Employees drive ConAgra sustainability efforts

by Eric Schroeder
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OMAHA — The development of an innovative plastic flour bag and the creation of a new design for the company’s sauces for frozen meals were among the winning entries in ConAgra Foods, Inc.’s 2013 Sustainable Development Awards. In total, ConAgra collected 90 entries that delivered more than $22 million in savings for the Omaha-based company.

“Employee engagement, imagination and innovation played an even bigger part in this year’s applications,” said Gail Tavill, vice-president of sustainable development for ConAgra Foods. “It reflects an ongoing evolution of ownership and commitment at every level in the company, further integrating sustainability into how we do business every day.”

ConAgra said the 90 sustainable development projects achieved several milestones, including: reducing carbon emissions by more than 26,700 tonnes; reducing landfill waste by 23,000 tons; optimizing and improving packaging while using 3 million lbs less material; and conserving 646 million gallons of water.

In the area of sustainable business development, 2013 award winners included ConAgra Foods’ Research, Quality and Innovation team in Omaha and ConAgra Mills’ flour mill in Oakland, Calif.

The innovation team in Omaha was recognized for improving the design of sauces for frozen meals; reducing complexity and simplifying ingredients.

“These changes significantly reduced inbound transportation and handling of ingredients and also resulted in a product quality improvement that reduced customer complaints by 23%,” ConAgra said.

At the Oakland flour mill, ConAgra Mills piloted an innovative plastic flour bag that reduced materials and damage, improved pallets and provided other customer benefits in a product category the company said “has experienced relatively little change in packaging over time.” The project optimized packaging material use by 417,000 lbs, ConAgra said.

ConAgra Foods’ tomato fresh-pack facility in Helm, Calif., was recognized in the area of solid waste reduction and recycling for its new technology to further separate seeds and vines from the rest of the tomato, increasing yield and product quality. The technology helped recover more tomato fiber for use in paste and reduced waste generated at the plant by 20%, ConAgra said.

ConAgra Foods started the Sustainable Development Awards program in 1992 to encourage and incentivize employees to proactively look for ways to eliminate waste, reduce energy and conserve water through smart design. Winning teams are each awarded a $5,000 grant from ConAgra Foods to apply toward a sustainable community service project.

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