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What started as a simple recycling program quickly snowballed into a sustainable way of business and life. In 2006, Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co., Chicago, IL, joined the Chicago Department of Environment’s launch of its byproduct synergy program, known as the Waste to Profit Network. Since then, the company earned the city of Chicago’s Green Ribbon Award for the largest carbon reduction by any of the network’s members, as well as PepsiCo’s Center of Excellence award for the bakery’s efforts in use of best practices to reduce its energy consumption.

Currently serving as vice-president of quality assurance, James McBride joined Schulze & Burch as a summer intern in 1981. He held positions in operations, sanitation, project management and facilities, and he now leads the company’s sustainability program. He offered Baking & Snack readers some insight into launching sustainability programs — and keeping them rolling.

Baking & Snack: How does Schulze & Burch approach sustainability?

James McBride: One of the ways we got sustainability going at Schulze & Burch is the Waste to Profit Network. We looked at how to fund things, and we saw that there’s an opportunity of doing a better job of recycling so we don’t send it all to the landfill. From there, we looked at the landfill cost savings as the seed money for other sustainable activities.

Part of that was educational, so we bought posters for the plant. We had contests to see which department could do a better job of sorting their recycling, and then we had giveaways for them. The department that won got something free, ranging from bringing a pizza in for that group to a nice fleece running jacket made out of recycled materials.

For Earth Day, part of the recycling money went to buying lunch for the whole plant. We’d have several months of doing a really good job of recycling, so we had a little extra money in the coffer. We also allowed people to bring in their consumer electronics from home for recycling.

We said, “Bring your old electronics in, and you get a T-shirt.” We had a nice green frog on the T-shirt, and we were amazed how much was actually brought in. People hang onto electronics because they don’t want to just throw them onto the curb; they know they should do something better with it.

We’re trying to tie in ways to bring sustainability into their personal life, so it’s not just about the company. It’s how we all can participate. We have a container in each one of our cafeterias where people can bring in their used batteries from home and recycle them. It doesn’t cost us that much, and the effort is paid for by our sustainability budget.

How do you prioritize your efficiency projects?

We’re able to manage the activities in the plant and the expectations of how much we’re going to do. People will say, “When are you going to fix the lighting in my area? When do I get the new lighting?” And we’ll say, “When the sustainability savings coffers get big enough, we can spend the money.” We run the program like a household budget. That helps the buy-in from the people. They say, “OK, you have earmarked funds, so we’ll do a better job on that.”

Because we are a business, we do grandfather the funds in. On paper, we roll the budget into next year, and then next year we spend that money to save more money. And then that second year’s savings become the third year’s spending.

Some of it’s calculations. We reduced the electrical bill, so we do that on a theoretical basis — “These lights save this much energy,” and accounting says, “OK, that’s what your bucket of money is.” Again, it’s just trying to set some reasonable guidelines and trying to help get it going, rather than say, “To relamp, we’re going to need this much money.”

How can upper-level management buy into such a program?

You really need someone at the higher level to be the champion. In our case, it has been me. You do need someone convinced that it’s the bottom line; this is cost savings.

One way to spin it when I’m trying to sell upper-management people is think of it as the good old-fashioned cost-saving initiatives that we used to do. You’ve just given it a new name, and you’ve given the people on the floor an incentive. People want to save the plant.

When we started doing more and more of this, I had some folks from the plant who had been there for a while come up and ask me, “Jim, why did it take so long for the company to get here?” And I said, “Yeah, we’ve been sorting at my house for years and just not at the level here.” If you have the champion at the top, you’ll find the response from the plant.

Do you find that it’s easier to launch sustainability initiatives in large corporations or in smaller companies?

In our case, PepsiCo has been a big leader in not only driving change but also supporting it. They’ve been very open and sharing. That’s part of sustainability, helping your local communities, so we’re trying to take it to the next level.

In the Waste to Profit Network, the leaders tend to be the larger organizations. They have the expertise, the engineers and the larger staff to help, and now we just have to figure out what best practices are and efficiently get them out to the smaller businesses that don’t have an on-site engineer.

We’re trying to help because we see it as a way to keep good jobs and skilled workers in Chicago. Our future workers are coming from that labor pool. If everyone leaves town, that’s not going to help us maintain our long-term employee base for the plant. It is in our best interest to help everyone else be successful.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.