Food Processors Scramble to Reduce Carbon Footprint

Operating costs and the environment have processors scrambling to reduce carbon emissions.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The race is on for food processors to reduce their carbon footprint, both for financial reasons and to reduce their company’s environmental impact. With fuel and energy costs on the rise, reducing the use of electricity, natural gas, diesel fuel and other energy sources is both good business and a laudable environmental act.

“Carbon closely mirrors efficiency, whether it’s use of fuel, electricity or other processes. What we’re really talking about here is efficient operations,” says Kyle Tanger, president/CEO of Clear Carbon Consulting Inc. (, Arlington, Va. “Carbon really does equal money.”

The typical starting point for carbon reduction initiatives is to measure existing carbon use, creating a benchmark footprint. An energy audit and development of a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory is the first step.

“If you want to see where you’re going, you have to know where you’re starting from,” says Kyle Smith, managing director of Carbon and Energy Management Services with Pace Global Energy Services (, Fairfax, Va.


Dean Foods’ WhiteWave division buys renewable energy credits from Bonneville Environmental Foundation. This is one of the non-profit organization’s wind farms, in Roosevelt, Wash.

The objective in establishing a GHG inventory, Smith adds, is “to know where the carbon is being produced in your company and identify the opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Easier said than done. It’s a complicated process of record-keeping, calculation and analysis but, as often is the case, there’s software to handle the hard work. Pace offers Ecolink, a software tool and service package. Christian Whitaker, Pace’s director of carbon management services, explains how it works:

  1. “We start with plant utility data – past usage of electricity, natural gas, transportation fuels even fuel oil and coal. Usually this is gotten from a plant’s utility provider.
  2. “First we look for errors – in the utility company’s readings, calculations, billings.
  3. “We put the usage data into the Ecolink system and apply emissions calculation methodology. Every utility is required [by the Clean Air Act] to calculate its carbon footprint. We calculate the utility’s emissions per kilowatt hour and multiply that by the [food] plant’s usage, factor in other methodologies unique to your plant and come up with your greenhouse gas inventory.”

Whitaker says Ecolink then can calculate both the energy savings and the reduced carbon emissions of different energy-improvement actions. “We can show not only how energy conservation will save you dollars, but how it can be applied toward corporate sustainability goals.”

Carbon throughout the plant

Admittedly, key areas for carbon reduction extend far beyond the food plant – at least to the fleet and, for some food companies, backward to the farm or ranch. But the plant is the area within the control of most food processors.

Within the plant, key contributors to energy/carbon use include processing equipment, such as ovens, dehydrators, retorts and pasteurizers; coolers and freezers; compressed air systems; air-handling systems for clean rooms; and lighting.

Tactics to reduce energy use in these areas include some straightforward solutions, such as retrofitting lighting fixtures with on/off sensors and energy-efficient bulbs or reconfiguring delivery routes to save fuel.

Other solutions are more complex and require a capital investment. The processor may need to retrofit or replace certain pieces of equipment to improve energy efficiency. An example would be replacing motors with new ones that are more energy efficient and sized properly to the equipment they power. Further, HVAC optimization and control systems can help reduce energy demand and thus the carbon footprint.


This past Earth Day (April 22) PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division inaugurated solar concentrator fields at its Modesto, Calif., manufacturing facility. The 192 solar collectors, comprising 54,000 sq. ft. of concave mirrors, will absorb sunlight and generate steam that helps heat the cooking oil used in the SunChips manufacturing process.

It’s important to recognize that carbon sources in the plant extend beyond electricity, natural gas and other types of energy. For food processors, the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration equipment are a key carbon source. HFCs are on the list of Kyoto Protocol GHGs.

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