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The Sustainability Department of Organic Valley

Sustainable Materials and Technology major Emma Rioux spent her summer interning at the Sustainability Department at Organic Valley, where her mission was to contribute to the strategic plan by creating a more robust waste minimization program. She also was able to collaborate with other departments to put on events such as a company picnic and river cleanup.

This summer I have been able to work in La Farge, Wisconsin and explore many other surrounding cities. Wisconsin was not flat and chilly as I imagined. It is in the Southwestern region of the state that is commonly referred to as the Bluffs due to its geographical layout. Bluffs are a sweet spot between hills and mountains and offer beautiful hiking to explore and views to gaze upon.

In between miles of farms are charming towns commonly made up of populations barely in the thousands. It is not rare to be stuck behind an Amish buggy or tractor on the way to work as farming is a way of life here and everyone is in on it. Organic Valley helped make this town grow when it began its roots here in the mid 1980’s. Organic Valley is a co-op owned by farmers that started with a mission of organic farming and sustainability and have not strayed a bit from their mission. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with the Sustainability Department of Organic Valley this summer and have been able to witness the passion, persistence, and complexity of what a sustainability department has the capability to do.

The sustainability department is composed of seven people with the following responsibilities: Farm and Land Sustainability, Resource Development, Research and Grants Manager, Energy Services, Consulting, Farm and Biodiesel Coordination, and Internal Sustainability. My project this summer was to focus on wrangling all of the waste streams of Organic Valley’s facilities. Organic Valley has 2 office headquarters, a Creamery, Cutting and Labeling Facility (for cheese and butter), Distribution Center, 2 retail stores and nationally remote co-owned locations as well. After I located and documented all waste streams, I was able to zone in on areas where waste minimization, tracking or waste diversion improvements were possible.

One of the most important realizations I had working in this environment was how involved the Sustainability Department is with EVERY other department in the company. Throughout my investigation of waste streams in each facility I spoke with Facilities Managers, Retail Managers, IT supervisors, Kitchen Managers, the Food Production and Development Team, the Shipping and Receiving Team, the HR team and the Health and Safety Manager. Also, throughout my research on waste minimization I had the opportunity to reach out to multiple other professionals in the sustainability field to learn from their programs.

Organic Valley’s business is 80% dairy, 10% produce and 10% meat. A challenging part of documenting the waste streams were the more obscure facilities I had not dealt with before such as the Creamery and Cutting and Labeling Facility. The Creamery has a heavy abundance of liquid dairy waste. The dairy waste ends up getting separated (solids from the liquids) so that only the liquids go to the village treatment plant. The solids are then pumped off while the waste water is treated with chemicals to help the solids coagulate and regulate the pH. The cutting and labeling facility experiences a high amount of cheese waste due to line loss from contamination or they receive the cheese moldy from the previous manufacturer. This excess cheese waste is destined to be animal food which is eventually devoured by a group of lucky hogs owned by local farmers.


To read more about Emma’s experience interning with Organic Valley, visit her story “Adventures Outside the Office at Organic Valley.”