“Ten years ago, when we didn't even know what sustainability meant, being efficient was just a matter of doing what’s appropriate and what made financial sense in terms of energy savings," says Larry Pfeil. Today, the 36-year veteran of Hormel Foods (www.hormelfoods.com), Austin, Minn., and vice president of engineering heads a team building one of the most efficient, eco-friendly plants in the food industry.
The plant, which broke ground July 25 in Dubuque, Iowa, is designed to gain certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program (www.usgbc.org), which establishes guidelines for sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings.
Targeted for completion in November 2009, the $89-million, 342,000-sq.-ft. facility will add needed capacity for the company’s Compleats shelf-stable, microwavable meals as well as for future expansion. Operated by Hormel through a wholly owned subsidiary, it may become the first USDA-inspected food production plant to gain a LEED silver, gold or platinum designation based upon the total credits or points it earns for its “green” practices in six areas:
- Materials and resources (13 points)
- Indoor environmental quality (15 points)
- Energy and atmosphere (17 points)
- Sustainable sites (14 points)
- Water efficiency (5 points)
- Innovation and design process (5 points)
Silver, gold and platinum point levels are set at 33, 39 and 52 respectively upon project completion. To maintain certification, the plant also must maintain and document follow-up practices.
Officials from Hormel, Gleeson Constructors and city of Dubuque, Iowa, broke ground July 25 on the $89-million, 342,000-sq.-ft. plant, which should open in November 2009.
To date, few food and beverage facilities have gained LEED certification, and fewer still — only two are on-record — are processing facilities: a PepsiCo Gatorade bottling plant in Virginia and Kettle Foods’ potato chip factory in Wisconsin, which Hormel engineers visited for early fact-finding (see sidebar,“Early LEED adopters”). Distribution centers and warehouses are easier to get LEED-certified.
Lacking a directly applicable plant whose example they could follow, Hormel’s top management gave engineering the green light and a blank sheet of paper to blaze a trail consistent with its corporate sustainability goals.
To get their plans on paper, Pfeil and Chad Sayles, supervising staff engineer, turned to longtime partner, design-build firm Gleeson Constructors LLC (www.gleesonllc.com), Sioux City, Iowa, and worked alongside Ron Rens, Gleeson executive vice president, and Tyler Manker, project manager. This is the first LEED project for both Hormel and Gleeson; both Hormel’s Sayles and Gleeson’s Manker studied and obtained LEED Accredited Professional status.
Manufacturing design challenges
If LEED were a roadmap, it would include major highways and points of interest but not the local streets. The program has a few different rating systems for specific applications such as residential building, commercial and schools, but there are no specific guidelines for manufacturing and none for food.
“Figuring out how to apply LEED to our project was one of the biggest challenges,” Sayles says. For example, in areas dealing with energy optimization, point levels are benchmarked against standards set by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning, which doesn’t always apply to food processing.
“For most of the energy and most of the water consumed in our facility, there is no baseline published in a standard,” says Sayles. “You can’t look under ‘R’ for retort to find a design standard that will let us say, ‘Our retort is 15 percent more efficient,’ so we can get the LEED points for that improvement.” It’s unlikely there will ever be such standards for retorts, fillers and other specialized machinery and process equipment, especially since many are customized models.
“It would be nice if LEED had a modified rating system for manufacturing plants the way it does for office buildings or schools,” Rens adds. “But we look at it this way: The cost of energy isn’t likely to come down. And whatever you can do to reduce your energy use is just good business, whether or not you get a LEED point for it.”
Overcoming the challenges of early adoption entails both risks and rewards. There are, however some mechanisms in the LEED program that mitigate that risk. A “credit interpretation request” process may allow Hormel to work with program administrators to devise an appropriate rating where no benchmark exists. Additionally, the Innovation & Design Process area of LEED leaves open opportunities to earn Innovation in Design points when a project demonstrates a “substantial, environmental-friendly design practice that goes above and beyond the standard criteria,” Manker says.