Food and Beverage Companies Go Green

Sept. 4, 2008
Consumers are making choices based on sustainability efforts; here’s what the top food and beverage companies are doing. Includes bonus online content.

When former U.S. Vice President Al Gore released his video “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006, he made more headlines than while in office. He may have achieved more, too. He certainly accomplished what he intended: to get people “mad as hell” about global warming.

The convenient truth is that concern for the environment has been a trend for some time – at least going back to Earth Shoe-wearing hippies of the 1960s. Sustainability was first defined in the 1987 as “development that meets the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” – that according to “Our Common Future, the Report of the World Commission on Sustainable Development,” by the Brundtland Commission.

In 1988, early environmentalists Julia Hailes and John Elkington wrote the revolutionary Green Consumer Guide on reducing impact on the environment. It was an overnight sensation, sold a million copies worldwide and encouraged early greenies to join together in the cause.

Now the cause is being joined by big business, with food companies at the forefront.

Some 85 percent of consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers have sustainability programs in place, according to a study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu for the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. While most focus on recycling and energy conservation, sustainability strategies are addressing lower emissions, energy efficiency, water conservation, fuel efficiency, package recycling, waste management, economic assistance in developing nations and efficient transportation of goods.

One in five U.S. consumers is sustainability-driven in brand and store selection, according to a survey of 22,000 consumers in 2007 by Information Resources Inc. Sustainability factors they consider are: product is organic (39 percent); packaging is better for the environment (29 percent); product itself is better for the environment (23 percent); and manufacturer treats employees and suppliers fairly (21 percent).

Kettle Foods has made environmental responsibility a centerpiece of its marketing efforts. Its Salem, Ore., headquarters has one of the largest solar arrays (left) in the Northwest, generating 120,000 kWh of electricity – and all other electricity needs are met with renewable energy credits. Its year-old Beloit, Wis., plant has 18 small wind turbines on its roof to generate electricity.

Increasingly we hear the descriptors: sustainable, green, socially responsible, fair trade, locally grown, eco-friendly, environmentally conscious, carbon footprint, environmental impact, clean technologies, transparency, organic. Many are different but they’re generally on the same page for increasingly environmentally conscious consumers and companies wishing to be accountable for their actions on mankind and the planet. 

Following is what some of the leading food and beverage companies are doing.

Kellogg: the three R’s

In 2006 Kellogg Co., ( Battle Creek, Mich., joined EPA Climate Leaders, a voluntary government-industry partnership designed to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kellogg’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions is from the use of energy in its manufacturing facilities and transportation fleet, so it implemented a global energy management program to promote conservation, manage energy use and investigate energy savings opportunities, including alternative fuels.
Kellogg’s efficiency projects have:

  • Reduced energy use from lighting by 25 percent.
  • Modified the steam system at its Battle Creek plant to save enough natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,300 tons.
  • Focused attention on its fleet of vehicles: They automatically shut down after five minutes of idle time, and 585 truck trips have been eliminated by a case-size change for several cereal products.
    Waste management is another focus. The company practices the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. A program implemented at two of its cereal plants has diverted 1,000 tons of waste per year from landfills to recycling. More than 80 percent of the waste generated in its manufacturing facilities is recycled, and more than 25 million lbs. of paper packaging has been eliminated through a project with its supply chain to reduce waste associated with bulk material shipping.

Packaging innovation allows Kellogg to continually reduce the weight and volume of its packaging. The company strives to optimize the use of materials that are recyclable and contain significant recycled content. In fact, Kellogg has used recycled board for most of its products since 1906, and is one of the largest users of recycled paperboard. And more than 3 million lbs. of plastic packaging was eliminated through liner reductions in 2006.

Kellogg is also minimizing water use. In early 2007, washing equipment was redesigned to reduce water use by 7 million gallons. At its Queretaro, Mexico, plant, 57 million gals. of water are reused each year.

General Mills: Recycling since the 1930s

In a 2007 survey by The Wall Street Journal and Harris Interactive, General Mills ( ranked No. 3 in social responsibility, the highest ranked food company. And it was ranked No. 10 in Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

Perils of greenwashing

A timely indicator of consumer concern, online buzz around sustainability grew 50 percent in 2007, according to Nielsen Online, BuzzMetrics. By Dec. 2007, messages jumped to 172,000. While early in the year, discussion was dominated by global warming, bloggers progressively addressed a wider variety of green related issues, with emphasis on personal action such as recycling, avoiding excess packaging, and carpooling. Discovery Channel’s TreeHugger led the top sustainability blogs for the year.

Consumers also hold corporations accountable for action and results, and bloggers are quick to condemn greenwashing, when they suspect companies misrepresent their environmental impact with aggressive PR campaigns – as spurious attempts to be “green.”
Top 5 Greenwashing Topics
Topic                                                Percent of Discussion
Contradictory actions                                  25% 
Incongruous with company/industry     21 
False misleading comments                      19 
Seek regulated oversight                           18 
General suspicion                                          17 

Source: Nielsen Online, BuzzMetrics (Blog activity from Jan 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007)

As early as the 1930s, the Minneapolis-based company began using recycled paperboard in its cereal boxes. General Mills has implemented environmental management systems to identify, track and report on key environmental parameters: wastewater, air emissions, water, transportation, packaging and greenhouse gases. Its five-year goals are to reduce water use by 5 percent, energy consumption by 15 percent, greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent and solid waste generation by 15 percent.

As a member of the Business Roundtable (BRT), General Mills is participating in the BRT’s Climate Resolve initiative, which reports annually the member companies’ contributions of greenhouse gases to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The BRT initiative aims to reduce the emission of global warming gases by 18 percent from 2002 to 2012.

On the energy front, General Mills’ North American operations reduced total energy use since 2000 by 6 percent – nearly 1 million kWh, and international facilities reduced energy use by 3 percent.

To reduce the carbon footprint of just one product -- its Hamburger Helper package -- the packaging team reduced the number of pouches in each carton, and the product development team changed the shape of the pasta so it can be packed more tightly in the package. Those two changes resulted in a 20 percent carton size reduction, reduced the use of paper fiber by 890,000 lbs., trimmed greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent and took 500 trucks off the road.

Similarly, changing the case configurations for Progresso soup removed 2,000 tons of steel from Progresso’s annual steel input total, reducing costs and making lighter cans, which consumers prefer.

Reducing impact on landfills

Kraft Foods, ( Northfield, Ill., focuses on six areas that impact the environment: agricultural commodities, packaging, energy, water, waste, and transportation and distribution. Since 2001, the company has measured key environmental performance indicators (EPIs): water consumption, energy usage, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, solid waste generation and recycling rates.

As of 2007, the recycling rate for its manufacturing facilities was nearly 90 percent. Globally, the company has decreased water consumption by 34 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent, energy consumption by 25 percent and solid waste generated by 16 percent.

Buzz on sustainability

Issues                                Percent
Environmental issues         23% 
Corporate initiatives             18 
Government involvement    15 
Economic activities                14 
Land development/building 13 
Fuel efficiency                           8 
Transportation                          8 
Events raising awareness      8 
Organic food                             7 
Global warming                        7 
Lifestyle change                      6 
Corporate responsibility        6 
Recycling                                   6 
Organic living                           4 
Pesticides                                 2 
Hybrids                                      2 
Life on Mars                              1

Source: Nielsen BuzzMetrics blog (
messages between 3-15-06 and 3-15-07

Closer to home, Kraft has partnered with TerraCycle, ( an upstart Trenton, N.J., firm, which takes packages and materials that are challenging to recycle and turns them into handbags, umbrellas and other products.

Schools, community groups and other non-profits collect specific used packages. TerraCycle then “upcycles” each material into an eco-friendly product. One program collects used energy bar wrappers and donates two cents each to the collecting organization. Wrappers are braided into durable purses and backpacks. Another uses Nabisco cookie wrappers, which are fused together into sheets of waterproof fabric, which are then made into umbrellas, shower curtains, backpacks, placemats and other products. The third program reuses drink pouches, which are sewn into tote bags, handbags and other durable items.

Several Kraft brands, including Balance bars and South Beach Living bars, Capri Sun beverages and Chips Ahoy! and Oreo cookies, are now the lead sponsors of TerraCycle Brigades.

Stonyfield: Pioneering greenie

As far back as 1983, Stonyfield Farm ( co-founders Samuel Kaymen and president/CEO Gary Hirshberg created a mission statement “to serve as a model that environmentally and socially responsible businesses can also be profitable.”

The Londonderry, N.H.-based yogurt maker was among America’s first companies to go carbon neutral, in the 1990s. Stonyfield also gives 10 percent of its profits to organizations that “help protect and restore the environment.”

From 1995 to 2005 it reduced facility energy use and the associated CO2 emissions per pound of product by one-third, saving some $1.7 million and 46 million kWh – enough energy to power 4,500 homes for a year. It also prevented more than 14,000 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, Hirshberg told Industry Week.

The company’s 50 kW solar photovoltaic array on its yogurt making facility is the largest in New Hampshire. It is in the vanguard of wind energy, reforestation, methane recovery and energy efficiency projects, and it created the first “how-to guide” showing other companies how to offset emissions. Its award-winning program to minimize solid waste has prevented over 16 million lbs. of materials from going to landfills or incinerators (equal to taking more than 1,400 cars off the road for one year).

Coca-Cola Enterprises: Reducing its carbon footprint

It may not be a Coach, but this handbag, created by TerraCycle, says a lot about recycling.
Red Bull bought a fleet of diesel hybrid delivery trucks from Navistar International. The trucks achieve 30-40 percent better fuel efficiency and emit up to 33 percent less hydrocarbon emissions and 35 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions than standard diesel trucks.

(, the biggest bottler of Coca-Cola, won the 2007 Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting by the World Council for Corporate Governance and the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence. It focuses on three environmental goals: sustainable packaging, water stewardship and climate and energy protection. Coca-Cola Enterprises

With 1.3 billion products sold each day, reusable packaging is key to CCE’s sustainability efforts. The company spent some $60 in recycling initiatives in 2007 and created Coca-Cola Recycling LLC to recover and recycle the packaging materials used by the system (plastic, aluminum, cardboard and plastic film). Its goal is to recycle or reuse 100 percent of its PET plastic bottles and aluminum cans it sells in the U.S. Reusing the cans would require 95 percent less energy than creating aluminum from raw materials and reduces carbon emissions by 95 percent.

CCE also plans to build the world's largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C., and establish a water stewardship plan, which calls for using just one liter of water for every liter of product produced -- what the company calls water neutrality.

In 2004, the company joined forces with Unilever and McDonald’s to launch “Refrigerants Naturally!” Other companies have joined, including Coca-Cola's biggest competitor PepsiCo, to work together to test commercially viable refrigeration technologies free of hydrofluoric carbons.

PepsiCo: Harnessing the power of the sun

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Green Power Partnership was established in 2001 to encourage U.S. companies to voluntarily purchase green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity generation. Green sources of electricity include solar/photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, low-impact hydropower and other forms of renewable power generation.

Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo ( recently topped the EPA Green Power Partnership list of the top 25 largest purchasers of renewable energy by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to match the company’s annual 1.1 billion kWh of purchased electricity. PepsiCo’s REC purchase will match the electricity used at all of its U.S.-based manufacturing facilities, headquarters, distribution centers and regional offices for three years, computing to the same amount of electricity needed to power nearly 90,000 American homes annually.

In the early 1990s, PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division formed Green Teams to focus on energy efficiency projects. Solar power was installed in six of its distribution centers, and in October last year, solar power was installed on the roof of its largest distribution center, located in Arizona. It produces roughly 350,000 kWh of electricity annually.

In addition to solar power installations at its distribution centers, plants such as the Tropicana facility in Fort Pierce, Fla., use supplemental power from a local landfill’s by-product methane gas for its energy needs. The Casa Grande, Ariz., potato chip factory has a goal to run almost entirely on renewable fuels and recycled water. PepsiCo is also an award-winning company in the EPA’s Energy Star program, and it is encouraging its supply chain partners to develop more energy efficient ways. 

Unilever: Greenhouse gas profiling tool

In addition to making most lists of global sustainable companies, London-based Unilever ( uses a Business Partner Code to ensure that its suppliers meet expectations on environmental and social impacts. Since more than two-thirds of Unilever’s raw materials come from agriculture, its Sustainable Agriculture Programme has a key role in managing upstream impacts.

Unilever has reduced emission in manufacturing by more than a third between 1995 and 2006. It’s committed to reducing CO2 from energy used in its manufacturing operations by 25 percent by 2012 (against a baseline of 2004).

In partnership with Forum for the Future, Unilever has developed a “greenhouse gas profiling tool” to enable R&D teams to assess whether innovations will improve a product’s greenhouse gas footprint across its lifecycle, from sourcing to use and disposal.

During 2007, Unilever increased its use of energy coming from renewable sources to 15.2 percent, up from 14.8 percent in 2006, and reduced water usage per ton of production by 61.7 percent.

Anheuser-Busch: Turning waste into fuel

More than five billion 12-oz. servings of beer – or about one in seven beers brewed by St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch in the U.S. – are expected to be brewed using renewable fuel by the end of 2009, thanks to environmental efforts at the company’s 12 U.S. breweries.

The company’s breweries in Fairfield, Calif., and Houston are installing alternative energy technology that will be operational by year end. As a result, the company’s U.S. breweries will run on more than 15 percent renewable fuel. The Houston brewery will use biogas, a natural byproduct of waste decomposition, from a nearby landfill. Combined with the facility’s bio-energy recovery system (BERS), more than 70 percent of the brewery’s fuel needs should be met by alternative fuels. The Fairfield brewery will turn brewing wastewater into fuel and receive electricity from solar panels on site.

Once the Houston and Fairfield projects are operational, 10 of Anheuser-Busch’s 12 U.S. breweries will be producing renewable fuel. The company’s brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., applies nutrient-rich brewery wastewater to nearby land to grow crops that can be turned into biofuel. Busch is also exploring the use of wind, solar, wood and landfill gas at several other breweries.

Anheuser-Busch’s 12 U.S. breweries recycle or reuse more than 99 percent of the solid waste from their brewing and packaging processes – a tradition that began in the late 1800s when the company first recycled brewers’ grain into cattle feed. This amounted to nearly four billion pounds of materials such as spent grain, beechwood chips, plastic, glass cullet, cardboard and metal in 2007. 

As a member of the EPA Climate Leaders Program, Anheuser-Busch has committed to reducing total greenhouse gas emissions to 5 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2010 for all of its U.S. operations – that’s equivalent to taking nearly 30,000 passenger vehicles off the road or heating more than 14,000 homes. In addition, the company has also committed to increasing the total use of renewable fuel from 8 percent to 15 percent in the same time period.

Busch also saves more than 21 million lbs. of metal per year by trimming an eighth of an inch off the diameter of its beer cans, according to Natural Capitalism author Paul Hawken, who adds, “The trimming doesn’t reduce the volume of beer one bit.”

Dole: Fueling sustainability
Dole Food Co.
(, Westlake Village, Calif., was named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for a second year in a row by Ethisphere Magazine. Its Dole Fresh Vegetables Co. division is converting all of its Salinas, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., harvesting equipment to B20 bio-diesel fuel, a domestic renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils, which according to the EPA, yields 20 percent less unburned hydrocarbons than conventional diesel, as well as less carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

“Being good stewards of the environment is very important to Dole and this includes reducing emissions and using alternative sources of energy,” said Kevin Fiori, Dole’s senior vice president agriculture operations. ”Dole has been testing B20 Bio Diesel since August 2007 in farm equipment and off road vehicles with very positive results.”

Nestle: Investing in sustainability
Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle ( saved $510 million through a combination of packaging source reduction, re-use, recycling, and energy recovery between 1991 and 2006. In 2007, Nestlé invested over CHF 100 million in environment-related industrial improvements, and is one of the first food companies to join the Global Reporting Initiative multi-stakeholder program to develop global reporting standards and indicators on sustainability in the food industry. Nestlé reduced its direct greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent, compared to 10 years ago, and its overall water withdrawal by 28 percent, while at the same time increasing the total volume of goods produced by 76 percent.

Sara Lee: Shortening truck routes to save energy
“As a global company, we have a responsibility to conduct business in a manner that supports the well-being of people and our planet,” says Brenda B. Barnes, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee (, Downers Grove, Ill. “Our consumers increasingly expect us to think beyond today’s needs and take into account future generations. For many years, Sara Lee has undertaken efforts to sustain and improve the world in which we live. Our many corporate social responsibility initiatives and our commitment to double our purchase of sustainable coffee are excellent examples of the work we are doing now in the area of sustainability. Now, we are proud to bring these best practices in sustainability together in a unified approach and framework that will guide and communicate our efforts as one global company.” 

Sara Lee’s plans are: to design, maintain and operate facilities to optimize the use of all resources (water energy, raw materials, etc.); optimize the utilization of non-renewable resources; seek opportunities to increase usage of renewable energy and resources; and design, package and distribute its products in a manner that lessens their impact on the eco-system. Audra Karalius, vice president in charge of environmental issues, told Crain’s Chicago Business that Sara Lee is reconfiguring its distribution centers so it can shorten its truck routes and save more than 240,000 gallons of fuel in the coming year, and is installing solar panels in its New Mexico bakery.

Red Bull: Keep on truckin’
Red Bull ( has taken the bull by the horns by purchasing a fleet of diesel hybrid delivery trucks from Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar ( The trucks achieve 30-40 percent better fuel efficiency and emit up to 33 percent less hydrocarbon emissions and 35 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions versus standard diesel trucks. Each truck is estimated to save nearly $4,000 in fuel costs per year. A key to the International DuraStar Hybrid's efficiency is the Hybrid Drive Unit, which helps power the diesel engine and leads to less diesel fuel use and fewer emissions. Through the regenerative braking system, the battery in the Hybrid Drive Unit is recharged when the truck's brakes are applied. This energy-saving system makes delivery applications and in-city driving the ideal conditions for these hybrid vehicles.

"We're proud that Red Bull recognizes the importance of green transportation for the environment," says Jim Williams, director, sales and distribution, new products, Navistar. "We need more companies like this to take a stance and add hybrid vehicles to their fleets."

Danone: Economic development in poorer countries
Since 1995, environmental management has followed the “Charter for the environment,” at Paris-based Danone Group ( Production and packaging objectives set for 2000-2010 were achieved by 2008, and it has a Carbon & Water footprint tool in place to measure its environmental footprint. Reducing CO2 and water consumption throughout its supply chain are among Danone’s priorities. Danone collects and recycles packaging in 23 countries. Targeting the reduction of weight in its packaging by 10 percent, and the weight of 1.5 liter bottles has been reduced by 35 percent. And working with the French food safety agency (Afssa) should in time, allow bottles to be produced with 25 percent of recycled PET. Carbon emissions have been reduced by 26 percent by more efficiently transporting product throughout Europe. In 2000, Danone set up a program to audit plants, based on operating permits, water supplies, waste, atmospheric emissions, storage of materials, refrigeration installations, energy, noise, managing the environment, land and waste. The audit is conducted by a third party organization. In 2007 and for the third consecutive year, Danone is one of the “Hundred most sustainable companies worldwide,” according to Innvest. And the company has established the Danone communities fund, to support businesses whose social impact is in line with Danone’s, thereby contributing to the economic development of poorer countries while maximizing environmental responsibility.

Cargill: Meat scraps into energy
Responsible for the environmental footprint and safe operation of more than 1,200 facilities, Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill ( has pledged to improve its greenhouse gas intensity 8 percent, improve water efficiency 2 percent, and energy efficiency by 20 percent, and to source 10 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2010. Cargill Meat solutions uses meat scrap waste to make methane and replace high-cost natural gas, reports CNBC. Process water waste is treated in large lagoons covered with giant tents to capture the biogas, a powerful greenhouse gas emitted. The methane gas is then fed to the plant’s boiler room to generate steam and hot water. The system has displaced 20-25 percent of all natural gas demand and reduced Cargill’s greenhouse gas emissions by 325,000 tons annually.

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