there’s more to sustainability


Lauren Stiles

Sustainability 101

August 5, 2021

Oat milk is just the best (in my opinion...). It pairs so well with coffee and tea, giving a creamy texture but not taking away from the desired flavor at all. Oatly is one of the most popular brands that makes oat milk. This company demonstrates a high level of consideration of their environmental impact and the climate crisis, though is a perfect example of not broadening focus enough to consider the intersectional issues that are involved in reducing impact.

To their credit, Oatly does demonstrate a relatively high degree of transparency. They provide an easily accessible and organized breakdown of their carbon footprint and each ingredient used in their products has a page dedicated to information about where it comes from.

Additionally, Oatly uses more locally sourced ingredients based on where the consumer is. For example, for US and Canadian consumers, oats and rapeseed oil are sourced from the US and Canada instead of from across the ocean. This consideration for distance traveled is very important in developing a more sustainable product and is good to see.

So far, this oat milk company has made significant progress minimizing their environmental damage. They have reduced the environmental impact of their ingredients by 17% in 2020 compared to 2019. For 2021, one of their important goals is to use more “climate efficient fertilizers” which would undoubtedly be an improvement.

Looking past Oatly’s transparency regarding location of ingredient sourcing and impact reduction, it is important to note that this company still has much to do in its pursuit of sustainability. For example, due to their expansion to Asian markets in 2020, Oatly’s transportation emissions increased by 79% compared to 2019. This kind of increase in impact is not sustainable and this international distribution problem needs to be addressed.

The pursuit of sustainability is a process that involves supporting ethical labor and inclusion of all races and genders as well as looking at carbon emissions. Therefore, Oatly also needs to increase their transparency about working conditions for the people from whom it sources ingredients, as this information is not already provided.

In addition, despite a somewhat even gender distribution among their employees, there is no information provided about how they combat racial inequalities in the workplace. This should certainly be addressed and published.

One last thing to consider is that Oatly has taken investment money from Blackstone, which also invested in Hidrovias, a company that supported deforestation in the Amazon for the purpose of infrastructure plans. I do not think that accepting this money is ethical and this company deserves criticism for doing so.

Overall, it is important for Oatly to recognize that there is more to sustainability than purely focusing on reducing carbon emissions. Of course, carbon footprint consideration is good and completely necessary, but it is best when combined with consideration for social factors as well, since they are just as important to address when combating the climate crisis! 

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