POWER Engineers

Since it joined its home city's Waste to Profit Network byproduct synergy program, Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co., Chicago, IL, has been honored by both the city of Chicago and its partner PepsiCo for its green strides. Currently serving as vice-president of quality assurance, James McBride is responsible for Schulze & Burch's sustainability program. He answered some questions about making the most out of recycling programs.

Baking & Snack: What’s the typical starting point for a company trying to be more sustainable, the low-hanging fruit?

James McBride: We got the quick gain from doing a better job of sorting our trash and making sure we were recycling the most we could, optimizing our waste stream. Plastic banding straps are more valuable than a lot of the other plastics that we recycle. There are chippers that you mount over a 55-gallon drum, and you can feed in the plastic and chip it so it packs densely. This way, you can collect several hundred pounds of plastic in a single 55-gallon drum. Now you have an asset that can be sold separately rather than all this mixed plastic. It gives you higher value.

As you separate more, you have to balance the labor vs. how much you want to do it and how much space you have. The key would be convincing upper management not to put every saved dollar to the bottom line but to earmark some of those funds for the next project.

We have a sustainability team that includes people from engineering, production, quality, sanitation, facility and accounting. Many of those folks didn’t normally have discretionary budgets, and when we empowered that group with a budget, we saw them take ownership. They would follow projects through because they wanted to make sure we got all the theoretical dollars for the next project. It was low risk. They’re not going to run away with the store on you.

Where is the greatest opportunity for ROI?

Everyone’s experience is so different. We realize now it varies by state. You’ll hear certain ideas, but a project that has benefits in New Jersey may not make sense in Illinois. Solar panels offer a good example. It has to do with the regulations. You have to balance all these ideas for what works best in your region.

Besides environmental impacts and reduced costs, what other benefits of sustainable practices do you see?

It’s long-term cost reduction, so it keeps you competitive. When all your input prices are going up, if you can control the waste — wasted energy, wasted materials — it makes you a more competitive organization, and it helps keep you around.

How important are actions like Wal-Mart’s sustainability declaration?

One thing about Wal-Mart and PepsiCo — and we’re seeing it now from the rest of the grocery chains — is that the sustainability declaration tells the upper management team that it’s serious and you have to do something. The managers can turn to their plant and say, “Well, do something,” and this allows the plant to look at its own unique situation and come up with a plan.

With Wal-Mart in the lead, it ensures that the fence-sitters have to get engaged. We’re seeing critical mass. In just a few short years, there’s a lot more vendors available. Some projects, compared with just five years ago, are much cheaper now because of competition, and that’s a very encouraging thing in the sustainability area.  

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.