now,” said Marcus Benedetti, chairman and CEO of Clover Sonoma, founded almost 44 years ago by his grandfather and other partners. “People talk a lot of about energy and carbon emissions, but it’s also what goes into the landfill and what can and cannot be recycled.”
The new carton uses sugar cane in its bioethanol base for the lining inside and outside of the paperboard, rather than using petroleum-based products. Clover’s organic half-gallon milk cartons were the first product to switch to the new carton. The sustainable carton has a 16% smaller carbon footprint than traditional ones because sugar cane captures carbon dioxide in the air as it grows on a farm.
The new carton costs more than traditional ones, but Clover Sonoma isn’t passing costs along to consumers. The goal is for other dairy companies to adopt better packaging standards so that more buying power will lower the cost of the items in the future, Corson said. The company took a similar stance years ago when it wanted its farmers not to use the artificial growth hormone for their animals. That move later paid dividends in consumer loyalty after other processors did the same.
“Our hope is that more companies will do this,” she said, of the carton switch. “We definitely try to be a leader within the dairy and food world.”
The sustainability efforts come as Clover continues to navigate a rapidly changing market in which consumers are looking for nongenetically modified and organic products. It also is grappling with a trend of more consumers looking for nondairy vegan items made by companies like Miyoko’s Creamery in Petaluma.
In response to such changes, Bennedetti said Clover eventually will launch “truly innovative products that don’t exist in groceries yet,” but he declined to elaborate in a recent interview.
The company continues working on a target date to be carbon neutral, the CEO said. There is increasing pressure on companies since California has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045, and more businesses are taking such a pledge. The Biden administration intends to have the Securities and Exchange Commission issue a rule that will force publicly traded companies to disclose climate risks in their own operations.
Clover Sonoma’s sustainability movement also includes a project with the Perucchi dairy in Bodega. The Perucchi family will later this year have compost placed over 25 acres of its pasture instead of using the manure it typically would spread. The effort is intended to jump-start the soil biology and reduce greenhouse gases. With the switch, it is expected that 810 tons of atmospheric carbon will be converted into healthy soil carbon for the future.