Nature's Path Foods is a leader in the cereal category not only because of its innovative product development and commitment to organic products but because of its sustainability initiatives.
Past Green Plant of the Year winners bragged of solar arrays, anaerobic digesters and water reuse. Nature's Path (www.naturespath.com) takes a more holistic view of the subject. While it's making its three plants as environmentally friendly as possible, the company shows a genuine concern for the viability of the entire world, committing funds and company resources to a host of global causes trying to improve the health of the planet.
“Sustainability is core to everything we do here at Nature’s Path," says Jyoti Stephens, vice president of people, culture and mission. "We are honored to receive the recognition of Green Plant of the Year, which acknowledges the incredible work our teams do at each of our facilities."
The company became zero-waste certified in 2010 and has committed to complete carbon neutrality by 2020. All three of the company’s manufacturing facilities – in Sussex, Wis., Blaine, Wash., and Delta, British Columbia – "are rooted in our six sustainability goals: grow organic; become carbon neutral; be zero waste; preserve water; educate, inspire and engage; and give back," Stephens says.
All three plants have been certified True Zero Waste by Green Business Certification Inc. That means at least 90 percent of all waste is diverted from landfills, either to compost, reuse, donation or recycling. In 2017, Nature's Path invested in training teams in lean tools for specific continuous improvement projects. While that's not normally considered a part of "green" sustainability, that helps make them financially sustainable and capable of carrying out their altruistic goals. Plus, understanding the language of continuous improvement and lean manufacturing at each location enables the teams to include organizational resources in sustainability performance improvement.
On that same theme, two key company-wide efficiency efforts with considerable environmental impact are:
- Reducing the amount of waste and spills off the line and reducing overall production waste to below 4 per cent in 2017. Remaining waste product is composted or recycled.
- Changeover and cleaning time reduction. Reducing the amount of time that the lines are “down” for cleaning and changeovers improves efficiency and reduces overall energy use.
All three plants purchase Renewable Energy Credits that support green energy projects in North America. These credits account for all of the electricity purchased by the company. "In this age of climate crisis, we have an urgent responsibility to protect our planet and preserve the health of our land, water and people," the company says. "We believe renewable energy is the way of the future."
Together, the three facilities divert more than 92 percent of their waste from landfills, for a combined savings of 4,477 tons each year, equivalent to 2,558 midsize cars. All the waste diverted from landfill would have amounted to a total of 4,587 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions if it were sent to a landfill, equivalent to the emissions from 982 passenger vehicles driven for one year.
Each facility also has unique sustainability features. The Blaine facility in 2016 achieved 94 percent waste diversion. Also, about 75-80 percent of its wastewater is converted into biogas and green energy. This plant has sensors, energy-efficient lighting, an updated HVAC system to close off unused areas and energy-efficient equipment, including compressed air dryers to reduce overall energy use. For two years in a row, this facility received the Northwest Clean Air Agencies Partners for Clean Air gold award for efforts in continuous improvement with an aim to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies.
Sussex produced and launched the first Fairtrade Toaster Pastry in the U.S. market, helping to improve the lives of farmers and their families in developing countries, by applying the standards of environmentally and socially responsible farming and processing methods.
Delta was the first Zero Waste Certified facility in Canada.
Nature's Path also reduced packaging; according to Environmental Defense Paper Calculator, that saves 825,540 gallons of wastewater, 437 tons of paperboard, 7,464 million BTUs of energy and 1.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
The company implemented an employee sustainability training program, which ultimately empowers employees to take ownership of sustainability and green initiatives; enforces a supplier code of conduct for labor; and, through its commitment to organic farming, has kept an estimated 418,000 lbs. of chemical pesticides out of the soil.
A 'clean' history
Nature's Path Foods was started by husband and wife Arran and Ratana Stephens in 1985 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Its first product was Manna Bread, a line of organic breads. While it initially gained fame for its organic breakfast cereals and granolas, the company now makes more than 150 products ranging from cookies to toaster pastries to frozen waffles. All of its products are vegetarian, certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified -- many are vegan and a large number are gluten free. It employs more than 500 people.
Nature's Path is a triple bottom line social enterprise, meaning its accounting framework evaluates company performance and assigns value for social, environmental and financial advances. The company is regularly named one of Canada's best employers and also among Canada’s Greenest Employers.
In 2008, Nature’s Path helped to establish the Sustainable Food Trade Assn. (www.sustainablefoodtrade.org), a non-profit organization whose mission is to build the capacity of the organic food trade to transition to sustainable business models.
"For Nature’s Path, success in business means we are socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable," the company says. In "6 Things We're Doing to be More Sustainable," Nature's Path lists:
- Growing organic
- Zero waste
- Climate neutral
- Preserving water
- Educating, inspiring and engaging
- Giving back
Employees are encouraged to live as sustainably as possible – from taking environmentally friendly transportation to recycling their chopsticks – "because each Team Member is on the same path to help leave the earth better than they found it," the company says.
In addition to the water savings and watershed protection implicit in its commitment to organic agriculture, "We use cleaning agents approved by organic food production standards, meaning dangerous chemicals are not being added to the water we use," the company spokesperson says.
And although social causes are not a direct part of our Green Plant of the Year criteria, Nature's Path has a number of programs "that give back to animals, people and the environment." The company is trying to sustain more than the communities immediately surrounding its three plants.
"Through our partnership with 1% for the Planet, 1 percent of sales from all EnviroKidz products are donated to nonprofit organizations that support endangered species, habitat restoration and environmental education to kids worldwide," the company says. "By purchasing a box of Gorilla Munch Cereal, you’re supporting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund; by purchasing a box of Leapin’ Lemurs Cereal, you’re supporting the Lemur Conservation Foundation.
"We pledge to give up to $1 million per year in cash or food donations to local food banks through our Love Crunch Bite4Bite Program. Every year we host Eat Well Do Good, a foodraiser that supports local food banks near each of our facilities. Nature’s Path employees volunteer their time to organize and support this event. Since 2002, we have donated more than $18 million in cash and food donations to each of these causes."
“We know that how we leave the earth is our collective legacy and we’re on a mission to protect the planet," says Jyoti Stephens. "This starts by defending our soil through organic agriculture and threads through to environmentally conscious business practices and beyond. We hope others will join us on this path to a sustainable future.”