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

Sept. 7, 2012
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.

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 (www.usgbc.org) 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 (www.gleesonllc.com), 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.

Corporate Responsibility

Hormel Foods rolls company-wide sustainability efforts into its annual Corporate Responsibility Report. In his introduction to the 2011report, Chairman and pres./CEO Jeffrey Ettinger,  writes: "The last five years have been: rewarding, as we achieved significant reductions on several key sustainability metrics; challenging, as we reported data that had not previously been calculated; and enlightening, as the process provided an opportunity for us to take a fresh look at long-established policies and procedures."

He notes a couple of milestones for Hormel Foods, most of them from 2011:

  • Inclusion on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the second consecutive year. "Our placement on this index puts us among the world's top 10 percent of sustainable companies," Ettinger notes.
  • Completed and distributed our Supplier Responsibility Principles to ensure that our suppliers understand our expectations for sustainability.
  • Beating our packaging minimization goal, reducing packaging by 4.2 million pounds.

The Environmental Sustainability Best of the Best competition, an annual competition among all locations and all business segments, rewards employees for their work in the area of sustainable projects.  Projects entered in the 2011 competition resulted in the reduction of 695.2 tons of solid waste to landfills, an increase in recycling tonnage by 27 percent and more than 40.4 million gallons of water saved collectively.

Even so, Ettinger acknowledges there needs to be more progress. "While we did not meet our aggressive [energy reduction] goal, the last five years have given us additional knowledge about reducing energy usage. We will be establishing a new goal from 2012 to 2020 that reflects this insight."

Progressive Processing is not the only Hormel Foods facility to get LEED certification. This year, the corporate headquarters' north addition, in Austin, Minn., also received LEED gold certification.

"For most of the energy and water consumed in our facility, there is no baseline published in a standard," Sayles continued. "You can't look in a book to find a design standard that will let us say, ‘Our retort is 15 percent more efficient, so we can get the LEED points for that improvement.'" It's unlikely there will ever be such standards for retorts, fillers and other specialized machinery and process equipment, especially since many are customized models.

"Nate Moriarty [senior staff engineer] played an important role in the documentation of the LEED credits and with the commissioning of the facility, and Mark Willrodt [senior staff engineer] designed the lighting and lighting controls for the project that allowed us to achieve points for minimizing electrical usage," Sayles said.

"It would be nice if LEED had a modified rating system for manufacturing plants the way it does for office buildings or schools," added Ron Rens, Gleeson's executive vice president. "But we look at it this way: The cost of energy isn't likely to come down. Whatever you can do to reduce your energy use is just good business, whether or not you get a LEED point for it."

In the construction phase, 36 percent of construction materials had recycled content. Construction waste was separated into dumpsters for recycling scrap wood, steel, concrete and paper-based materials. More than 85 percent of the construction waste was recycled.

The plant uses at least 25 percent less water than a comparable plant built to meet current building codes and standards. "Every effort was made to not use water if possible, capture water for reuse, and to utilize closed loop processes," Sayles said.

All three methods are utilized in the retort system. Water in the retorts is saved and reused in the next cycle, excess water that is removed from the retorts is captured for use in the plant's gray water system, and closed-loop cooling is used to cool the retorts at the end of the cook. The heat is recovered from the closed loop for heating the potable water supply; thus, water is not evaporated in a cooling tower to reject this heat to the atmosphere, as might be the case in other closed loop processes.

A "gray water" system replaces 100 percent of the water used to flush toilets, versus the typical 20-30 percent for which LEED awards credits in the typical commercial/office application.
In other plants, even the most efficient compressed air systems at least lose energy through the heat they generate. But this plant captures the waste heat for heating potable water and to regenerate the desiccant air dryers with almost no energy not utilized.

Fresh air is supplied to indoor spaces with minimal energy costs via the use of energy-recovery ventilators, which preheat or pre-cool (depending on the time of year) the air supplied into the building.

A novel heat recovery system has recovered enough heat energy to heat more than 80 percent of the hot water used in the facility. It also provides 100 percent of the energy needed to heat the office and employee welfare spaces in the facility, as well as a few other miscellaneous process related requirements, such as the underfloor freeze protection system under the freezer and the makeup water to the retorts.

Hormel Foods also earned sustainable sites credits by providing erosion and sedimentation management that exceed environmental regulations. The 39.5-acre campus employs a low-maintenance, no-irrigation landscape. Also in this LEED category, innovations include reflective white membrane roofing and concrete paving to reduce "heat island" effects. (Permeable concrete also reduces runoff.) Car/van-poolers get preferred parking, and the facility has locker rooms with showers available for bicycle commuters and all employees.
In addition to the LEED certification, the energy efficiency of the facility has been evaluated and verified by Alliant Energy, the local energy provider. As a result, Alliant awarded the plant more than $500,000 in rebates and has presented Progressive Processing with several awards to recognize the outstanding features and performance in the area of electrical energy conservation.

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