Kettle Foods' plant in Beloit, Wis., is green from the ground up. The company used sustainable building practices to construct the plant, which provides operational efficiency, energy and water conservation and a smaller carbon footprint than conventional plants. And Kettle is restoring the facility's grounds to native prairie condition.
The Wisconsin plant is a vivid illustration of Kettle's commitment to sustainability and to the environment. "It's in the DNA of the company," says Jim Green, ambassador for Salem, Ore.-based Kettle Foods Inc.. "It's really part of who we are."
The 73,000-sq.-ft. facility began producing all-natural potato chips in April 2007. To build it, Kettle chose recycled and locally sourced materials. High-efficiency equipment reduces electricity and natural gas requirements, and the building's features include high-performance insulation and large windows.
That same year the Beloit plant earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED certification is based on metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, resource stewardship, and indoor environmental quality. The LEED rating levels include Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
The facility was certified "as LEED Gold for New Construction," says Green. "We were the first food manufacturing plant in the U.S. — probably in the world — to achieve the gold level of LEED certification."
Kettle's green building and operating approach has proven to be economically sustainable as well as environmentally friendly. "There's a cost to building to the [LEED] standards, but there's also a payback to it. At the end of the day you have a building that's actually cheaper to run," Green explains.
He says USGBC's calculations indicate the Beloit plant's gas and electric energy efficiencies and water recycling provide operational savings of $200,000 per year vs. a conventionally built plant. In addition, the facility's green design makes it a pleasant and healthy place to work, thanks to attractive architecture, excellent air quality and plenty of natural light.
The facility's energy features include 18 wind turbines that generate enough power to produce 4,400 bags of Kettle Brand Potato Chips per year. At its headquarters facility in Salem, Ore., Kettle uses solar power to help satisfy its electrical needs; 600 solar panels on the roof at headquarters generate more than 120,000 watt hours of electricity annually.
Kettle buys wind energy credits to offset the remainder of the two plants' electricity use. The energy strategy is preventing 16 million lbs. of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere per year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership program has recognized Kettle Foods as a "100 Percent Green Power Purchaser."
The company has further reduced its carbon footprint by eliminating product shipments from Oregon to the Midwest and eastern U.S. Shipping from Wisconsin (less than 100 miles from Chicago) to these locations has eliminated more than 3 million lbs. per year of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Water conservation is an additional focus at the Beloit facility, which uses more than 3 million gallons of water per year to prepare potatoes prior to cooking. "We have a system to recapture the water we wash potatoes with," Green says. The used wash water is filtered and reused for applications such as lavatory plumbing.
Taking recycling a step further, the company recycles 100 percent of its cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Kettle collects the sunflower and safflower oil left after cooking and sends it to a biodiesel production company for processing.
The company's statistics indicate that one gallon of waste vegetable oil is produced for each 7,600 bags of potato chips it manufactures. The biodiesel company can transform each gallon of waste oil into a gallon of fuel. Kettle closes the loop by using the fuel to power its fleet of three "bio-Beetle" company cars, one of which resides in Beloit.
Recognizing the importance of the land on which the Beloit facility stands, Kettle is working with Tallgrass Restoration LLC, Milton, Wis., to restore the prairie ecosystem on the five-acre site. Kettle replanted the land with native plants in spring 2008, fostering the return of prairie flowers, grasses, animals and birds.
This past spring, the company conducted the first prescribed burn on the property to eradicate weeds and encourage new growth. From a water conservation standpoint, the restoration project packs a bonus — the restored land requires no irrigation.
In a similar project in Oregon, Kettle continues to restore the native wetlands surrounding its Salem facility. Having successfully restored its own property there, the company is now working to restore an adjacent 35,000 sq. ft. with the aid of a supporting grant from the local Marion Soil and Water Conservation District. The project includes replacing non-native plants with indigenous species such as Oregon ash and sword ferns.
The National Wildlife Federation last year recognized Kettle's sustainability and environmental restoration efforts with the National Conservation Achievement Award for Corporate Leadership.
At the product level, Kettle's commitment to the environment has led to a significant reduction of packaging materials. By removing the paper layer from its potato chip bags, the company reduced its use of packaging materials by 20 percent. According to the company, this change annually saves more than 22,000 trees and keeps more than 450,000 lbs. of packaging out of landfills.
From its focus on all-natural ingredients to the investment in prairie and wetlands restoration, Kettle holds nature dear. This approach has produced environmental benefits plus rewards in the marketplace, with "great feedback from our customer base," Green says. "It really resonates."