Food and Beverage Companies Go Green

Consumers are making choices based on sustainability efforts; here’s what the top food and beverage companies are doing. Includes bonus online content.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Sara Lee: Shortening truck routes to save energy
“As a global company, we have a responsibility to conduct business in a manner that supports the well-being of people and our planet,” says Brenda B. Barnes, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee (www.saralee.com), Downers Grove, Ill. “Our consumers increasingly expect us to think beyond today’s needs and take into account future generations. For many years, Sara Lee has undertaken efforts to sustain and improve the world in which we live. Our many corporate social responsibility initiatives and our commitment to double our purchase of sustainable coffee are excellent examples of the work we are doing now in the area of sustainability. Now, we are proud to bring these best practices in sustainability together in a unified approach and framework that will guide and communicate our efforts as one global company.” 

Sara Lee’s plans are: to design, maintain and operate facilities to optimize the use of all resources (water energy, raw materials, etc.); optimize the utilization of non-renewable resources; seek opportunities to increase usage of renewable energy and resources; and design, package and distribute its products in a manner that lessens their impact on the eco-system. Audra Karalius, vice president in charge of environmental issues, told Crain’s Chicago Business that Sara Lee is reconfiguring its distribution centers so it can shorten its truck routes and save more than 240,000 gallons of fuel in the coming year, and is installing solar panels in its New Mexico bakery.

Red Bull: Keep on truckin’
Red Bull (www.redbull.com) has taken the bull by the horns by purchasing a fleet of diesel hybrid delivery trucks from Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar (www.navistar.com). The trucks achieve 30-40 percent better fuel efficiency and emit up to 33 percent less hydrocarbon emissions and 35 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions versus standard diesel trucks. Each truck is estimated to save nearly $4,000 in fuel costs per year. A key to the International DuraStar Hybrid's efficiency is the Hybrid Drive Unit, which helps power the diesel engine and leads to less diesel fuel use and fewer emissions. Through the regenerative braking system, the battery in the Hybrid Drive Unit is recharged when the truck's brakes are applied. This energy-saving system makes delivery applications and in-city driving the ideal conditions for these hybrid vehicles.

"We're proud that Red Bull recognizes the importance of green transportation for the environment," says Jim Williams, director, sales and distribution, new products, Navistar. "We need more companies like this to take a stance and add hybrid vehicles to their fleets."

Danone: Economic development in poorer countries
Since 1995, environmental management has followed the “Charter for the environment,” at Paris-based Danone Group (www.danone.com). Production and packaging objectives set for 2000-2010 were achieved by 2008, and it has a Carbon & Water footprint tool in place to measure its environmental footprint. Reducing CO2 and water consumption throughout its supply chain are among Danone’s priorities. Danone collects and recycles packaging in 23 countries. Targeting the reduction of weight in its packaging by 10 percent, and the weight of 1.5 liter bottles has been reduced by 35 percent. And working with the French food safety agency (Afssa) should in time, allow bottles to be produced with 25 percent of recycled PET. Carbon emissions have been reduced by 26 percent by more efficiently transporting product throughout Europe. In 2000, Danone set up a program to audit plants, based on operating permits, water supplies, waste, atmospheric emissions, storage of materials, refrigeration installations, energy, noise, managing the environment, land and waste. The audit is conducted by a third party organization. In 2007 and for the third consecutive year, Danone is one of the “Hundred most sustainable companies worldwide,” according to Innvest. And the company has established the Danone communities fund, to support businesses whose social impact is in line with Danone’s, thereby contributing to the economic development of poorer countries while maximizing environmental responsibility.

Cargill: Meat scraps into energy
Responsible for the environmental footprint and safe operation of more than 1,200 facilities, Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill (www.cargill.com) has pledged to improve its greenhouse gas intensity 8 percent, improve water efficiency 2 percent, and energy efficiency by 20 percent, and to source 10 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2010. Cargill Meat solutions uses meat scrap waste to make methane and replace high-cost natural gas, reports CNBC. Process water waste is treated in large lagoons covered with giant tents to capture the biogas, a powerful greenhouse gas emitted. The methane gas is then fed to the plant’s boiler room to generate steam and hot water. The system has displaced 20-25 percent of all natural gas demand and reduced Cargill’s greenhouse gas emissions by 325,000 tons annually.

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