Rising to the challenge? The role of sustainability schemes in dairy production

PhD project by Keely McGarr O'Brien. This research evaluates current and potential levels of sustainability in the dairy industry in the Netherlands, Ireland and abroad. This project will contribute to understanding of the impact of dairy production on environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

Dairy farmers are increasingly being asked or required to comply with sustainability schemes for their saleable milk. Certification or compliance schemes consisting of assessments of on-farm sustainability have increased greatly over the past decade, alongside an increase in demand for sustainably produced food. Despite these changes, sustainability outcomes of such dairy schemes have not yet been researched. This PhD project will address that knowledge gap.
The project proposes to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of dairy sustainability schemes.

A framework called the devils’ triangle, which assesses the tension and trade-offs between credibility (e.g. scientific rigor and perceived relevance), accessibility (e.g. ease of access to schemes for participants), and continuous improvement (e.g. incorporating scientific advances and constantly improving sustainability) of schemes will be applied across all research questions, providing coherence and tying the diverse research threads together. The first step of this project will be
creating a global database characterizing current dairy sustainability schemes (in terms of e.g. geographic scope, organization, compliance methods and sustainability aims). Next, a selected set of schemes will be analysed to assess their credibility, accessibility, and continuous improvement characteristics. A farm-based investigation will then evaluate on-farm financial, environmental and
social effects of participation, incorporating farmers’ views of schemes. Finally, with interdisciplinary stakeholder input, the project will create novel recommendations for improving upon dairy sustainability schemes.