“Sustainability is really at the core of what Stonyfield is all about and it is the reason that we were started” in 1983 when the founders wanted to know if it was possible to build a business that can make money and not damage the environment, said Britt Lundgreen, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield.
The answer is mostly yes, thanks to a variety of initiatives ranging from emissions offsets and reductions, efficient packaging improvements, water reduction efforts and renewable energy, Lundgreen told attendees April 14 at the Sustainability Learning Forum hosted by the Sustainable Food Trade Association and the Organic Trade Association.
One of the company’s first green initiatives in 1997 was to offset 100% of its carbon dioxicide emissios from facility energy use, Lundgreen said. She noted the company offset more than 117,000 metric tons of CO2 through investment in windpower, manure digesters, energy efficient straw bale homes, methane capture from coal mines and boiler upgrades at public schools.
The company pursued offsets as a way to become “carbon neutral,” early on, but “we don’t consider our job done while we have the offsets,” Lundgreen said. Rather, the company is exploring how to make its plant run entirely on renewable energy so it can reduce its emissions further and buy fewer offsets – the only sustainability effort it undertakes that does not pay for itself.
Other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, have paid for themselves though, Lundgreen said. She noted since 2006, Stonyfield has reduced these by 46% and saved more than $20 million. In addition, a 20% absolute reduction in facility energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 through 2012 saved the firm more than $3 million.
Waste not, want not
One way the firm reduced its need for energy from external sources was by building a bio-digester at its waste water treatment site.
The anaerobic hybrid biological treatment system “is essentially like a giant stomach of a cow” that houses bacteria that digest the nutrients in the plant’s waste water to create methane gas, which is then captured and burned to generate electricity, Lundgreen said.
Compared to conventional dairy treatment, the system has a 30% lower carbon footprint, 50% lower operating costs, 98% less waste “sludge” and generates its own heat, Lundgreen said. She added incremental investment paid for itself in less than two years.
Switching to plant-based FFS packaging also helped the firm cut emissions by 48% and save more than $6 million in packaging efficiencies, Lundgreen said.
She said Stonyfield was the first dairy company to make the switch to PLA, which outperforms polystyrene because it is stronger, has better lid adherence, has a lower temperature filling – and therefore uses less energy – and still maintains line speed and shelf life.
The switch also generated good will with consumers by reducing humane toxicity and not increasing the retail price, she said.
Going forward Stonyfield will continue to initiate sustainable practices and engage employees with its efforts to ensure they are carried out, Lundgreen said. She explained the firm will do this by continuing to create cross functional teams that have concrete long- and short-term goals that are approved by senior leadership.