When it comes to sustainability, bakeries are powering forward and going green in more ways than one. They recently accounted for more than one-third of the 2023 Energy Star certifications issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In all, the EPA recognized 103 manufacturing plants in the United States for being in the top 25% for energy efficiency within their respective industry sectors. Some 36 were commercial bakeries, leading the industry among 21 manufacturing sectors that participate in the program.

The biggest of the big are cashing in. Both Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., and Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., had 14 bakeries certified.

“Becoming an Energy Star-certified facility takes teamwork and dedication, and our bakeries are energized when they make the list,” noted Margaret Ann Marsh, senior vice president for safety, sustainability and environmental, Flowers Foods. “Recognizing these bakeries and the ‘why’ behind their certification helps support the ‘share’ component of our energy strategy.”

Eric Dell, president and chief executive officer, American Bakers Association, suggested the Energy Star certifications document the baking industry’s part of a broader movement.

“The commercial baking industry’s continued commitment to the Energy Star program underscores the significant role our members, and the industry at large, play in leading the way toward a more sustainable future,” he explained.

Several bakeries have received certification multiple times so far, indicating a commitment to energy management and savings, noted Elizabeth Dutrow, team leader for the Energy Star Industrial Team, located within EPA’s Climate Protection Partnerships Division.

“We have plants that are among the best in class for their energy performance and that are saving their companies money while boosting the environmental performance of their organization,” she said. “These plants are achieving this best-in-class energy performance year after year, so they are sustaining their savings.”

Sustainability is also inextricably linked to efficiency and return on investment (ROI). In a post-pandemic world, where the surge of retail sales of baked goods has settled down, that integrated perspective makes sense

 Bimbo Bakeries USA, for instance, monitors the number of BTUs per pound of product produced as one factor to gauge efficiency. It also measures sustainability in a practical way that everyone understands.

“We’re a low-margin business, so 25 or 30 years ago, the word ‘sustainability’ wasn’t there, but we always tried to get the greatest amount of product out to the market with the least amount of resources,” observed Chris Wolfe, senior director of environmental sustainability for Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Marsh described sustainability as a core factor of efficiency.

“Establishing processes that enable maximum production volume with the fewest number of resources will help companies operate as efficiently, and thereby as sustainably as possible,” she said. “This includes minimizing downtime, energy, waste and water.” 

Companies like Flowers that are leading the industry in sustainable baking practices have also started to explore and implement more advanced processes such as heat recovery, where wasted heat is captured and reused for other processes.

“Our sustainability program is aligned with our corporate strategy and focused on driving financial returns,” Marsh said. “As we invest in our operations — whether it’s new bakeries, production lines or upgrades to existing equipment — sustainability is integral to the design process. Incorporating efficiency improvements into capital projects upfront is fiscally advantageous because it costs less than retrofitting an existing piece of equipment. From an ROI perspective, it’s important that any sustainability projects make business sense, taking into consideration current and forecasted future needs.”

Mexico City-based Grupo Bimbo, parent company of Bimbo Bakeries USA, will sometimes extend the traditional two-year ROI for sustainability initiatives.

“We will go out beyond that time because of what it can achieve from a sustainability perspective,” Wolfe said. “We look at where other investments are being made, and if we plan to be there for the long haul, it makes it a little easier for us to justify a longer ROI.”

He added incorporating green initiatives into a new facility is often easier than retrofitting an existing one. Bimbo Bakeries USA has facilities that are more than 100 years old and others that are less than 20 years, which makes them relatively “new” in the baking industry.

“Our new bakeries are one floor,” Wolfe said. “We’re then able to leverage all the state-of-the-art equipment, but we have some older bakeries that are four-stories high and pose a challenge. We try to develop programs that are site-specific because that’s much more actionable. We typically go into a bakery and evaluate individually. We replicate technologies where we can and, in other cases, where we can adapt.”

When it comes to sustainability, bakeries are focused on greenlighting those initiatives that lower waste, reduce energy and drive efficiencies that also boost the bottom line.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2024 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sustainabilityclick here.