Bakers and snack food manufacturers are realizing the benefits of sustainability initiatives from both environmental and profit perspectives.It wasn’t too long ago that most businesses were unfamiliar with the word “sustainability,” but it has become a given now for many companies. Unfortunately, implementing sustainable initiatives is sometimes easier said than done for bakers and snack food manufacturers.

Maintaining sustainable practices can pose a number of challenges for these food processors, including getting started, measuring return on investment (ROI) and benefits, collecting data and dedicating labor for such projects.

In addition, companies that have begun the sustainability journey find they must quantify the environmental impacts of their decisions. Even businesses that are veterans of environmentally-friendly initiatives are not immune to the possible obstacles, which can include maintaining momentum and keeping current on new green technologies and options.

Yet the benefits of sustainability can more than outweigh the potential trials and tribulations. “First, the efforts to mitigate and manage business inputs directly help the environment, especially if quantified,” says Bob Klimko, director of business development at Orbis Corp., Oconomowoc, Wis. “Second, employees involved tend to be more engaged in the business and are champions of sustainability from all parts of the business. Sustainability also makes good business sense in that each of the inputs that are lessened result in bottom-line savings.”

Actually, the bottom line in today’s corporate culture is that more companies are discovering that environmental sustainability makes good business sense.

“The importance of sustainability is increasing in the food and beverage markets, and the snack food and baking segments are no exception,” says Mohit Gupta, tropical oils product line manager at Cargill Inc., Minneapolis. “Consumers want to know what’s in their food, where the ingredients came from and how it was produced.”

Greener technology and packaging

With innovations focused on sustainability, bakers and snack food manufacturers have more options available to reduce waste, energy and the overall carbon footprint of their facilities.

Bosch Packaging Technology, based in Waiblingen, Germany, is focusing on developing packaging machines that help reduce film waste and product waste. “Adopting options that include no-bag technology, so empty bags are eliminated, [is one of our goals],” says Paul Garms, Bosch’s marketing manager. “On the product side, there are systems that detect product characteristics to avoid wasting packaging film on bad products. There also are detection systems to reject double or misaligned product, so as not to waste packaging materials.”

In an effort to increase energy efficiency, Bosch is investing in horizontal wrappers and horizontal sealing machines that use less energy than conventional systems. “Sustainability is where much opportunity lies,” says Jeff Keyes, Bosch’s environmental health and safety manager for North America. “Our customers are getting pressure from consumers, who are seeking more reusable and biodegradable packaging.”

The company’s New Richmond and Shell Lake, Wis., facilities were recently recognized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Green Tier program with an environmental excellence award. These locations achieved a 12% reduction in relative CO2 emissions from 2007 to 2011, and 99% of manufacturing processes have established recycling wastestreams.

In support of the local community’s environmental and educational efforts, Bosch presented cash awards totaling $35,000 to the Shell Lake school district, which received $10,000 toward a sustainable garden to teach students about farming and nutrition. New Richmond, meanwhile, received $10,000 for a city stock purchase program, with funds directed to an environmental or technology project, and $15,000 for the New Richmond School District’s Weather Bug project, which teaches students about meteorology and the science of weather and weather data collection.

Using environmental analysis capabilities, Orbis Corp. developed a method to compare and measure the impact of reusable trays and pallets to the single-use trays used to process, store and distribute baked goods and snack foods. “Our engineers work with end users to analyze their business and help calculate the environmental impacts of different packaging options,” Klimko explains.

The company also created an environmental calculator to measure the environmental impact of using ISO 14040 standards, a life-cycle assessment guideline that provides a methodology for capturing data and measuring environmental impacts in terms of solid waste, energy consumption and carbon emissions. “Each product has given inputs that are used to make and ship the product to an end user, use the product and dispose of it at the end of its life,” Klimko says.

To help reduce plant space, personnel numbers and transportation costs, Colborne Foodbotics, Lake Forest, Ill., introduced an advanced robotic bread basket loading system (BBL) in 2001.

“After working closely with two multi-plant customers, we realized the shrinkage and compressibility of many bakery products allow us to develop more effective pack patterns that have a major impact on reducing plant space, personnel and transportation costs,” says Rick Hoskins, director of sales and marketing. “To better support this new initiative, we released the Pattern Optimization and Test Program to simplify the process of maximizing bread, buns, rolls and English muffins pack density using our BBL System.”

The company also added new components to its systems and machinery that help save energy by using less air and higher efficiency drives. “The upgrade costs can be sizable, but savings generally can provide a reasonable payback,” Hoskins says.

In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kan., is developing new processes that make smarter use of natural resources. Main focus areas include energy efficiency, water and waste reduction and sustainable packaging. By 2015, the company hopes to meet its goals for a 20% reduction in both energy consumption and clean water use.

Oven energy savings

Saginaw, Mich.-based Banner-Day’s core business focuses on ovens that enhance productivity and reduce energy content and emissions. The company’s products enable users to save energy by eliminating zone temperature over-rides, or flash heat, which increase oven exhaust stack temperatures and oven radiation as well as convection loses.

“We have ongoing efforts to further improve zone temperature control and response to load variations,” says Joseph Day, CEO. “The benefit of these upgrades ranges from improved product quality, increased efficiency and reduced energy usage.”

Banner-Day’s Total Oven Control (TOC) Systems offer energy reduction of between 20-25%. The oven is designed to conserve electricity by shutting off the ignition spark once the burner is lit. The savings are estimated to be 100 watt-hours per burner per hour.

Over the last few years, American Pan Co., Urbana, Ohio, has been offering ePANs, a line of energy-efficient bun, roll and bread pans manufactured from high-tensile-strength aluminized steel that are thinner, lighter and stronger than traditional pans. “We have come out with several options, including the e2PAN and the eBAND,” says vice president Jason Tingley. American Pan is currently developing the third-generation ePAN, which will be available in 2013.

“Aside from the operational benefits realized with sustainable products, many of our customers are being pushed by retailers and restaurants to lower their carbon footprint, and the expectations continue down the supply chain,” Tingley says.

Ingredients and the environment

With sustainable ingredients, in some cases, environmental and social impacts go hand in hand. Case in point: The increased push for sustainable palm oil is helping control rain forest deforestation.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 to help promote the production and use of this ingredient. Currently, there are 37 companies and 175 mills certified by RSPO.

“The goal of RSPO is to ensure that palm oil is produced in a sustainable way, both from economic and social perspectives,” explains Mark Weyland, product manager at Loders Croklaan, a Channahon, Ill.-based fats and oil supplier and subsidiary of IOI Corp.

Well-publicized and documented criteria allow for plantations like IOI’s to measure performance directly relative to set standards for producing sustainable palm oil. The company is committed to certifying that all of its plantations produce sustainable palm oil by 2013.

Loders Croklaan has invested in extra assets, including additional tanks and lines, to separate its conventional and sustainable oil. “Palm oil has been exposed to a fair amount of negative publicity due to the environment and deforestation,” Weyland says. “The ability to respond to this with clearly defined goals to make sure food manufacturers can trace oil production to responsible manufacturers and plantations is key in regards to ensuring sustainability.”

Sustainability is a relatively new area for Cargill, but one with increased focus largely in sourcing sustainable palm oil. “Cargill works closely with customers to help them map their palm footprint, and then helps them develop a sourcing strategy and cost management plan,” Gupta says. “As an active member of the RSPO, Cargill has committed that, by 2015, the palm oil products supplied to our customers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand will be RSPO-certified and/or originate from small-holder growers.”

By 2020, all of Cargill’s palm products and palm supply chain will be 100% RSPO-certified. In addition to palm oil, the company also has taken a sustainable stance on its cocoa ingredients. “Sustainability is central to our global cocoa bean sourcing strategy and how we do business,” states Taco Terheijden, manager of Cargill’s Sustainable Cocoa and Chocolate Team. “The principles we work to uphold are encapsulated in the Cargill Sustainable Cocoa Program.”

Last October, Cargill announced it is expanding this program to Indonesia, the world’s third-largest producer of cocoa beans. “For us, effective farmers’ organizations are a vital part of the sustainability journey,” Terheijden says. “Cooperatives and other farmers’ organizations help farmers plan for the future, provide financial services, serve as a base to share experience and learn, and often provide a range of community services.”

Cargill’s program in Indonesia will establish Farmer Field Schools to teach farmers good agricultural practices to help improve yields, enhance the quality of cocoa and increase their incomes. The Farmer Field Schools will also train farmers on best practices for pest and disease control.

“This is an important element in Indonesia, where currently it’s estimated that more than 50% of the cocoa crop is lost to pests and diseases, according to Cargill’s crop research analysts,” Terheijden says. “Initially, the aim is to train 1,000 farmers to reach independent sustainable certification for either UTZ (a label and program for sustainable farming of agricultural products launched in 2002) or Rainforest Alliance certification.”

Farmer Field Schools have proved to make farmers more successful, with an average increase of 30% in income as a result of better quality cocoa beans and higher yields from their farms. In 2012 in Cote d’Ivoire, Cargill’s farmer training aims to reach 60,000 farmers through its network of 1,100 schools, which will result in the number of cooperatives with independent certification rising to approximately 90. Cargill is working toward a target of 100,000 tons of certified sustainable cocoa beans from Côte d’Ivoire by 2015.

Barry Callebaut, a Zurich cocoa supplier with American headquarters in Chicago, has a number of investments and resources focused on sustainability, primarily in West Africa, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is harvested. “Due to the current and forecasted cocoa demand, a shortage of 1 million tons is predicted by 2020,” says Laura Bergan, Barry Callebaut’s North American marketing manager.

The company is concentrating its efforts on two key programs. Its Quality Partner Program (QPP), launched in 2005, focuses on partnering with farmers and cooperatives in West Africa to provide training and education on farmer practices, along with education for women and children. 

Barry Callebaut’s newest initiative, Cocoa Horizons, in which it recently invested more than $40 million Swiss francs (CHF), delves deeper into farmer practices, education and health. “Some of the goals within farmers’ practices are training and spending time with farmers to increase plantation yield and quality, so they will make more money,” Bergan says. “Another goal within that is we’re implementing yield enhancement techniques, which means training farmers through proper harvesting and fertilization to gain more cocoa pods per tree.”

With its farmer education, the company is providing cocoa training or a curriculum for farmers, a school curriculum for children and literacy and education for women. The impetus for the farmer health pillar is to improve the livelihood of the farmers through water wells and vaccination programs that will further develop cocoa growing communities.

As companies continue to refine performance measurement systems, environmental assessment is an increasingly important variable in the evaluation process.

“More companies now have environmental report cards and goals that are measured, so it’s not enough to say that a company is sustainable,” Klimko says. “Now, a company’s customers, investors and even shareholders expect to see progress in the area of sustainability as well.”