In March 2021, the Cool Farm Alliance took its membership to over 100 members and partners for the first time in its history. This was an exciting milestone for the Alliance and a great opportunity to look back on how it was formed just over a decade ago from a shared ambition of three parties to work together toward sustainable agriculture.
In the autumn of 2008, the multinational consumer goods company Unilever was looking for practical advice on how it could help farmers in its global supply chains reduce their impact on the climate. Christof Walter, who managed the project then, turned to Prof. Pete Smith at the University of Aberdeen for help. Pete was the coordinating lead author of the agricultural chapter of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. For his research, he had reviewed all the latest science on practices that release or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and aggregated it to a global picture of opportunities for climate change mitigation. Unilever wanted it the other way round: Would it be possible to create assessments for an individual field and specific to every farmers’ situation? Pete thought it was and appointed his post-doc Jonathan Hillier to work on the assignment. Unilever shared with Jonathan their work on farming and climate change so far, including a simple greenhouse gas calculator they had built in Excel. This sparked the idea of using Jonathan’s and Pete’s research to update the calculator, rather than writing a report that would vanish in a drawer. The Cool Farm Tool was born.
To make the calculator marketable, there was still a lot to learn: How do you model greenhouse gas emissions from tea in Kenya, palm oil in Indonesia, tomatoes in Brazil, milk in Vermont and spinach in Italy? Unilever needed a tool that worked across the globe in all supply chains. Rather than trying alone, Unilever partnered with the Sustainable Food Lab, whose Daniella Malin drew in another 17 interested organisations to test, further develop and expand the Cool Farm Tool. This was in 2010.
Two years later and having modelled 22 supply chains – from organic and conventional eggs in the US, to organic tea in India and potatoes in the UK – the Cool Farm Tool had gathered a small but dedicated following of organisations and individuals who saw its potential to help food companies and farmers world-wide reduce their carbon footprint. Christof called Simon Miller, environmental business consultant, yet-to-be co-founder of 3Keel. Together, Daniella, Simon, Jonathan and Christof worked out the options to move this initiative forward and concluded that an independent membership organisation was needed to own, support and develop the Cool Farm Tool to achieve its mission to “enable millions of growers globally to make more informed on-farm decisions that reduce their environmental impact.” In 2014, the Cool Farm Alliance was registered as a ‘Community Interest Company’. Its first seven members were Fertilizers Europe, Heineken, Marks and Spencer, PepsiCo, Tesco, Unilever and Yara.
Now, seven years later, the Alliance celebrates its 100+ members and partners and is stronger and more ambitious than ever before. In April 2021, the tool had been translated to 13 languages and been used by 17,500 users in 140 countries for more than 59,000 assessments. Over the years, the combination of burgeoning interest and additional resources have catapulted the Cool Farm Tool and Cool Farm Alliance from concept to reality, delivering tangible impact.
Within a decade, the Cool Farm Tool has become a vehicle for delivering science at scale to farmers, industry, academia and NGOs. On the way, its scope has been expanded to a multi-metric design allowing for greenhouse gas, water, biodiversity and food loss & waste assessments and for a common language that builds literacy throughout global supply chains for maximum impact.
If you want to join us on our journey toward a net-zero emissions world, click here to learn more on the Cool Farm Alliance.