Sustainability / Environmental / Process and Operations / Green Plant of the Year / Bakery & Baked Goods

Green Plant of the Year 2016: Clif Bar’s Green Bakery Supports Corporate Ideals

Clif Bar’s products focus on healthy snacking. Its new bakery focuses on the health and well-being of workers, the community and Mother Nature.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

Corporate sustainability programs sometimes are viewed with suspicion, a contrivance and PR posture more than a sincere desire to be green. In the case of Clif Bar & Co. and its first production bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, organizational bona fides are iron clad.

Operating since 1992, the firm founded by Gary Erickson was a partnership until Erickson took full control in 2001. At that point, the creator of the sports-nutrition snacks began executing his commitment to organic agriculture and a sustainable supply chain. One of Erickson’s first moves was to hire Elysa Hammond, a former classmate with whom he worked on issues involving hunger, agriculture and the environment during their college days. As the vision of sustainable food production came into focus, Hammond assumed the title of director of environmental sustainability.

While management could specify organic raw materials and communicate its values through the brand, reliance on a network of copackers relegated it to an advisory position when it came to manufacturing.

That changed three years ago, when plans to build its first bakery were announced. In May, 24 years after Clif bars, gels, trail mixes and other products first appeared, the company had a palette with which to paint a picture of sustainable manufacturing.

The central design principle was biophilia — literally love of life, the concept of humanity’s connection with nature and love of other living organisms. It is reflected in the floor-to-ceiling windows and airy design of the building and in the materials of construction, such as quartzite stone from a nearby quarry and weathered lumber salvaged from area barns.

“Think like a tree” was the organizing mantra. “A tree is a model of a sustainable, circular system,” explains Hammond, although it took time for staff to buy into the tree analogy as a guide to building a bakery.

The building itself covers 275,000 sq. ft., with a separate 25,000-sq.-ft. wastewater pretreatment facility also on the 90-acre plot. The city built and staffs the $4.6 million pretreatment plant. Clif Bar invested $90 million in the total project. But the numbers don’t tell the green-tinged story.

Biophilia is the kind of term that causes engineers’ eyes to roll. Regardless of initial reaction, Richard Berger, vice president of engineering, embraced the concept and translated it to production. “Biophilia supports staff health and productivity and reduces turnover,” Berger came to believe. Blank checks never are issued in manufacturing, but ROI on energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction investments is calculated on more than financial value.

“We are a five-aspiration business,” he says. “The first bottom line is the planet, the second the community, then the people, the brand and the sustainability of the business. ROI fits with a business decision, but if we have a project that supports our planet aspiration, we’re going to consider it seriously. It may have a poor financial ROI but is good for the community.”

Variable frequency drives on refrigeration compressors (500 HP total), mixers and compressed air units harvest low-grade heat that contains enough energy to provide hot water and space heating, though the re-use system requires outlays for piping and storage tanks that most manufacturers are reluctant to make.

Finished goods are shelf stable, but fruit, chocolate chips and other raw materials require refrigerated storage. When HVAC is factored in, the facility requires 700 tons of glycol cooling. To shed heat, refrigerant is piped to hybrid cooling towers that use either air or water for heat transfer.

When outdoor temperatures are low, air is the transfer medium. When temperatures warm, evaporative cooling kicks in. The downside of air cooling is a bigger carbon footprint, but it also lowers water consumption, Berger points out.

Latent heat harvesting from economizers on oven exhaust stacks is so efficient, “sometimes, burners don’t even operate,” he adds. “We grab that heat and bake more product.”

Tubular skylights and other sources of natural light augment the all-LED lighting system, with motion sensors and light-harvesting software dimming and increasing the output of artificial lighting, based on the foot candle setpoint for a given area. If a cloud temporarily blocks the sun, the program ramps up the LED wattage.

The hybrid cooling towers contribute the greatest water savings, with waterless urinals, low-flow toilets and drought-tolerant landscaping adding to the conservation effort. Three-in-one hand sinks reduce water use 24 percent by combining soap and water dispensing and drying. The sinks have a carbon footprint 80 percent lower than conventional units, according to Berger.

Based on benchmarking data from the U.S. Green Building Council, Twin Fall’s energy consumption per unit of production is 21 percent below the norm. Water use is 37 percent less, and refrigerant emissions are 40 percent lower.

Silver certification under the council’s LEED program was the goal when the project was announced, but that evolved to the highest level possible. Originally attuned to office and commercial buildings, LEED now takes greater account of the ongoing resource consumption in manufacturing, although building aesthetics and lifestyle behavior also get their due.

To create a park-like environment, more than 5,700 shrubs and 572 trees have been planted on the once-barren site, and plans call for walking and bicycling trails. The company provides a significant subsidy to employees who purchase a hybrid, biodiesel or electric car, an incentive that should help fill parking spaces reserved for those types of vehicles.

Clif Bar’s biggest sellers are being produced on Twin Falls’ two production lines. With sales growing, a third line is expected to be commissioned by spring 2017. But copackers play a key role in supply chain operations, and that network, along with other suppliers, accounts for a major part of Clif Bar’s carbon footprint.

At a September summit attended by 120 suppliers, company leaders updated those suppliers on the 50/50 program: a goal of 50 plants deriving 50 percent of their electric needs from solar or renewable energy credits by 2020. “We’re focusing on electricity because it is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases,” Hammond says, noting four suppliers already have attained the goal.

A solar array at the firm’s headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., meets most of the building’s electricity and hot water demand. Solar is under consideration in Twin Falls, although initially the company is buying credits from an Idaho wind farm to match its electric consumption.

Enhancing workers’ connection with the natural world outside the plant is another continuous improvement focus. In packaging and production areas where windows weren’t practical, a projection system to display nature scenes is under consideration to see if it increases workers’ sense of well being.

“Hospitals are starting to incorporate biophilic design because research suggests it helps people heal faster,” Hammond notes. “Manufacturing has great potential to improve people’s lives and reduce stress. This is a great opportunity to improve all five aspects of our bottom line.”

Product out the door is Job 1 in manufacturing, but the Twin Falls bakery is testament to Clif Bar’s determination to be more than a company that measures success by sales volume alone.