Petra Tielemans, projectleider Duurzame Zuivelketen


LEI develops a set of indicators for Sustainable Dairy Chain

The Dutch dairy industry wants to be the global leader in sustainability. To underscore this, all parties have joined forces in the Sustainable Dairy Chain.

Petra Tielemans, project manager Sustainable Dairy Chain
LEI is aware of the dilemmas that the industry faces, but still remains critical.
Petra Tielemans, project manager Sustainable Dairy Chain

The sustainability performance of dairy farms and dairy processing companies has been recorded since 2011. LEI has made an important contribution by developing a set of indicators that can be used to measure sustainability.

Sustainable Dairy Chain is a joint initiative of the Dutch Dairy Association (NZO) and the Dutch Organisation for Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO Nederland). Dairy processing companies and dairy farmers have joined hands to make their processing chain more sustainable. “A collaboration across the entire processing chain is actually quite unique,” says Petra Tielemans, project manger of Sustainable Dairy Chain.

To retain the position of the Dutch dairy sector, the Dutch Dairy Association and the Dutch Organisation for the Agriculture and Horticulture formulated ambitious sustainability goals on behalf of member dairy farmers and dairy processing companies. The goals can be divided into four domains: Climate and energy, Animal health and animal welfare, Grazing and Biodiversity and environment. However, even though goals can be very ambitious, they mean nothing if you cannot measure whether they have been attained. Tielemans: “To measure whether an goal has been met, you need the right set of indicators.”


The Sustainable Dairy Chain decided to consult LEI, a Wageningen University & Research research institute with expertise in the field of food, agriculture and the natural environment. Together with consultant Klaas Jan van Calker, LEI began its search for indicators with which the dairy industry can measure their sustainability performance.

Tielemans: “LEI gave advice on possible indicators per sustainable dairy chain goal. These indicators where subsequently discussed with the industry during different meetings with dairy processing companies, the Dutch Organisation for Agriculture and Horticulture and a focus group made up of dairy farmers. Much attention was given to creating a bedrock of support. This was important, because the dairy chain must be convinced that our measurement tools are both reliable and practical. It has resulted in a set of indicators which tie in with the sustainability goals and are backed by both Dutch Dairy Association and Dutch Organisation for Agriculture and Horticulture.

Company Information Network

Determining indicators was an important step. The next step was using the indicators to determine how sustainable the industry was. Tielemans: “At first we tried to determine this from existing sources, but we soon discovered that the available information did not match the goals we had formulated. There was hardly any information available on greenhouse emissions, for example, and the information that was available was often outdated.”

The solution was found in the form of the Company Information Network. “With this network, LEI collects a lot of research information about groups of companies and sectors, one of which is a sample of three hundred dairy farmers. The indicators for sustainability have been added to the project. We also add information from other national available sources.”


The first report of Sustainable Dairy Chain will be available at the end of 2012. The report will contain an overview of the industry's performance, based on established indicators. Tielemans is aware that the sector is putting itself in a vulnerable position. “But the industry really wants to make changes and to do that they have to be open about what they are doing.”

LEI also collaborates with the Sustainable Dairy Chain in the project Management of change. This project is primarily geared at entrepreneurs. What is their view on the sustainable goals? Which measures are they going to take? And how much influence do they have? Like the monitoring project, this project is also part of the innovation contract 2012. It will probably return in the 2013 contract.

Collaboration LEI

Tielemans is very positive about collaborating with LEI. “The people working for LEI obviously have a substantial amount of knowledge about the industry. But I think their empathy is equally important: they are aware of the dilemmas the industry faces, but they still remain critical.”