Ever wonder whether your morning latte habit could help fight climate change? While cows have typically gotten a bad rap for being a key source of climate-warming greenhouse gases (GHG), Portland-based Neutral is on a mission to reinvent the reputation of dairy.
This celebrity-backed, carbon-neutral food company is partnering with family-owned farms across the nation to radically reduce the carbon intensity of producing a glass of milk.
Starting with the idea that “it’s not the cow, it’s the how,” Neutral is obsessively measuring the entire supply chain of U.S. dairy to ensure that every one of its products is 100% carbon neutral.
The company works directly with dairy farmers to reduce GHG emissions from animal agriculture at the source. Where emission reduction strategies fall short, Neutral purchases carbon credits from accredited dairy providers to offset the remaining balance. According to its website, the company only invests in carbon offsets from dairy projects that are verified by third-party auditors such as Climate Action Reserve (CAR), American Carbon Registry, and VERRA.
Neutral’s carbon reduction opportunities are centered on three main areas: modifying what livestock is fed, managing nutrients and manure more effectively, and improving land use and farming practices.
The first strategy involves altering the composition of livestock forage to incorporate methane-busting ingredients like tannin, a naturally occurring bitter chemical compound found in unripened fruits and wine, into cow feed. A diet rich in tannin has been shown to reduce the amount of GHGs ruminants produce during digestion, according to leading experts. Neutral is currently partnering with three family-owned dairies in the Pacific Northwest to devise an optimal ration formulation containing these low-carbon polyphenols.
Livestock waste management also predicts which GHGs will be emitted into the atmosphere. More effective manure management centered on aerobic composting strategies and manure solid-liquid separation has been shown to slash GHG emissions on dairy farms. Neutral is working with dairy providers in Oregon to construct a liquid and solid manure separation system that can reduce methane output from cow dung. Although additional carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are released when manure is processed aerobically, fewer potent GHGs like methane–which has over 25 times the global warming potential of CO2–are emitted.
Finally, Neutral focuses on crop management to reduce carbon emissions on dairy farms. In collaboration with farmers in central Washington, Neutral is planting cover crops and other vegetation to maximize the amount of carbon-storing biomass on-site. Neutral also invests in dairy operations that practice regenerative farming and limit environmentally damaging soil management techniques such as excessive tillage.
According to Chief Executive Officer of Neutral Marcus Lovell Smith, all the initiatives Neutral invests in are farmer-led.
“We have an expanding number of projects mostly with small to medium sized organic, pasture-based family farms. We did seven projects last year, we’re looking to do 50 projects this year, and then 200 projects next year,” Lovell Smith told FoodNavigator-USA in April. The CEO said farmers are incentivized to engage in the projects because “they’re the ultimate stewards of the land and they’re thinking multi-generationally, but they need help, advice, and obviously some investment.”
The brand’s signature carbon-neutral organic milk is available in dozens of retailers nationwide, including in nearly 500 Whole Foods Market stores. By year’s end, Neutral products are projected to be on shelves in some 2,400 stores.
“Neutral is a game-changer in three critical ways; Neutral helps dairy farmers make more money, Neutral fights climate change, and Neutral gives customers the opportunity to continue consuming the same great traditional dairy products that they’ve been doing for hundreds of years,” said Jake Poliskin, Head of Investments at Darco Capital, in a press statement.
The company is using capital from its latest funding round that ended in April to continue its national expansion into grocers across the country. Celebrities including John Legend, LeBron James, and Emily Ratajkowski hosted the series, which received an undisclosed amount of funds.
Neutral also raised $4 million in capital last October in a separate investment round led by Mark Cuban and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates-led clean energy investment fund.
Overall, the company claims to have offset more than 3,200 metric tons of CO2 equivalent from entering the atmosphere, according to its website.
Neutral’s impressive retailer lineup and solid consumer sales reflect a broader long-term shift in household consumption patterns. More than ever, consumers expect individual companies to take greater accountability for behavior within their sector. Rather than engaging in unsustainable practices and then purchasing carbon neutrality to obtain superficial marketing appeal, consumers are demanding companies sort out their own supply lines and fix problems at the source. In this sense, Neutral’s success testifies to the vitality and impact of the free market.
Nathalie Voit is a freelance content creator and a graduate of the University of Florida. She is an alumni of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.