Food Processors Baking Profits into Energy Savings

P&L meets environmental sustainability in the baking business as Energy Star and associations put energy savings at the forefront.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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"It doesn't cost much to do that," says Tunnessen, "and an energy program will pay for itself. Companies just need to make energy savings a priority, put people in place, have the CEO empower those people and they’re going to save you money. And you’re not shooting in the dark; there’s someone there to show you how to do it."

The good news for those who can't undertake massive engineering projects is that improvements can be made incrementally. Savings can come one project at a time, from lighting upgrades to sealing compressed-air leaks to conserving water. And when equipment goes in, make it high-efficiency.

Even the smallest gestures can add up – such as Oak State’s suggestion boxes, which have volunteered tips on "everything from leaky faucets to getting rid of styrofoam cups." Probably 50 suggestions have been acted upon, Van Laar says.

Even as he promotes the many success stories regarding profitable energy-related projects, Energy Star's Tunnessen cites the importance of taking other companies' claims "with a grain of salt." Factors ranging from the age and efficiency of existing assets and varying utility rates can change a company's cost-saving calculations. "What is cost-effective in New Jersey may not be cost-effective in Montana," he notes. The only way to justify the cost of environmental upgrades is to crunch the numbers.

Through the experience of Oak State and other bakers, the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturer's Association (www.thebcma.org) in partnership with Energy Star produced a Cookie and Cracker Baking Energy Performance Indicator (EPI). Released in 2010, the spreadsheet-based tool lets U.S. bakeries evaluate their energy efficiency; set goals to improve efficiency; reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions; and earn Energy Star certification. It also enables bakeries to compare their energy performance to similar bakeries operating in the U.S.

The tool is based on industry data reported to the U.S. Census Bureau, developed in partnership with B&CMA and tested and validated by cookie and cracker bakeries, including Oak State Products. It can be found and downloaded from links at B&CMA's Web site as well as the Energy Star Focus on Energy Efficiency in Food Processing (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=in_focus.bus_food_proc_focus). The site includes tools for food & beverage industry plants, typically created when a leader in a product segment steps forward to help create one, as Oak State did for cookies and crackers – more will come when you get involved.

The latest news in baking efficiency is that this fall, the American Bakers Association (www.americanbakers.org) unveils its own Energy Star partnership program, which will broaden the existing Energy Star tools for bakers. Some of the impetus came from a presentation Oak State's Van Laar gave in March at the technical conference of the American Society of Baking (www.asbe.org), plus subsequent meetings between ABA's sustainability committee and Oak State as well as Energy Star.

Greater environmental efficiency "is going to affect bakers' bottom line," according to Rasma Zvaners, policy director and staff liaison for ABA’s Energy & Environment. She cites electric and gas use, water use and also waste and recycling as "things that are working in plants today, and having an impact on the bottom line."

Supporters of Energy Star point out that efforts span the life cycle of a plant, including new construction and expansions built in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification programs for new and/or existing buildings. LEED has traditionally been focused on sustainability in a broader sense, whereas Energy Star is focused more narrowly energy performance. The two programs are complementary, Tunnessen explains: "We’ve even talked about potentially using the Energy Star ratings for industry as part of the LEED certification standard."

Ultimately, all major initiatives require commitment form the top down. This isn't a problem for Oak State, whose CEO has the heart of an engineer. Van Laar, presenting to bakery groups, offers advice to those wondering how they can help along their own energy savings programs. Beyond participation in industry efforts like those he helps lead at B&CMA, Van Laar says his company's sustainability efforts have been succeeding on the strength of "dramatic" acceptance throughout the corporate culture.

"Obviously, our program has support from the top, but we also have a resource conservation team on each shift. They meet weekly. They go through the plant and look for energy saving opportunities and talk to fellow employees. We put signs up, we do T-shirts with them, we do all kinds of things to keep the effort alive and let everyone know they've got support from top to bottom," the CEO says, citing "dramatic" cultural change and adoption.

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