July 28, 2005

Food industry puts energy efficiency on the menu

  • Controlling energy use helps local food processors remain competitive.
    Northwest Food Processors Association

    Photo Courtesy NWFPA
    The industry's efforts to save energy focus on people, processes and equipment.

    Northwest food manufacturers have long been committed to ensuring the freshest ingredients are delivered from the farm gate to the chef's plate. However, rising delivery and other costs are threatening the region's ability to remain economically competitive, making cost control a top priority for food processors.

    Knowing energy use is one of the few cost variables that can be directly controlled and managed, the Northwest Food Processors Association (NWFPA) developed a major energy initiative in 2002 on behalf of the food processing industry. The goal is to create a systemic belief in energy management among our 486 members and build tangible commitments to continuous improvement in energy efficiency — from fields to processing and packaging plants.

    To accomplish this goal, NWFPA offers programs, services and an energy portal on its Web site to help members improve production logistics from bottom to top, such as switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent lamps, encouraging the cross-industry fertilization of ideas, and working to identify the best available technologies.

    This cross-industry idea sharing has led to innovation and productivity gains. For example, a major fruit canner recently adopted a national airline company's forklift battery rapid recharge system, saving energy and reducing forklift downtime by as much as 50 percent.

    Cultural change

    NWFPA is committed to instilling cultural change in food processors through a training program that helps get the most energy efficiency from existing and new production systems and equipment. In some cases, this means installing programmable logic-controlled systems to improve productivity. In others, it means working with utilities and regional energy groups to develop customized training for plant managers and their teams.

    To improve the ability to deliver this training, NWFPA earlier this year joined forces with the Industrial Efficiency Alliance, a new regional organization dedicated to helping companies succeed economically through improved energy management. The group is backed by Northwest utilities and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit corporation that makes affordable, energy-efficient products and services available in the marketplace.

    Working with the Industrial Efficiency Alliance, we are creating customized programs for members that identify areas for increased energy efficiency along with an action plan and timeline for improvement.

    From the beginning, Bob Helm, the senior manager leading the Industrial Efficiency Alliance, knew an NWFPA partnership was vital.

    "The strategy behind the Industrial Efficiency Alliance is based on partnership with local utilities and organizations, like the NWFPA which maximizes the benefits to the region's food processors," Helm said. "We're proud to consider this organization one of our many partners. Because Puget Sound is key to the region, we're also proud to consider the Washington State University Extension Energy Program a partner."

    The Industrial Efficiency Alliance's Continuous Energy Improvement Program is highly beneficial because it helps food companies achieve many goals simultaneously, including reducing operating costs, improving production and safety, and helping companies remain competitive in today's global marketplace — our top objective. Plus, it offers the added benefit of helping food processors meet voluntary and mandated environmental practices. It is good for business, the local economy and the environment.

    Continuous improvement

    The partnership works like this. Together, NWFPA, Industrial Efficiency Alliance and the community's local utility focus on the many ways food companies can improve energy management within their existing processes.

    The Continuous Energy Improvement Program focuses on three things: people, processes and equipment.

    People. The Industrial Efficiency Alliance provides the assessment and the training needed to identify change in energy practices.

    Processes. The Industrial Efficiency Alliance helps NWFPA members establish continuous improvement programs that lead to meaningful change in business practices.

    Equipment. With incentives and rebates, the local utility helps companies acquire energy-efficient systems for their manufacturing operations.

    We start this off with the help of a proven program called One-2-Five Energy, a management diagnostic process from EnVINTA Corp. This tool measures a range of elements that can make up a sustainable energy management program, and requires a short self-assessment by senior management. At the end of the diagnostic session, we discuss preliminary action items, a company's overall energy efficiency rating and individual element ratings. Follow-up includes a detailed action plan and benchmarking results.

    We have found this approach to be successful because it pinpoints areas for focus, based on a company's individual needs and requirements. EnVINTA's flexibility readily addresses the fact that no two companies approach the market place in exactly the same way.

    Changing behaviors

    The combination of assessment, benchmarking and training is a great way to encourage companies to change their business practices and behaviors concerning energy use. It helps sustain the change over time, and it benefits company pocketbooks directly because business leaders can make extremely smart investments with their time, employees and choices for energy-efficient products and services.

    To underscore this point, we are conducting energy awareness training with a variety of regional food companies and suppliers. We are winning the support of people such as Mark Frandsen, president and CEO of Forest Grove, Ore.-based New Season Foods, who commented that his recent training, led by Industrial Efficiency Alliance food processing and energy efficiency specialists Ed Birch and Les Tumidaj, "was an important step in moving forward with our continuous energy improvement program."

    "It is essential our employees are engaged and knowledgeable as we embark on this program," Frandsen said. "New Season Foods believes in continuously improving all business practices; once we make a commitment and the infrastructure is in place, we'll expect to see a direct impact on the bottom line."

    Encouraged by the success of the Industrial Efficiency Alliance partnership and projects under way, NWFPA is leading a national energy efficiency teleconference this fall. Our multi-state collaborative effort to improve industrial productivity by conserving energy ensures our members are that much closer to economic competitiveness, essential in Puget Sound, the Northwest and the rest of the country.

    David Zepponi is president of the NWFPA, a 90-year-old trade association representing the interests of food processors in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

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