If aiming to improve systems, processes or organizations, why not shoot for the best? Achieving the highest levels of energy efficiency have driven some bakers to pursue ambitious certifications from some of the world’s leading organizations.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (U.S.G.B.C.), set some of the top benchmarks. More than 2.4 million square feet of buildings are certified every day, according to the U.S.G.B.C., with more than 94,000 projects currently using LEED guidelines in more than 165 countries.

Jerry Lyzen, chief engineer with the Austin Co., said energy management solutions and certifications are critical in today’s operations environment.

“The price of electricity, domestic water and natural gas have increased over the past 10 years, making energy solutions a No. 1 priority in planning bakery process lines and new facilities to house the bakery lines,” he said.

Today, a number of LEED rating systems meet the needs of different buildings and project types. Each system consists of prerequisites and credits. With four possible levels of certification (certified, silver, gold and platinum), LEED is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of green building strategies that best fit the constraints and goals of particular bakery projects.

Certification can be a time- and cost-intensive mission for bakers. But the payoff is often worth it, Mr. Lyzen explained.

“LEED is a way to demonstrate to your customers that you have met or exceeded certain environmental goals during the design and construction of your facility — an advantage to advertise to your consumer,” he said. The energy saved also pays for itself over time.

Grupo Bimbo, Mexico City, is making LEED certification a company-wide priority. Its new distribution center located in the Azcapotzalco District of Mexico City received LEED Gold certification for features such as zero-waste-to-landfill areas and exclusive use of electricity from the Piedra Larga Wind Farm, which reduces reliance on the traditional electric utilities.

Grupo Bimbo also built LEED Gold-certified facilities in Bogota, Columbia, and Tepeji del Rio, Mexico. Christopher Wolfe, corporate director, environmental and sustainability, Grupo Bimbo, said all initiatives were aimed at driving profitability in the long term. He said LEED offers a tool for bakers to build a bakery that better manages energy usage and makes sustainability part of its foundation.

“Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever before, and efforts like choosing LEED are looked upon much more favorably when the choice is presented,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Also, the overall wellness of the associates that work in these buildings, the longevity of the facilities and sustainability has all been proven to be vastly increased as more and more data is provided.”

The guidelines established by organizations like LEED offer frameworks for bakers to embark on their own path to sustainable energy management.

LEED the way

According to the Austin Co., bakers who pursue LEED certification should achieve energy savings from systems like HVAC, ovens, lighting and more.

“The bottom line is the baker will save money and be paid back with that savings over the life of an energy-efficient facility with LEED certification,” Mr. Lyzen said.

In 2015, the Austin Co. completed construction on Bimbo Bakeries USA’s first U.S. LEED Gold-certified bakery, located in Lehigh Valley, Pa. The $75 million, 231,000-square-foot bakery property features a bakery and ingredients processing area, multiple production lines, shipping and receiving facilities, packaging and warehouse areas, office and employee facilities, and other support areas. The bakery features rain gardens, multiple infiltration ponds and riparian buffers for storm water management, highly-efficient HVAC, energy-efficient equipment and fixtures, solar tube skylights and hot water return recirculation.

LEED certification has become more difficult from a cost perspective. Five years ago, companies could apply for federal grant money. In some cases, projects were eligible for 50% funding through U.S. Department of Energy grants, said Allen Baiamonte, project manager, food and consumer products group, Burns & McDonnell. That money made a lot of projects feasible, but such support isn’t available today. There are other financial incentives offered by states and local municipalities.

Mr. Baiamonte suggested bakers looking for quick energy management fixes aim for some more cost-effective targets. These relatively cheap, low-hanging fruits include retrofitted lighting and better energy control systems.

“LEED certification is important for some clients, but designing and incorporating LEED standards can be a goal without pursuing actual certification,” he said.

For example, over the past several years, Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., has targeted several energy management projects such as lighting.

Margaret Ann Marsh, vice-president, sustainability and environmental, Flowers Foods, said most of the projects had an R.O.I. of two years or less.

“We are now moving on to projects with greater R.O.I. and the potential for even more savings over the long term, including air compressor replacements and heat recovery initiatives,” she said. “Through energy improvements, we have been able to make more product using less energy and reduced our utility costs.”

The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., decided to combine several strategies for energy management that incorporate LEED standards.

At Campbell Soup’s Bloomfield, Conn., Pepperidge Farm bakery, the company uses a combined 3.6 MW of renewable energy. It also installed a 1-MW solar field. Snyder’s-Lance, which is part of the Campbell Snacks division, features an LEED Gold-certified R.&D. building in Hanover, Pa., and a 26-acre 3.5-MW solar field. Additionally, Campbell Soup’s new Employee Center is LEED-certified with a roof that reflects the sun’s heat to better insulate the building.

“Campbell’s LEED certification demonstrates tremendous green building leadership,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, c.e.o. and founding chair of the U.S.G.B.C. “The urgency of U.S.G.B.C.’s mission has challenged the industry to move faster and reach further than ever before, and Campbell serves as a prime example with just how much we can accomplish.”

Green means go

It’s easy to imagine a 100% sustainable bakery, but the reality of building one isn’t so simple. In many cases, it means constructing a bakery from the ground up. However, older facilities also can be upgraded and retrofitted.

“When looking to update an existing bakery using LEED, one good first step would be to evaluate the condition of the infrastructure,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Piping, wiring, façade, insulation and all of the main elements of the building should be inspected prior to any undertaking that would involve upgrading whole systems.”

Brownfield bakeries come with more challenges compared with a new greenfield project. Existing buildings may have been located, designed and built with poor materials and high-emission systems. It’s difficult to reconstruct such facilities.

Initial action should be a hazard assessment, said Mr. Baiamonte. Then, inspect and assess all existing physical facilities. In a lot of cases, the local utility provider will have records of past energy usage that may yield warning flags on existing equipment or structures. Finally, a total life-cycle cost analysis should be conducted to identify the total economic impacts of the upgrades over the expected life of the new project.

“By using a life-cycle approach, design alternatives can be compared on a present value basis, which may ultimately prove the business case for more sustainable projects,” Mr. Baiamonte said.

Denver-based Mile Hi Foods provides an example of how to make brownfield meet LEED certification. The owners converted an existing building and gained nearly all the benefits that a greenfield site would have provided. Energy and water savings figured into the renovation strategies. So, Mile Hi removed river rock that anchored the roof and used it for landscaping. The new roof’s R30-rated white membrane reflects light and heat, keeping the bakery cooler and cuts the “urban heat island” effect of older styles. Excess heat from the ammonia compressors is channeled into the freezer floor to maintain temperature balances. And heat generated by the catalytic oxidizer, reburning oven exhaust at 1,200°F, supplies the plant’s heating and hot water needs, all without the need for a boiler.

Some of the core differences between new and existing LEED facilities come from the fact that greenfield construction provides a blank canvas, where upgrading current buildings requires creativity with what’s available. Brownfield facilities often have structures that block potential design elements or infrastructure challenges that can be cost-prohibitive.

“It really depends on the extent to which you’re seeking certification while also trying to meet the minimum requirements for LEED that will determine if a new or existing building is the right way to go,” 
Mr. Wolfe said.

Right on R.O.I.

All investments in facilities must be cost-justified, and upfront capital costs obviously drive many planning decisions. For Burns & McDonnell, most projects come with a 20% internal rate of return on a two- to three-year payback, but that length of return can be a high financial hurdle to jump.

When it comes to energy management, Mr. Wolfe advised focusing primarily on gas and electric usage. Costs for natural gas and its procurement for the foreseeable future can weigh on decisions to build new facilities or upgrade old ones. Variables like renewable energy options, water issues and reputation of utilities can all affect the decisions and ultimately R.O.I.

“Like with any R.O.I. calculation, you must weigh the investment of the potential energy management solution against the potential savings it provides,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Bakeries need to evaluate the pros and cons, but the benefits are undeniable.”