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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Case study: How we dealt with the milk question – Janitor team



Kirjoittanut: Terēze Teibe - tiimistä Crevio.

Esseen tyyppi: Yksilöessee / 2 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 9 minuuttia.

You would think that following the example of the previous janitor teams would save you some worries – haha. Not in our case. After two weeks of the service, we noticed that coffee and milk consumption was getting way out of hand. Moreover, we were unable to both monitor consumer preferences and forecast the number of orders and their timing, as it felt that we were always running late. On top of that, even though our contract included only plant-based milk, people kept asking for a cow milk option as well. When we made the contract, we made a choice to stick with the same brand of milk used by the previous team as we thought that the community was already used to the taste, and too much change (already with the changing of premises and the responsibles of the Janitor team in action) would have more negative effect than positive.

Another reason for this was Proakatemia’s stand in being sustainable in the choices we make, such as supporting local businesses, purchasing our coffee from “Pirkanmaan paahtimo”, and considering sustainability in the milk we consume.

Sustainability definitions

Sustainability means thinking ahead about how our choices can impact the environment around us. The most familiar quote to define sustainability comes from United Nations Brundtland Commission, 1987 – “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations Brundtland Commission, 1987 as cited in UN, n.d.). According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.” (EPA, n.d. last updated 2022.) “Sustainable agriculture is farming in such a way to protect the environment, aid and expand natural resources and to make the best use of non-renewable resources. (USDA, n.d.)”

Another way to think about sustainability is to consider the balance of the three e’s: economy, environment and equity (there is no source of clear origin, but these pillars are commonly used when considering sustainability practices). In short, all three e’s are linked and should be perceived together, as focusing only on one will not give sustainable results if the other e’s are left overlooked. (UCLA, n.d.)

Why is cow milk not so sustainable?

Firstly, cows are considered one of the least climate-friendly sources of food due to their significant contribution (around 40%) to global methane emissions. Methane is the second largest contributor to climate change. (PBS, 2022; UNEP, 2022.) Secondly, cow’s milk production requires using natural resources such as freshwater and soil, which is why it is important to be conscious of how the increasing demand for cow’s milk can have an impact on environmental sustainability, as well as on the conditions of maintaining cows. Improper handling of dairy cows can have a significant impact on the life expectancy of cows, as well as contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and soil degradation. Additionally, the land used for agriculture (currently 2/3 of the agricultural land is used for maintaining livestock, which also includes beef and dairy cows) could be used for other purposes, such as growing crops. (WWF, n.d..)

Sustainability in our case

As it turns out, in our case, choosing plant-based milk over cow milk left other sustainability-related matters neglected. We noticed that coffee was being consumed in large quantities, but at the same time, multiple unfinished coffee mugs were laying around on the tables. Many would not finish their cup and pour the remaining coffee into the sink, and when asked, they said that they wanted a taste of coffee, but the coffee they were getting in the premises, was not as tasty as to finish it. That being said, we would need to buy more coffee and milk, but some of it would always go to waste.

It is important to consider the bigger picture when it comes to sustainability. Sometimes, focusing on improving one area of sustainability hurts other parts of sustainability (remember the three e’s). That is why it is crucial to take smaller steps towards sustainability and consider the impact in a bigger picture, bearing in mind that many questions related to sustainability practices take more time and work to make a positive change. (Hellström & Parkkonen  2022.) To paint the picture, the situation observed in September showed that the use of plant-based milk did not necessarily lead to improved environmental sustainability. We were not mindful of the use of our products and, therefore, that resulted in more food waste. As a consequence, our economic sustainability started to suffer, and the Janitor team was uncertain about its ability to perform well, as we were also moving closer to the minimum income to cover the monthly expenses of the project.

Besides, food waste is indeed a much bigger problem. The 12th goal of the United Nation’s SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is about responsible consumption and production (we were too focused on sustainable production that we forgot that we also need to think about the first one – how we consume). It is important to remember that both – consumption and production go hand in hand. Likewise, according to SDG 12 Hub “reducing food loss and waste is critical to reduce production costs and increase the efficiency of the food system, improve food security and nutrition, and contribute towards environmental sustainability” (SDG 12 Hub, n.d.). Finland, in fact, by 2030, aims to reduce food waste by 50% (European Commission, n.d.).

Our approach

We decided that we needed to act on this matter. If our offer wasn’t meeting our consumer needs, we knew that important changes needed to be made as they would benefit us in the long run. However, this decision still was not up to us. We started by contacting the community sustainability team leader and the community council lead. When both of them were on board on this issue, and had given us their insights, we attended the community council meeting. Together we agreed that we could collect data via Google Forms format to understand what is the real demand for milk, and whether we should include cow’s milk in our offer. The next part of this essay will focus on the Google Forms results.

Google Forms results

All together in the questionnaire participated 111 respondents, of which 92 completed it in Finnish and 19 in English. The Janitor team and the team company responsible for the Janitor team project did not participate. Note that, while it can be viewed as “92 from the Finnish teams and 19 from the international”, as it could be close to the truth, such distinguishing will not be used in this essay as there could be people from Finnish teams that filled out the forms in English and vice versa. Still, both sides of the questionnaire will be compared as they highlight different consumer demands.

When asked about milk consumption habits at home, plant-based milk was the majority for both sides. On the second question, “What milk options do you think should be provided in Proakatemia?” results from the English side were as follows – 52.6% only plant-based milk, 47.4% plant-based milk and cow milk. For Finnish – 54.3% plant-based milk and cow milk, 41.3% only plant-based milk, and 4% only cow’s milk. Whilst combining the data together, most were in favour of having both milk options, it is visible that the English side was in favour of having only plant-based milk as the only option. The percentage is small (to be exact, one person more), but this difference progresses in answers to the following two questions.

On the question “If you answered plant-based milk, what kind?” both sides were in favour of oat milk. However, from the English questionnaire results, we got more interest in other options too, such as almond, hazelnut milk and recommendation to switch to the Finnish brand Valio “Oddlygood”, and from the Finnish – 97.6% in favour of oat milk, one recommendation for coconut milk, and one neutral (ei väliä – it does not matter).

When it came to the question “If you answered cow’s milk, what kind?”, from the Finnish side we received 53 answers, from those 45.3% for lactose-free and 32.1% whole milk. Then there were multiple suggestions, those included, fat-free milk, different products from “Valio”, Arla café, neutral (kaikki käy – everything goes), and recommendation to buy cow’s milk from Finland. From the English side, however, there were only 8 answers submitted, and the results are as follows – 37.5% whole milk, 25% lactose-free, 12.5% does not matter, and a suggestion to buy milk only from free-range kept cows.

Lastly, valuable insights also came from the comment section. As we discovered, in comparison, the English side was largely opposed to the idea of having cow’s milk in our kitchen, while the Finnish side felt that there should be at least an option to consume it. Several people recommended switching from Swedish Oatly to the Finnish brand Elovena for oat milk. Again, for the cow’s milk, if we decided to include it in our offer, we should purchase it from the local farms, and consider if they follow ethical and sustainable practices in the way they run their farms.

Our decision:

We decided to change our offer, and in coffee-related matters, purchase both coffee and milk products from Finland. From now on, we will offer oat milk from “Elovena” and include a cow milk option – “Valio Eila” fat-free, lactose-free milk. For quantity, we measured the ratio from our questionnaire on the first question: “What milk options do you drink at home”, and divided the amount of milk bought in the previous month in 2:1 (oat milk: cow milk) accordingly.

Valio

Finnish cows are also known to be the healthiest in the European Union, and Valio is the largest dairy processing company in Finland. It also produces some of the cleanest milk in the world. To continue, the company implements sustainability practices, such as reducing carbon emissions, growing carbon sinks, creating circular economy solutions, protecting biodiversity, and improving animal welfare. Thus, their sustainability bonus program rewards dairy farmers who maintain high standards of animal welfare, such as providing regular healthcare check-ups and having a free-range model for the cows to live in natural conditions. Our choice, “Valio Eila” was created so that people with lactose intolerance could consume milk products as well, and it is enriched with vitamin D to help absorb calcium and normal functioning of the immune system. With this choice, we wanted to provide cow milk accessible to everyone. (Valio, 2019; Valio, n.d..)

Elovena

Elovena is an oat brand under Raisio Group (specialisation in healthy and responsibly produced food and ingredients), and all of its oats come from Finland. According to the Sustainability Brand Index, Elovena has been selected by consumers as the most sustainable brand in Finland (Teivainen, 2022). Elovena Oat drink for coffee is made in Finland, using carbon-neutral energy in the production that comes from their own bioenergy plant. Their website shows detailed information about the carbon footprint for 1l of the product production made by independent expert organisations, and they continue to strive to reduce their carbon footprint by monitoring the most significant carbon dioxide emission sources identified by the Finnish Natural Resources Institute. (Elovena, n.d.)

To conclude, it is important to be mindful of the choices we make and how they are going to affect the sustainability of ecology, equity and economy in the long run. Our team has learned that some methods that appear to be sustainable do not necessarily lead to sustainable outcomes. In addition, ultimately, it is important to keep in mind that the janitor team is a service, and we need to be constantly aligned with our consumer demands. We hope this decision and spreading awareness of the process of this decision-making will lead to more knowledge about sustainability and its factors and encourage taking more responsible actions within the entrepreneur community.

 

References:

Elovena. n.d. Elovena Kaurajuoma kahviin hiilijalanjälki. [Article on website]. Released on n.d. Read on 10.10.2023. https://www.elovena.com/fi/elovena-kaurajuoma-kahviin-hiilijalanjalki

EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. Learn About Sustainability. [Website]. Released on n.d. Updated on 14.11.2022. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/learn-about-sustainability#what

European Commission. n.d. EU Food Loss and Waste Prevention Hub. Member State Page : Finland. [Website]. Released on n.d. Read on 30.09.2023. https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu-food-loss-waste-prevention-hub/eu-member-state-page/show/FI

Hellström, E. & Parkkonen, P. Sitra. 2022. What does the future of responsibility look like? [Article on website]. Released on 9.12.2022. Read on 24.09.2023. https://www.sitra.fi/en/articles/what-does-the-future-of-responsibility-look-like/

PBS. 2022. Cow burps are a major contributor to climate change — can scientists change that? [News]. Released on 6.03.2022. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/cow-burps-are-a-major-contributor-to-climate-change-can-scientists-change-that

SDG 12 Hub. n.d. Target 12.3 Food Loss & Waste. [Website]. Released on n.d. Read on 30.09.2023. https://sdg12hub.org/sdg-12-hub/see-progress-on-sdg-12-by-target/123-food-loss-waste

Teivainen, A. Good News from Finland. 2022. Consumers choose Elovena as Finland’s most sustainable brand. [News]. Released on 5.04.2022. Read on 10.10.2023. https://www.goodnewsfinland.com/en/articles/breaking-news/2022/consumers-choose-elovena-as-finland-s-most-sustainable-brand/

UCLA Sustainability. n.d. What is Sustainability? [Article on website]. Released on n.d. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/what-is-sustainability/

UN, Academic Impact. n.d. Sustainability. [Website]. Released on n.d. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability

UNEP. 2022. What’s the deal with methane? [News, Stories & Speeches]. Released on 18.10.2022. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/video/whats-deal-methane

United Nations Brundtland Commission. 1987. [Report]. Released on 1987. 16, 41. Read on 2.10.2023 http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

USDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Library. n.d. Sustainable Agriculture. [Website]. Released on n.d. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.nal.usda.gov/farms-and-agricultural-production-systems/sustainable-agriculture

Valio. 2019. Valio to introduce milk from free-range cows in Finland. [Article on website]. Released on 9.06.2019. Read on 8.10.2023. https://www.valio.com/news/valio-to-introduce-milk-from-free-range-cows-in-finland/

Valio. n.d. Sustainable dairy farming. [Article on website]. Released on n.d. Read on 10.10.2023.https://www.valio.com/sustainability/sustainable-dairy-farming/

WWF. n.d. Sustainable Agriculture. Dairy. [Article on website]. Released on n.d. Read on 2.10.2023. https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/dairy

 

Additional author’s work reference (questionnaire results):

Google Forms. Milk (maito) questionnaire. 2023. [completed by Proakatemia community]. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1f0ZZcomOS6P3o1MefD_PCG9Y8_LGFhtqlSGpBJK0EeE/viewanalytics

 

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