For the past two days I've been attending the International Dairy Federation's World Dairy Summit, in Auckland, as a delegate.
This week, some of the world's most powerful players in the dairy industry have been in New Zealand to renew acquaintances, exchange business cards, seek opportunities and enjoy the spoils that this wonderful country has to offer. Oh, and to talk climate change and sustainability. And this, in essence, is why I'm here - as a Greenpeace climate campaigner, to make a contribution to the discussions, but also to test the integrity of the rhetoric.
The opening ceremonies were predictably full of fanfare and tub-thumping about the dairy sector's responsibilities, and its commitment to the future- all the kind of words you'd expect to hear from an industry that is coming under increasing scrutiny because of its impact on the environment. But was all the talk driven by a genuine concern for the future of the world as a whole, or by something else?
It was while I was listening to Andrew Ferrier, Fonterra's CEO, repeatedly choking out the word 'sustainability' that it dawned on me that his version of 'sustainability' is very different to mine, and probably to most others. His idea of sustainability means long term growth and profitability for his industry - not for the long term health and protection of our global environment. And so the theme was set. It was all about 'cost effective solutions,' 'maintaining cost structure,' 'sustainable intensification,' 'profitability,' and did I mention costs? I sat bemused in one session when a delegate asked where biodiversity was in this vision for the future, to which the NZ Federated Farmers Lachlan McKenzie replied that he had several species of clover in his paddock, so they'd got this one covered as well.
Frustratingly, any alternative views or criticisms of the industry's environmental and welfare record were met with scorn or dismissed as ideological or emotive. How wrong they are.
But there was also reason for optimism.
Dairy farming isn't all about Fonterra and it was clear that they're not able to deliver the changes that are urgently required. Besides the industry behemoths who are currently discussing carving up the globe to see where they can expand their dairy empires, there are overseas farmers who are genuinely and truly committed to getting it right. And these are the guys who will drive the change. In fact they already are.
I was encouraged to see the personal commitments that some overseas farmers had made to truly invest in actual sustainability - the one where you operate your business to the benefit of, not the detriment of, future generations. By minimising their energy consumption, using renewable energy, converting their waste to biogas, reducing water usage and nitrate and nitrous oxide emissions, they were taking huge strides towards reducing their greenhouse footprints.
It seems that whilst other countries and farmers are rising to meet the challenges ahead, Fonterra's leadership seems determined to just become better at 'green washing' their corporate image. This isn't going to change the world. And it will only bring shame on New Zealand.
This week we've seen Fonterra go on a PR offensive with full page ads in the NZ Herald and an online advertising blitz directing people to its "Sustainability Commitment" which unfortunately doesn't address the real issues and seems full of empty rhetoric and hollow promises.