Future footprint

by Eric Schroeder
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Many food and beverage companies are leaving quite an impression when it comes to reducing their carbon footprints. A carbon footprint is "the total set of G.H.G. (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product," according to the U.K.-based Carbon Trust.

That footprint is measured through an assessment of the G.H.G. emissions embedded in goods and services throughout a product’s life cycle, from sourcing raw materials to manufacturing to distribution to use and disposal. The Carbon Trust, for example, has established a standard called Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 2050 that serves as a way to measure the size of the carbon footprint.

For the food and beverage industry, reducing carbon footprints fall under a larger umbrella of reaching economic, environmental and social sustainability goals. The concept is relatively new, but many companies are tackling it head-on in the hopes of ensuring a better quality of life as well as eliminating unnecessary costs.

The types of issues companies must consider when reducing carbon footprints are manifold. For starters, more thought is going into ways to build more efficient facilities or to redesign existing ones. Transportation initiatives are gaining steam as a way to save on fuel and dramatically cut back on CO2 emissions. Products themselves are being redesigned to eliminate waste.

PepsiCo as a pacesetter

PepsiCo, Inc. stands out for taking the lead on reducing its carbon footprint in the United States. The Purchase, N.Y.-based company’s relationship with Carbon Trust dates back to 2001, and the company earlier this year became the first to have a consumer product in North America receive Carbon Trust certification when its Tropicana brand earned the distinction.

In receiving the distinction, the Carbon Trust conducted an independent review of scientific lifecycle data and certified the carbon footprint of a standard 64-oz carton of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice by:

• Mapping the product lifecycle — from growing and squeezing oranges and getting the container on the shelves, to disposing of or recycling the packaging.

• Looking at the energy consumption directly involved in each of the stages of the lifecycle, and converting this into equivalent carbon dioxide emissions.

• Adding the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from each stage to estimate the total product greenhouse gas footprint of the product.

Using this process, the Carbon Trust estimated the carbon footprint of a 64-oz carton of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice at 1.7 kg. PepsiCo attributed approximately 60% of the footprint to agricultural and manufacturing-related factors, 22% to transportation, 15% to packaging, and 3% to consumer use and disposal.

Overseas, PepsiCo, through its Quaker Oats division, will become the first to show the amount of carbon used by different methods of cooking Quaker Oats. The label will allow consumers to compare the amount of carbon used in microwaving versus cooking the product on the stove top.

Speaking broadly about specific issues food and beverage companies should consider when reducing their carbon footprint, David Walker, director of environmental sustainability for PepsiCo International, said the bulk of the footprint resides outside of a company’s operations.

"Packaged food companies should expect agriculture, transportation and packaging to be major contributors to the footprint," Mr. Walker said. "If their product requires cooking, household energy use may prove to be the largest carbon emission contributor in the life cycle.

"As a result, food and beverage companies should invite their suppliers to become partners in the carbon footprint reduction efforts. Collaboration with suppliers is crucial, as often a small change in logistics or design can yield a major improvement in greenhouse gas emissions with no impact on product quality or costs. Examples range from changes to the way fertilizer is applied, to reduction in the use of shipping materials and localized sourcing of certain ingredients and supplies.

"For products requiring consumers to cook the food or add ingredients to the beverage, companies can educate consumers about how to reduce their in-home carbon footprint by suggesting the most carbon efficient method to prepare the food — oven versus microwave, for example."

Mr. Walker said companies should allow at least two years to implement an across-the-board supply chain solution to carbon footprint reduction. He noted that while PepsiCo U.K. is "clearly our most sophisticated business related to carbon emissions," the United States is rapidly catching up, and the company expects all of its businesses to operate in tandem on environmental issues going forward.

Kellogg makes progress

With 32,000 employees worldwide and 59 manufacturing facilities, Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. has a lot of moving parts. In its 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report, Kellogg identified its use of energy — both in manufacturing and transportation — as its most significant environmental impact. While acknowledging that its energy use contributes to resource depletion and the emission of G.H.G.s, Kellogg said it has achieved G.H.G. and energy use reductions through a variety of projects. The projects include a lighting retrofit across multiple manufacturing and warehouse facilities in the United States and Canada that has reduced lighting-related energy use by more than 25% since late 2005, and modifications to a steam system at its Battle Creek facility in 2006 that has reduced G.H.G. emissions by 1,700 tonnes per year.

Kellogg also has found a way to reduce its carbon footprint through transportation initiatives. The company has increased its use of rail shipments in the United States, resulting in a savings of more than 1.6 million gallons of diesel fuel per year since 2006. Another 74,000 gallons of fuel have been eliminated as the result of a plan implemented in 2007 that decreased the amount of air space in cases of ready-to-eat cereal and increased the amount of product on each truck.

More work ahead for General Mills

In its 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility report, General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, said it is making progress on two of its four five-year goals to reduce its environmental impact, including reducing water usage by 3% (its goal is 5% by 2011) and cutting solid waste generation by 6% (its goal is 15% by 2010). The company has not been as successful in its efforts to cut G.H.G. emissions or energy consumption, which have remained virtually the same since 2005.

"This is due, in part, because more of the recent products we’re selling are cooked or toasted, which requires more energy, and are also lighter in weight," General Mills said. "This skews our energy use per metric ton produced upward. Nonetheless, we remain committed to making progress against these goals, which our employees have fully embraced."

An area of success for General Mills has come in its efforts on packaging. One of the largest users of post-consumer recycled paper in the United States, General Mills utilizes cereal boxes that are made from 100% recycled paperboard. The company also last year launched new Yoplait packaging for club stores that features a new cup design that uses less plastic and allows the cups to ship together more closely. General Mills said the new package uses 20% less packaging per case than the previous design and saves more than 1,200 tons of plastic per year.

Rewards program in play at ConAgra

Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc. has taken an interesting tactic in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, recognizing individual sites within the company for sustainable business practices, waste elimination and resource conservation. In total, the projects reduced carbon emissions by more than 25,000 tonnes, eliminated 4,000 tons of landfill waste, 7,000 tons of packaging material and conserved 348 million gallons of water during fiscal years 2008 and 2009. Winning submissions received a $5,000 grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation to put toward a sustainable community service project.

On a broader scale, ConAgra is working to ramp up the tracking of its carbon footprint. The company in fiscal 2007 conducted its first G.H.G. emissions inventory, which measured ConAgra’s carbon footprint at 2.033 million tonnes. That figure climbed to 2.074 million tonnes in 2008, but ConAgra hopes the data will provide a baseline upon which the company may establish achievable reduction goals.

"Approximately 57% of our reported emissions come from direct sources, including on-site fuel use, fugitive process emissions, transportation fleet and other miscellaneous sources," the company noted in its 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report. "The remaining 43% of our reported emissions are from purchased electricity. We recognize that in addition to this, emissions associated with our supply chain, product retail distribution and consumer use represent a significant portion of our overall carbon footprint. In the next 18 months, we are committed to further analyzing the major emissions associated with this part of our business."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, May 26, 2009, starting on Page 60. Click here to search that archive.

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