When former U.S. Vice President Al Gore released his video “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, he made more headlines than while in office. He may have achieved more, too. He certainly accomplished what he intended: to get people “mad as hell” about global warming.
The convenient truth is that concern for the environment has been a trend for some time – at least going back to Earth Shoe-wearing hippies of the 1960s. Sustainability was first defined in the 1987 as “development that meets the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” – that according to “Our Common Future, the Report of the World Commission on Sustainable Development,” by the Brundtland Commission.
In 1988, early environmentalists Julia Hailes and John Elkington wrote the revolutionary Green Consumer Guide on reducing impact on the environment. It was an overnight sensation, sold a million copies worldwide and encouraged early greenies to join together in the cause.
Now the cause is being joined by big business, with food companies at the forefront.
Some 85 percent of consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers have sustainability programs in place, according to a study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu for the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. While most focus on recycling and energy conservation, sustainability strategies are addressing lower emissions, energy efficiency, water conservation, fuel efficiency, package recycling, waste management, economic assistance in developing nations and efficient transportation of goods.
One in five U.S. consumers is sustainability-driven in brand and store selection, according to a survey of 22,000 consumers in 2007 by Information Resources Inc. Sustainability factors they consider are: product is organic (39 percent); packaging is better for the environment (29 percent); product itself is better for the environment (23 percent); and manufacturer treats employees and suppliers fairly (21 percent).
Kettle Foods has made environmental responsibility a centerpiece of its marketing efforts. Its Salem, Ore., headquarters has one of the largest solar arrays (left) in the Northwest, generating 120,000 kWh of electricity – and all other electricity needs are met with renewable energy credits. Its year-old Beloit, Wis., plant has 18 small wind turbines on its roof to generate electricity.
Increasingly we hear the descriptors: sustainable, green, socially responsible, fair trade, locally grown, eco-friendly, environmentally conscious, carbon footprint, environmental impact, clean technologies, transparency, organic. Many are different but they’re generally on the same page for increasingly environmentally conscious consumers and companies wishing to be accountable for their actions on mankind and the planet.
Following is what some of the leading food and beverage companies are doing.
Kellogg: the three R’s
In 2006 Kellogg Co., (www.kelloggs.com) Battle Creek, Mich., joined EPA Climate Leaders, a voluntary government-industry partnership designed to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kellogg’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions is from the use of energy in its manufacturing facilities and transportation fleet, so it implemented a global energy management program to promote conservation, manage energy use and investigate energy savings opportunities, including alternative fuels.
Kellogg’s efficiency projects have:
- Reduced energy use from lighting by 25 percent.
- Modified the steam system at its Battle Creek plant to save enough natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,300 tons.
- Focused attention on its fleet of vehicles: They automatically shut down after five minutes of idle time, and 585 truck trips have been eliminated by a case-size change for several cereal products.
Waste management is another focus. The company practices the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. A program implemented at two of its cereal plants has diverted 1,000 tons of waste per year from landfills to recycling. More than 80 percent of the waste generated in its manufacturing facilities is recycled, and more than 25 million lbs. of paper packaging has been eliminated through a project with its supply chain to reduce waste associated with bulk material shipping.
Packaging innovation allows Kellogg to continually reduce the weight and volume of its packaging. The company strives to optimize the use of materials that are recyclable and contain significant recycled content. In fact, Kellogg has used recycled board for most of its products since 1906, and is one of the largest users of recycled paperboard. And more than 3 million lbs. of plastic packaging was eliminated through liner reductions in 2006.