“Sustainability” has been a buzzword for many years, but companies in the baking and snack industries recently have started to embrace the idea as a way to reduce waste, lower overhead and improve profitability. One approach to help baking and snack companies achieve these goals is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Energy Star for Industry program.

EPA started the Energy Star program in 1992 as a market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the Energy Star label can be found on more than 60 different kinds of products as well as new homes and commercial and industrial buildings that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by EPA.

Walt Tunnessen is the national manager for EPA’s Energy Star for Industry program, a voluntary government effort that works with hundreds of businesses and organizations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improved energy efficiency.

Through Energy Star for Industry, Mr. Tunnessen leads initiatives with manufacturing sectors to identify energy management best practices and develop energy performance scoring systems — including the one most recently developed for the cookie and cracker industry, in which the Biscuit & Cracker Manufacturers’ Association played a key role. He is responsible for EPA’s Energy Star initiatives with food processing sectors, and he manages the development energy management guidance and resources for Energy Star.

Lucy Sutton, managing editor ofBaking & Snack, caught up with Mr. Tunnessen after his participation in a panel at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2011 in Chicago, IL, during which he described the program and why bakers and snack manufacturers might consider participating in it.

Baking & Snack: How does EPA recognize facilities that are particularly energy-efficient?

Walt Tunnessen: Energy Star certification is awarded to plants that are among the most efficient in the US based on their benchmarking results from the Energy Performance Indicator (EPI). The EPI provides an Energy Performance Score on a scale on 1 to 100. Plants that score a 75 or higher are considered to be the most efficient and are eligible to receive the Energy Star. The steps required to earn the Energy Star depend on the site’s energy performance score. Sites with lower scores are more likely to require capital investments to improve their performance. Sites with above-average scores but below 75 can usually increase their scores through better operating procedures and low-cost optimization projects.

How can a company use its Energy Star status to promote its achievements with consumers?

The Energy Star brand is highly recognized and respected. Achieving certification for plant energy performance provides an opportunity to communicate the company’s commitment to protecting the environment and is a testament to the quality of its sustainability efforts. For retail customers, this message is becoming increasingly important, and demonstrating that a specific level of performance has been achieved is one of the most powerful statements of sustainability. This message is also important to consumers as more shoppers seek products that are manufactured responsibly. However, Energy Star certification in the industrial space is awarded to the performance of the plant and not the product. Therefore, we have specific guidelines that must be followed if a company wants to put any form of the Energy Star mark on its products. This is to ensure consumers will not be confused if they see the Energy Star on products that do not actually use energy. Companies are encouraged to communicate their accomplishment to consumers, but it must be done in a way to explain that the award is for the efficiency of the plant.

How can baking and snack companies best take advantage of the Energy Star program as they design and build new plants?

The EPA’s Energy Star for Industry program focuses on improving the energy performance of existing plants. However, EPIs can be used to identify energy targets for new designs. EPIs are sector-specific energy performance benchmarking tools that enable existing plants to compare their performance with the rest of the industry. New plants should be designed to have an expected energy intensity that will be top-of-level in performance compared with existing plans. Companies and their architecture and engineering firms can use Energy Star EPIs to identify energy targets that can inform new designs and modeling exercises. An EPI has been created for cookie and cracker bakeries, and EPA plans to develop an EPI for commercial bakeries.

On the other hand, what are the primary steps for improving the energy efficiency of existing facilities?

There are many steps that can be taken, but the fundamental one is to establish an effective energy management program. Many companies lack formal energy programs or are only starting to form programs. Without people and teams in place, it is difficult to improve efficiency and sustain energy savings over time. Without effective energy teams, it’s harder to implement assessment findings and recommended projects. Energy Star provides guidance on how to establish an energy program and tools and resources to support effective energy management.

What components of baking, snack and cookie facilities — or even the food industry in general — are especially challenging for energy efficiency?

It’s hard to generalize across the food industry since there is a lot of variation in plant type and configuration. But where we frequently see opportunities are in better operating practices, optimizing existing processes and upgrading basic plant utility systems such as lighting and motors. But the key to harvesting energy efficiency — especially low- and no-cost operational improvements — is having an energy program. Strengthening energy management practices is an area where most companies in the food process sector can focus.

What are the biggest challenges in convincing an industry to participate in the Energy Star program?

For most industries, the historical relationship with EPA has been centered on environmental regulations. Not surprisingly, many industrial sectors are initially concerned that there will be some sort of regulatory aspect to Energy Star since it is an EPA program. However, once an industry understands that Energy Star is a voluntary program and is separate from regulatory and enforcement sides of the agency, these concerns are usually alleviated. Energy Star has now been working with major energy-intensive industrial sectors such as cement manufacturing for nearly 10 years, which illustrates that such sectors are comfortable working with Energy Star.

How does EPA create EPIs that are specific to a segment of the food industry?

The Energy Star EPIs are developed through a collaborative partnership with industry. The process begins by establishing a working group of energy managers and engineers called an Industrial Focus. Participants in the Industrial Focus help shape the design of the EPI by identifying key issues, establishing assumptions, testing and providing feedback on the EPI as it is developed. The actual construction of the EPI is done by researchers at Duke University with expertise in developing statistical models used to benchmark energy performance and with access to restricted US Census Bureau databases. For the most part, we rely on data already reported to the US Census to create EPIs. This reduces the burden on companies and also allows us to have a representative sample of the industry.

What lessons have you learned developing the EPI for the cookie and cracker industry, and how could the baking and snack industries apply those lessons?

In developing an EPI, it is important to have industry representatives who have an interest in energy performance benchmarking, access to company energy and production data and, of course, a solid understanding of how energy is used. It’s also very helpful to have individuals from companies that have multiple plants with a range of performance. Sometimes, identifying these people can take time, especially if the industry does not have a strong tradition of centralized corporate energy management. One important step that companies within the baking sector can take now is to identify individuals who are interested in participating in the different aspects of the Energy Star Focus. Participating in the Focus and the EPI development is not a major time commitment, and if you ask energy managers from other sectors we have worked with, they will tell you it is a valuable process and worth the effort.

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