Food Processing Awards Hormel Foods/Progressive Processing 2012 Green Plant of the Year

Being able to produce high-quality products in a sustainable and energy-efficient facility garnered Hormel's Progressive Processing facility in Dubuque, Iowa our third annual prize.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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For the third year, we asked you to help us honor the best recent examples of green/sustainable plants. In June, we whittled the nominations to two: Hormel Foods' Dubuque, Iowa, plant and General Mills' Albuquerque, N.M., plant. Both shining examples of sustainable manufacturing.

We asked both companies for 200-word essays to help familiarize you with their efforts. Those essays and the polling survey were posted here this summer and hundreds of you picked the winner: Hormel/Dubuque. That plant joins last year's winner, ConAgra Foods' Lamb Weston sweet potato facility in Delhi, La., and the 2010 honoree, Kettle Foods' Beloit, Wis., plant.

In nominations and the final vote, we listed several points we were looking for in a Green Plant of the Year:

  • Is it energy efficient?
  • Does it use innovative or alternative sources of energy?
  • It is minimally polluting?
  • Does it minimize water use?
  • Were green building materials and practices used in its construction?
  • Is the design innovative?
  • Is it economically sustainable?

Following is Hormel/Dubuque's story.

A novel product deserves a novel plant, and in this case a very green one. When it became apparent to Hormel Foods that its Hormel Compleats shelf-stable, microwavable meals were taking off, the company decided to build a new plant. So Hormel's Progressive Processing facility in Dubuque, Iowa, was designed to meet this growing product demand as well as win certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

In mid-2010, the $89 million, 342,000-sq.-ft. facility did indeed earn LEED gold certification, making it the first USDA-inspected food production plant to gain that distinction. And thanks to 472 readers and website visitors, it's also our 2012 Green Plant of the Year.

From details such as the reflective roof and parking surfaces to the premium-efficiency electric motors and intricate processes like the gray water recovery system, Progressive Processing was designed to be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible.

"The ability to produce high-quality, safe and delicious products in a sustainable and energy-efficient facility satisfies the demands of consumers concerned about our environment," said Mark Zelle, plant manager at Progressive Processing. "I meet with each new employee during orientation and share with them my excitement and passion to instill in them their own sense of pride and ownership in working in this environmentally responsible plant."

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program ( establishes guidelines for sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings based upon the credits or points earned in six areas. Those areas, and the points the Dubuque plant won in each, are:

  • Innovation and design process (Progressive Processing earned 4 out of a possible 5 points)
  • Water efficiency (5 points out of 5 maximum)
  • Materials and resources (5 out of 13)
  • Indoor environmental quality (12 out of 15)
  • Energy and atmosphere (6 out of 17)
  • Sustainable sites (10 out of 14)

This was Hormel Foods' first effort at getting a plant LEED-certified, so the company turned to longtime partner, design-build firm Gleeson Constructors LLC (, Sioux City, Iowa. This was the first LEED project for Gleeson, as well. Since the LEED program qualifies buildings across a wide spectrum – from individual homes to commercial buildings to government offices – there are few specific guidelines for manufacturing and none for food. So there was a lot of learning for both companies in the process.

"Figuring out how to apply LEED to our project was one of the biggest challenges," Chad Sayles, manager of mechanical and electrical engineering at Hormel Foods, said in our September 2008 story on this plant, Hormel Cultivates a 'Green' Plant. "For example, in areas dealing with energy optimization, point levels are benchmarked against standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which doesn't always apply to food processing.