Kraft reaps rewards from sustainable processing strategy

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Water, Photosynthesis, Anaerobic digestion, Waste management, Kraft

The need to maximise profit combined with a desire to help the environment have been major drivers in Kraft slashing water use in its food processing operations by more than 20 per cent in three years, the company said.

Since 2005, the food giant has reduced the amount of water used in its global manufacturing processes by more than three billion gallons (almost 12 billion litres) – the equivalent of nearly 5,000 Olympic swimming pools.

But the company’s hard-headed approach means that for sustainability to be sustainable, the numbers have to stack up.

Water reduction targets

Kraft has detailed a range of projects that have helped meets its water reduction targets two years ahead of schedule. These included a beverage plant in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain that has seen water consumption fall by a third thanks to the use of enhanced cleaning technology. It has also reduced downtime.

The Fallingbostel cheese plant, in Germany, reduced water use by 7 percent (18.5 million gallons/70 million litres per year) by recycling its manufacturing process water to run the plant's cooling towers. In the US, Kraft’s Champaign grocery plant in Illinois cut water use by 20 percent (nearly 120 million gallons/450 million litres).

Steve Yucknut, Vice President, Sustainability, said: “We're changing behavior and getting results. We focus on manufacturing, since that's where we use the most water for internal operations. And we pay particular attention to water-scarce areas, where the need is greatest."

Sustainability strategy analysed

As it unveiled its achievements in water reduction, the company outlined the thinking behind its sustainability strategy to FoodProductionDaily.com.

We can’t do everything, so we’re focusing our efforts on what matters most to our business and where we can have a meaningful impact,” ​said Kraft spokesman Richard Buino. “That’s why we’ve chosen to focus on advancing the sustainable sourcing of agricultural commodities; reducing the use of water, energy and packaging; transporting more efficiently; and minimizing the amount of manufacturing waste we produce.”

“We’re focusing on ideas that will help us grow our business and reduce costs, while protecting the environment and society.”

He pointed out that the company’s sustainability projects often produce a “ripple effect”​ into other focus areas. As an example, he cited Kraft’s waste-to-energy projects at its cheese plants in Lowville and Campbell, NY that “reduce waste, produce renewable energy and even reduce the amount of water used at the facilities”.

Its New York plants are using anaerobic digesters to take whey and transforming it into enough bio-methane from on-site waste treatment systems to replace 30 percent of each plant's annual natural gas purchases in a year, said Buino.

While the company insists that green initiatives need to pay their way, it values the positive effects such moves have for its image in terms of attracting consumers and staff.

Green is good, so is profit

Buino said: “Any sustainability project we take on needs to make business sense. We’re also doing this because customers want to do business with partners who support sustainability. Consumers want to buy products from companies that ‘get it’. And employees want to work for companies that respect and preserve the world around them.”

Sustainability is now part of how all its businesses are evaluated, he explained. As part of the ISO14001 program, each of the company’s plant has water, waste and energy reduction goals as well as environmental improvement plans.

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