As bakers walk the IBIE show floor looking for their next automation solution, they are looking not only for what serves them now but what will also help them down the road. How the equipment works with the company’s energy efficiency goals now and in the future should also be part of that consideration.

“You need to begin to think about if something fails, should it be replaced with the same piece of equipment or do we need to find an option with a lower energy and carbon footprint in case the regulatory climate changes in the next 5 to 10 years,” said Walt Tunnessen, national program manager for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Industrial program.

The Energy Star program strives to help consumers and businesses save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. One of the first steps bakeries can take when looking to reduce their carbon footprint is to conduct a “treasure hunt” in their facilities to find and fix energy inefficiencies.

Treasure hunts are designed to help companies save energy by identifying low-cost or no-cost energy savings opportunities. As with any successful project, careful planning is a must.

“To do it, you’re going to have to take some time and schedule it,” Mr. Tunnessen said. “Which bakery should we look at? Who needs to be involved? When do we do it? What’s the best time to do it?”

The Energy Star website ( has several resources for plant and energy managers to use, including an Energy Treasure Hunt Guide and profiles of companies that share the savings they’ve uncovered. Energy savings come in many forms. These hunts take a fair amount of planning and require some expertise and team effort, but bakeries can adjust and scale them to their own needs. 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put a pause on treasure hunts particularly in the baking industry, Mr. Tunnessen said, and forced companies that continued to do them to get creative.

“During COVID, people learned some interesting new techniques for doing treasure hunts that we’re going to see become more normalized moving forward,” he said. “Using what we’ve learned about virtual meetings and working remotely, you can expand your treasure hunt team with certain layers of expertise that aren’t necessarily available locally that you can bring in now virtually.”

That includes reaching out to equipment manufacturers — especially those of more complicated equipment like chillers and ovens — and company experts that may work offsite.

Finding energy efficiencies takes expertise. For smaller bakeries in which managers may wear several hats, this can be daunting.

“One of the things I ran into was the number of people we had who understood what we were looking for was zero,” said Billy Delaney, the former environmental health and safety manager for New Horizons Baking Co., Norwalk, Ohio, who recently retired.

In 2017, Mr. Delaney was tasked with reducing energy and wastewater by 20% at the company’s Norwalk plant. He started asking people for advice and guidance. He consulted the Energy Star spreadsheet for the Energy Star Challenge and started calculating the gas and electricity energy use in the plant. 

“I got a metric to measure it against by their recommendation, which was by units, and figured out how many units we needed for a basic pack of a dozen muffins,” he said. “When we did that, the spreadsheet started giving us data results, so we had a baseline year.”

To achieve the Energy Star Challenge, bakeries must reduce their energy intensity by 10% within five years. The Norwalk plant’s baseline year was 2018, and by the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, the bakery had far exceeded the challenge, reducing energy by 34.4%.

Energy savings are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. They should make sense for each bakery’s site and business culture, Mr. Tunnessen said. For instance, the Energy Treasure Hunt guide proposes using three teams in the hunt, taking three days to conduct it and starting on a nonoperational day, unless it’s a 24/7 operation. 

But bakeries can adapt the plan to fit their own needs.

Energy Star has developed a treasure map, which can be found online, to direct manufacturers to the best places to find savings.

“A lot of what you find in treasure hunts are operational types of things, like leaving equipment running during plant shutdowns or on weekends,” Mr. Tunnessen said. “With compressed air systems, there are always opportunities to find and repair leaks.”

Compressed air is used throughout manufacturing plants, including in the packaging area of bakeries, and it’s expensive to make, which is one of the biggest “Aha” moments for many bakeries, Mr. Tunnessen said. 

Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., has provided an incentive program for workers to identify compressed air leaks in its plants.

“If there was a leak on the line, anyone working on the line could tag the leak and write their name,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, vice president of sustainability and environmental, Flowers Foods Inc. “The engineers would come behind and fix the leak and add the names into a drawing for gift cards. This was just one way to increase excitement and raise awareness of this important issue. It builds this idea of ownership over something that can seem small for one leak, but that can create great collective impact across 46 bakeries.”

Another area where bakeries can save is through optimization of equipment.

“In the baking industry there’s a lot of conveyor systems and motors. A treasure hunt offers an opportunity to ask: How many of these motors do we really need? Was the system oversized? Maybe try disconnecting a few and see what happens,” Mr. Tunnessen said. “But to do that you’ve really got to get people involved who know these systems as well as people who can observe what’s happening. All of that involves really getting more of the plant folks engaged.”

At New Horizons’ bakery, success was all about reducing waste and improving efficiencies by concentrating on where and why the line would break down and eliminating bottlenecks. 

The plant additionally upgraded some of the equipment.

“We changed a lot of our conveyors; we cut down on resistance by motors and how many we had on the line,” Mr. Delaney said. “We changed and configured how we process a product through. We got rid of pinch points. We had better efficiencies in sanitation cleaning, and we had less downtime. We manufactured more product in less time for less energy use. We had more training for employees; we had better material handling, better packaging of the product.”

The key was cutting down on the number of bad doughs at the plant, which eliminated the need to make them twice.

Some improvements made at Flowers Foods bakeries included adding LED lighting, compressed air upgrades, enhanced heat recovery for hot water and heating the facility, and refrigeration upgrades, Ms. Marsh said.

Once bakeries have identified the best places to save money, implementation is next, which is never easy.

“What the treasure hunt will do is identify opportunities for an action plan for a site, but you still need to assign responsibility for implementing it,” Mr. Tunnessen said. “If you’re the plant manager you need to keep on top of ‘What are we going to do first? What’s our timeline? How do we keep track of how we’re doing?’ Those things are the stuff that’s easy to fall down on but are really key.”

The completion of one treasure hunt is just the beginning for many bakeries. And as companies look to reduce their carbon footprint, Mr. Tunnessen expects more discussion to focus on decarbonization moving forward. That means making plants as efficient as possible. He encourages bakeries to get more involved with the Energy Star program to help. 

“We have baking companies that have joined but there’s a lot that could become more active,” he said. “We also have some new tools that are focused on decarbonization that are not available for free on the website. You have to become a partner to get those tools. Energy Star also provides a lot of coaching and best practice sharing between companies both within sectors and across sectors so there are opportunities to hear what other people are doing.”