Food Processing Awards Campbell's Soup Napoleon, Ohio 2014 Green Plant of the Year

The thermal processing plant is ground zero in the company’s sustainability efforts, boasting a diversified energy portfolio that’s moving it off the grid.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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For the fifth year, we asked you to help us honor the best recent examples of green/sustainable plants. Back in June, we whittled a dozen or so nominations to two: Campbell Soup Co.’s Napoleon, Ohio, plant and OSI Henan Foods’s facility in Xihua, Henan Province, China.

We asked them for 200-word essays to help familiarize you with their efforts. Then we put both essays and a poll on our web site during July, and 3,043 of you picked the winner: Campbell Soup-Napoleon, Ohio.

That plant joins our previous winners: Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield, Calif., brewery (2013); Hormel’s Dubuque, Iowa, plant (2012), ConAgra Foods’ Lamb Weston sweet potato facility in Delhi, La. (2011), and the 2010 honoree, Kettle Foods’ Beloit, Wis., plant.

This year, the answer is Napoleon, Ohio, home of Campbell Soup Co.’s workhorse thermal processing plant and showcase of sustainable manufacturing.

Don’t take our word that it’s the greenest of the green; that’s the popular consensus of 1,949 visitors to who expressed their opinions under the democratic principle of one IP address, one vote.

Waste Meets Its Waterloo

Camden, N.J.-based Campbell took its first steps toward sustainable manufacturing in August 2008, when it formalized an environmental, social and governance policy that established hard goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as lower water and energy inputs and higher rates for solid-waste recycling. Attacking waste by those metrics was a new approach, and because the goals were ambitious, Campbell hedged its bets by making 2020 the target date for attaining them.

Almost a fifth of company-wide electricity consumption occurs at Napoleon, making it ground zero for green initiatives. A sprawling, 2.4 million-sq.-ft. facility on a 949-acre parcel that hugs the Maumee River, Napoleon is a thermal processing powerhouse, cranking out 107 million cases of soups, juices, beverages and sauces last year. Making rate is the mindset in manufacturing, and asking staffers to be mindful of waste can be a wrenching change.

Napoleon Campbell Cans

Keeping production moving will always be the top priority in food processing, but improving equipment reliability is helping lower energy costs for redundant systems at the Napoleon facility.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is cultural,” observes Randy Puckett, the plant’s manager of services and utilities. Uninterrupted flow of cans into and out of retorts is a priority, and supervisors routinely turned on redundant equipment to back up production lines in the event of a breakdown. A major focus on equipment reliability is helping change supervisors’ mindsets about the need for standby equipment. That type of initiative has helped reduce energy inputs per unit of production 20-25 percent.

Staff buy-in to sustainability has gotten a boost from two major renewable energy projects: a 24,000-panel solar array on 60 acres adjacent to the plant, and a biogas system. Together, those capital projects are expected to fill 40 percent of Napoleon’s electric demand. They also are visible symbols of the corporate commitment.

“The biggest request from the people in the plant is they want to see and touch the solar array, the (anaerobic) digester,” says Puckett. “They talk about it, and it’s getting them on board with recycling and waste-separation. It’s drawing a lot of interest from the staff and the people in the community.”

None of the capital for solar and biogas came from Campbell. Thanks to a renewable energy credit created in 2008 by the state of Ohio, the economics of those projects resulted in 100 percent third-party funding. Besides making room for the seven-acre biogas installation and the solar array, Campbell committed to purchasing all of the energy produced by the systems.

“We spent zero dollars and locked in a price for 20 years at a rate that is the equivalent to or less than we were paying,” says Robert Shober, vice president-infrastructure engineering and environmental services. Based on Dept. of Energy projections, the solar array will reduce Napoleon’s electricity costs $4 million and eliminate 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas over the purchase agreement’s 20-year period, according to BNB Renewable Energy Holdings, which brokered the solar project.

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