Getting “Schooled” on Sustainability


Dan Collins, Entrepreneur in Residence

Sustainability…a big word we hear quite often these days with many holding little embrace of its real essence. I myself, having spent almost 40 years in Food & Ag, have struggled to land on meaningful platforms constructed on all three pillars of sustainability; people, planet and profits.

From one company to the next, the social and economic pillars can have very different meanings, and as such can be the easiest to achieve when caught up in our own corporate echo chambers. But we all know which planet we’re talking about, and we all understand our responsibility in leaving it better than we found it. Easy for me to say now, being a boomer who was oblivious to that responsibility growing up in the ‘60s.

Then a few years ago, as our supply team toured fields across North America, a farmer handed us an oat variety high in protein that grew without a hull, commonly referred to as a naked oat. My mind began to race! No hull meant 30% less waste, 30% less fuel and 30% less processing. Could this have a meaningful impact? Well, I’d been around long enough to know it meant nothing unless someone stepped up to scale the production.

Things moved quickly. Production went from 600 acres in 2017 to the 6,000 acres we have planted in Montana today. Over those 3 years, we remained diligent in building a business model, which enhanced the foundational pillars of social and economic sustainability. But what about the environmental impact? Wasn’t that the reason we started all of this? Our dilemma was how to measure it.

One of the MIT students with SowNaked oats in a field in Montana.

MIT student Zhenya Karelina with SowNaked oats in a field in Montana. Photo credit: Lara Ortiz-Luis

Last September, we had the good fortune of being introduced to the MIT Sustainable Business Lab (S-Lab).  S-Lab students apply knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world projects and experience firsthand how leading organizations are tackling the challenges of sustainability. Over the course of 6-8 weeks, teams of masters-level MIT students apply the concepts, theories and tools learned in the classroom to real organizations and projects.

Bay State Milling was granted the opportunity to be a host Company to the S-Lab, with a team of four students taking on the project of measuring the environmental impact of our SowNaked™ Oat supply chain.  Among other things the team constructed a comparison model to measure CO2 emissions produced in the supply chains of traditional hulled oats and SowNaked Oats. The following schematic will give you a sense of those compelling results.

CO2e Emissions= SowNaked vs. Hulled Oats

The following graphic shows a comparison of the the CO2e Emissions from Bay State Milling’s SowNaked and traditional Hulled Oats.

This analysis was based on a mere 5,000 acres of SowNaked™ Oats replacing traditional hulled oats. The result was a CO2 emission reduction of 217,000 lbs. To translate this sustainability impact; 217,000 lbs. would be comparable to the CO2 emissions from charging 12.2 million smartphones. Couldn’t we all do with that for a few days?

Finding that special intersection of “good for people and good for the planet” is not easy. There are tradeoffs. Without a little R&R, resiliency and resolve, the big changes are rarely achieved.

I would like to give a shoutout to the Bay State Milling S-Lab Team; Zhenya Karelina, Lara Ortiz-Luis, Joshua Reed-Diawuoh, and Dillon Wiesner. On a personal level, I found my experience working with the MIT students invigorating and reaffirming of a life’s work.

Eat more SowNaked™ Oats!

Totes of SowNaked Oats at Montana Gluten Free.

Totes of SowNaked Oats at Montana Gluten Free. Photo credit: Lara Ortiz-Luis