J. Peter Clark

A friend who is inclined to a somewhat cynical view of the world asked in his newsletter, “What does sustainability mean?” He asserted that the concept could not be defined in a meaningful way and so meant nothing. A reasonable answer to his question is provided in a new book from IFT Press. The book, Sustainability in the Food Industry, edited by Cheryl J. Baldwin (2009), consists of 11 chapters written by a distinguished group of authors including my fellow columnist Aaron Brody and Kantha Shelke. Significantly, it offers this definition in the Introduction: “Sustainable development has been defined as meeting ‘the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’”

Using wind turbines to harness wind power can be a cost-effective and sustainable approach to operating a food processing facility. Photo courtesy of Burns & McDonnell

As applied to the food industry, sustainability can have an impact on both design and operation of food plants. This column includes some specific examples of sustainable design in food plants to provide some inspiration to those tasked with meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

The Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food in the United Kingdom developed key principles for a sustainable food chain. Some that apply to food plants and companies are as follows:
• Produce safe, healthy products in response to market demands and ensure that all consumers have access to nutritious food and accurate information about food products.

• Achieve consistently high standards of environmental performance by reducing energy consumption, minimizing resource inputs, and using renewable energy whenever possible.

• Ensure a safe and hygienic working environment, high social welfare, and training for all employees involved in the food chain.

Other principles apply primarily to farms.

LEED® stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the creation of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). According to David Dixon, Director – Strategic Accounts for Burns and McDonnell (phone 770-510-4520, [email protected]), LEED is a collection of criteria by which new and existing buildings are rated and by which they can be awarded various rankings—bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The criteria are now in their third edition. People like Dixon can become LEED-accredited professionals by passing an exam on the criteria. The criteria include such measures as energy efficiency, use of recycled materials, reduction in carbon footprint, and reduction in solid waste.

Food plants and industrial buildings in general have had difficulty obtaining high LEED rankings because they can be large energy users and the demands of sanitary design impose restrictions on the choice of materials. In at least one case with which I was involved, my colleagues and I found it much easier to use green materials and techniques in an office portion of a produce warehouse than in the major portion of the facility. Most of the buildings that earned early LEED recognition have been commercial and government office facilities. However, according to Dixon and some published sources, new and existing food plants have achieved LEED levels. There are separate criteria for new and existing buildings.

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Existing Building Gold
Frito-Lay’s Casa Grande, Ariz., facility is said to be the nation’s first food manufacturing site to be awarded LEED existing building (EB) gold certification from the USGBC and certified by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). To achieve this, the sustainability strategy included implementing a number of green design and construction features, water reduction technologies and practices, and improved waste management.

Energy consumption has been reduced by 20% since 2006 by installing a heat recovery system that preheats cooking oil, skylights to supplement lighting in office areas, and high-efficiency ovens. In addition, the facility has introduced water-efficient landscaping with native plants and water-saving technologies in manufacturing to decrease the site’s usage by 17% since 2006. As of September 2009, more than 99% of the facility’s wastes have been diverted from land-fills through an employee-led recycling program, reusing cardboard shipping boxes multiple times, and sending waste product to be used as animal feed.

Pet Food Plants
Debbie Phillips-Donaldson reported on the achievements of a number of pet food companies with new or retrofitted sustainable facilities in the December 2009 issue of Petfood Industry. There may be lessons here for almost any plant.

Canidae Pet Food gets 100% of its electricity from 34 turbines in the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center in Woodward, Okla. This is said to save about one pound of coal for every kilowatt-hour generated by wind.

Cardinal Laboratories’ manufacturing and distribution center in Azusa, Calif., has converted completely to solar power. Its solar collection system is a white roof with 320 solar panels covering 5,440 sq ft and generates more power than the plant needs, sending some back to the local utility. The company also installed more efficient equipment, new prismatic units to replace skylights, and sensors that turn off lights when an area is vacant.

Mars built a new $80 million, 305,000-sq-ft facility in Ft. Smith, Ark., which earned LEED gold certification by Mars’ installing water recycling, energy reduction programs, reducing erosion, and reducing light pollution. Elsewhere, Mars has expanded plant recycling programs, modified packaging from paper to woven polypropylene, and reduced solid waste.

Natura’s new office building, located in Davis, Calif., includes the following design elements:
• Pre-wiring for future solar panels;

• Energy Star-rated equipment;

• Bike racks to encourage employees to commute by bicycle (Davis has more bikes than people);

• Low-emissivity windows to allow for natural lighting;

• Operable windows to allow for fresh air and natural heating/cooling;

• Sensors to turn off lighting automatically when no motion is detectable;

• Water-conserving features such as drip irrigation and a bioswell for runoff water; and

• A video conference system to reduce employee air travel between the Davis office and the company’s plant in Nebraska.

Nestlé Purina’s plant in Denver, Colo., has a 467-panel, 100-kilowatt photovoltaic system covering 21,000 sq ft of the roof. This supplies about 1% of the plant’s needs and saves emission of 300,000 lb of carbon dioxide annually.

The new global headquarters of Novus International, a developer of animal health and nutrition programs, in St. Charles, Mo., achieved LEED platinum certification, which is a rare accomplishment. It is 20,000 sq ft, cost $20 million, and contains 10 laboratories as well as office space, a training center, a fitness center, and cafeteria. Some of its features are as follows:
• A 5,000-sq-ft array of solar panels; 

•100% of energy purchased through renewable energy credits;

• 10% of materials from salvaged sources;

• 30% of materials from recycled content;

• Under-floor air distribution system;

• Landscaping with native grasses and plants requiring no irrigation;

• A framework to grow a plant canopy for natural shading;

• A storm water system to reduce runoff;

• Skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize use of natural light; and

Chapter 11 of Sustainability in the Food Industry presents 12 principles of green engineering and 10 principles for food products, which are paraphrased for brevity in the sidebar on page 72. As is often true of general principles, it is not possible to adhere to all of them in any given case. The incremental cost of building and operating in a sustainable way is getting lower as more firms adopt the goals. There usually is a tangible economic return from reducing energy, water use, and waste generation. In addition, consumers are demanding food products that have been produced and packaged in a way that is environmentally conscious.

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Green Engineering Principles

  1. Material and energy inputs are inherently nonhazardous, so they are safe without extraordinary precautions 
  2. Prevent waste rather than clean it up
  3. Separation and purification are components of design framework
  4. Design to maximize mass, energy, and temporal efficiency
  5. Output pull rather than input push
  6. Embedded entropy and complexity are an investment when making choices on recycle, reuse, or beneficial disposition so that the effort involved in reducing the impact of streams provides a benefit rather than an expense
  7. Durability, not immortality, should be a design goal
  8. Designing for unnecessary capacity or capability is flawed
  9. Multi-component products should strive for material unification to promote disassembly
  10. Integrate interconnectivity with available material and energy flows 
  11. Design for performance in commercial afterlife
  12. Make design choices that are renewable
Material and energy inputs are inherently nonhazardous, so they are safe without extraordinary precautions 

Sustainability Principles

  1. Ensure safety of the food supply
  2. Provide nutritionally dense food
  3. Minimize animal products and ingredients
  4. Use lower-intensity agricultural products
  5. Avoid air transport of food
  6. Diversify sourcing
  7. Process food with minimal inputs, raw materials, water, and energy
  8. Process food with zero waste
  9. Minimize total packaging
  10. Efficiently deliver food to consumers

Source: Sustainability in the Food Industry, ed. Cheryl J. Baldwin (2009)

by J. Peter Clark,
Contributing Editor,
Consultant to the Process Industries, Oak Park, Ill.
[email protected]