Even many of the best-laid plans had to be tossed aside, or placed into a recycle bin, after the coronavirus (COVID-19) struck. Almost all departments, including those that drive sustainability, had to revise their objectives as bakeries struggled to meet the unexpected surge for baked goods in the retail market — or had to scramble to find customers to make up for lost sales from their foodservice accounts.
“We had a pretty aggressive campaign for 2020, and candidly, when the pandemic hit, we had to refocus our resources,” recalled Christopher Wolfe, corporate director, environmental and sustainability for Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU), Horsham, Pa. “First and foremost was the welfare of our associates and to have enhanced safety protocols in place.”
Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, he added, BBU kept its bakeries running and routes meeting the unprecedented demand for its products.
“Our associates deserve all the credit,” Mr. Wolfe said. “They went to work every day, despite the coronavirus.”
Even with the pandemic, Flowers Foods has been able to continue to drive efficiencies and savings through sustainability initiatives, noted Margaret Ann Marsh, vice president of sustainability and environmental for the Thomasville, Ga.-based company.
“This is a real testament to our commitment to sustainability, though in the first few months of the pandemic, our company, like most others, was in crisis mode dealing with challenges we had never faced before,” she explained. “Our priorities then — and now — are keeping our team members safe and the market served.”
She noted that as the company has settled into a new “pandemic normal,” its bakeries are hitting their stride again when it comes to sustainable goals and targets.
For BBU, which even had to reopen a shuttered bakery to meet retailers’ needs, operating its production lines on overdrive while tweaking its product mix to eliminate changeovers provided some unanticipated benefits from an energy management perspective.
“Initially, we reduced SKUs, but with that efficiency, our waste declined,” said Mr. Wolfe, who along with Ms. Marsh co-chairs the American Bakers Association’s Energy and Environment Professionals Group. “Traditional waste, whether you are looking at food waste or plant trash, was down significantly. Based on the sheer fact that we’re getting a better yield, the energy intensities went down as far as how much energy we had to use to make the same amount of products.”
He noted that key performance indicators (KPIs) for electricity, natural gas, water and traditional waste outperformed expectations as bakeries operated more efficiently. During the second half of the year, BBU even ramped up some programs such as installing the LED lighting that’s now in most of its US bakeries.
“From an operators’ perspective, volume is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Wolfe explained. “If a bakery goes from shutting down X amount of hours per week to running for hours on end, it makes everyone’s job that much more efficient, and that has a synergistic impact for all KPIs.”
Many bakery operators, however, noted that safety protocols for COVID-19 have prompted several plants to recalibrate their goals and targets since a number of energy-saving measures will not be implemented this year, noted Walt Tunnessen, national manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star program.
“In the baking sector, we have heard that some facilities are experiencing lower production levels while others are running at full force,” Mr. Tunnessen said. “The overall energy impact of new safety requirements, such as increased ventilation rates and additional cleaning, are starting to be better understood now and seem to vary by plant and sector. Restrictions on who can enter plants and travel bans are also negatively impacting the ability to implement projects.”
These difficulties will impede the ability of some plants to qualify for Energy Star certification or achieve the Energy Star Challenge for Industry, which offers EPA recognition for plants that reduce their energy intensity by 10% within five years or less.
Mr. Tunnessen said the EPA will be granting extensions to facilities that were not operating “normally” because of COVID-19.
The pandemic didn’t stop Flowers Foods, which announced 15 of its baking plants have been granted Energy Star certification for 2020. In 2019, 13 of its 46 bakeries achieved that status.
“We use Energy Star tools to calculate annually the energy performance index — or EPI — for each bakery, and then we track their performance year to year,” explained Lori Driver, sustainability manager at Flowers Foods.
She added that those results receive a third-party audit, and the recognition from the Energy Star program comes as a testament to Flowers’ bakeries’ commitment to sustainable environmental practices, despite the challenges this year.
Mr. Tunnessen pointed out that all types of bakeries apply for Energy Star status, but most of the successful ones have one thing in common.
“The companies that want to distinguish themselves as environmental leaders and have a strong focus on continuous improvement have made earning Energy Star certification a top priority,” he said.
Leslie Adebayo, BBU’s corporate sustainability manager, said achieving either the Energy Star Challenge for Industry or certification is seen as a standard of excellence for energy efficiency.
“The company’s primary concern is to do the right thing for the bakeries, and in the process, look for opportunities to validate the initiatives through recognized programs for achieving savings,” he said. “We reap many benefits from being known as industry leaders in the energy space as the only food company to win Energy Star Partner of the Year. Our consumers recognize our commitments and value our position as leaders in sustainability.”
Meeting the Energy Star Challenge for Industry is easier for some bakeries while the more demanding certification, which requires an energy performance score of 75 out of 100, will only be achievable by the most efficient bakeries in the class.
“Understandably, established bakeries with older equipment that have the opportunity to advance to more up-to-date equipment and lighting will typically have a better chance of meeting the challenge,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Certification is scored against an average, and there are a few factors like location, production totals, what is produced and overall energy consumption that play a role in factoring a bakery’s score.”
Ms. Marsh observed that Flowers has Energy Star-certified bakeries in all age ranges, including one bakery that opened in 1893. Ultimately, she added, the process comes down to a continual investment in operations.
In 2016, for instance, Flowers transformed a 60-year-old bakery in Tuscaloosa, Ala., into one of the most efficient organic bakeries in the nation. During the process, its engineering team incorporated sustainability features, such as LED lighting and skylights, electric blowers instead of compressed air, an oven that reuses waste heat, and an energy-efficient refrigeration system.
“The result? Tuscaloosa Organic Baking Co. has achieved Energy Star certification three years in a row, earning an almost perfect score,” Ms. Marsh said.
Mr. Tunnessen observed that the vintage of a plant does not always determine if it will be energy efficient. Rather, it’s how the plant is operated and maintained that’s often the more important factor.
“It’s not uncommon to see older plants that have been optimized operating more efficiently than newer plants,” he said. “Newer equipment and technology can have an impact. But if it’s not operated efficiently, it will still waste energy.”
The biggest driver for energy efficiency, he added, is production. Bakeries that operate at or above their designed production levels are usually more efficient than bakeries operating at lower production levels on an energy-intensity basis. Most manufacturing plants require a fixed energy load to operate, whether at 50% or 100% production capacity. Reducing fixed energy use and minimizing energy use that varies with production are the main strategies for improving efficiency.
Ms. Marsh suggested that two areas of opportunity for energy savings involve lighting and compressed air. Since 2015, more than 30 Flowers bakeries have upgraded to LED lighting.
“Lighting is an easy way to save energy because it’s automatic and doesn’t require changes in workforce behavior or processes.” she said. “One of the added benefits of LED lighting levels is the reduction of heat in the bakery.”
Compressed-air systems, she added, are a highly inefficient user of electricity.
When upgrading those systems, Flowers’ corporate engineering team works closely with bakery teams to choose equipment features that will improve their operation’s energy efficiency.
This article is an excerpt from the December 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on energy management, click here.