This article was originally published in Sustianable Brands on June 23, 2014 and was written by Mike Hower. View the original article here.

Increasing efficiency is among the several sustainability moves that will be critical for increasing the world’s food production by an estimated 70 percent to feed a projected global population of 9.6 billion people by 2050, according to the 2013 US Dairy Sustainability Report.

The report, published by The Innovation Center for US Dairy®, outlines progress to measure, communicate and improve the social, environmental and economic performance of the dairy industry. This progress has helped strengthen dairy’s role in a sustainable food system, the organization says.

Since the Innovation Center’s inception in 2007, dairy industry has completed a series of comprehensive life cycle assessments to understand the environmental impacts of dairy products from farm to table. The industry also has piloted a set of science-based Smart Tools to help the industry measure, manage and improve on those impacts. Dairy farmers also have developed the Stewardship and Sustainability Guide for US Dairy to provide a voluntary framework for tracking and communicating the industry’s continuous improvement.

Some highlights from the Report:

  • Focusing on food waste — 40 percent of all food produced in the US is never eaten. Meanwhile, 49 million Americans are food-insecure. A 21st-century sustainable food system must not only increase production with limited resources, but also address food waste and inefficiencies. The US dairy industry is focused on developing partnerships that enable a cycle of feeding people first, then feeding animals and finally returning the nutrients to the land that grows our food.
  • Delivering a range of healthy choices — Through individual and collaborative efforts with the Innovation Center, National Dairy Council® and Dairy Management Inc., dairy food companies, retailers and brands invest significant resources in nutrition research and product innovations that meet the needs of consumers. Through new product development and reformulation of existing products, dairy foods and beverages can meet a range of tastes and nutrition and health needs, as well as address other factors such as price and convenience.
  • Ensuring healthy diet for cows — To keep cows healthy and productive, dairy farmers work with animal nutritionists to combine ingredients that meet the nutritional requirements of their cows. 35 percent of a cow’s feed is grown on the dairy farm, and the rest is usually sourced from local farmers and businesses. In addition, after producing food and beverages (such as orange juice) and material (such as cotton) for people, many companies pass along to dairy farmers the leftover, unused plant parts for use as nutritious feed for cows.

In 2012, the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences launched an online version of the Vital Capital Index (VCI™) for dairy agriculture to help dairy farmers measure their sustainability and manage their farms through continuous improvement. The VCI™ is made up of 40 field-tested, practical sustainability indicators of impacts on vital natural, social, human, built and financial capitals developed in consultation with dairy farmers.