A penny saved is a penny earned. And it keeps on earning and earning forever, especially when it comes to sustainability.

For co-committee chairmen Jim McKeown and Jerry Hancock, what happens behind the scenes when the Energy and Environment Committee of the American Bakers Association (ABA) meets is about lean manufacturing and eliminating waste in the operation. In a recent interview, McKeown and Hancock said it often involves a change in practices that results in a perpetual payoff. It also changes workplace culture when employees continually look for ways to identify waste and suggest ways to eliminate it. Sometimes, it involves a capital investment. Other times, it’s a change in procedures.

But for this committee, it’s more than that. Its members often must figure out how to interpret legalese or vague regulations. Failure to get it right or file proper documentation can result in costly fines and unwanted publicity.

The committee also deals with issues ranging from air permits, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas rules, renewable fuel standards and air stack emission formulas to sustainability, water conservation, water containment, ethanol legislation and a host of energy policy issues. In this exclusive interview with Baking & Snack, McKeown and Hancock describe how energy, environmental and sustainability issues will impact the way bakers approach International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) 2013.

Baking & Snack: Why should bakers get involved in the Energy and Environmental Health Committee especially at times when all businesses are trying to do more with less?

Jerry Hancock: Participating in the committee allows bakers to keep up with current and future regulatory actions that can affect their businesses. The committee regularly provides comments on proposed rules, and occasionally, we meet with regulators to discuss the impact new rules could have on bakery operations. Being able to provide this direct input can result in changes to rules that are beneficial to both bakers and regulators. Participation also allows bakers to leverage the resources of the committee. Combining resources and sharing results helps bakers do more with less.

Equally important, participating in the committee allows members to meet other industry professionals to discuss the issues we all face. These discussions allow greater understanding of the issues and the options we have to address them.

Jim McKeown: Bakers need to understand that many issues we address are on the back burner, but if these issues should rear their ugly heads in the bakers’ facilities or companies, they can cost them dearly. A lot of problems come from ignorance. That’s why we try to get people engaged.

The best recent example happened in Indiana where regulators questioned emissions from certain pieces of equipment, namely proofers, and they wanted air permits for them. We rallied the troops through ABA, and we got 14 bakers from Indiana to participate in discussions with state regulators. The horse was out of the barn by then; now, we needed to do something about it.

If bakers are engaged in ABA, they’ll understand the issues. They’ll understand how to respond to regulators and do a better job anticipating such matters.

How have the issues concerning your committee changed since the previous IBIE in 2010?

Mr. McKeown: The political climate has changed. Right now, there is little willingness in Congress to move forward with environmental legislation. This leaves the Administration to work through EPA on moving policies forward. We don’t always know what those priorities will be. The energy/utility industry remains a priority for this Administration, and depending on what regulations may come to fruition, the baking industry will likely see an indirect impact on its utilities.

Mr. Hancock: Things seem quieter on the regulatory front. Perhaps the biggest change involves sustainability reporting and the pressure from customers to provide more data. Not only are customers asking about our sustainability initiatives and results, but they are asking that we drill down to our suppliers to incorporate their sustainability data as well.

Some customers are even looking for us to report on farm-level sustainability practices. Currently, there is no easy way to gather that data. The committee is looking into setting up a working group with the grain, millers’ and farmers’ trade organizations to determine how to best capture and share that information.

What challenges do bakers face this year that they didn’t three years ago?

Mr. Hancock: The biggest challenge for bakers is really not new — how to continue to drive operations improvement to increase efficiencies and reduce operating costs. By now, most bakers have implemented the easy projects, the low-hanging fruit. To achieve each increment of improvement now requires more effort and is harder to gain. We need to study each area of waste or inefficiency with the goal of improving the process, no matter how slight that improvement may be. It requires us to look at things differently from a completely new perspective and identify new areas of opportunity. The challenge is to continue improving every day.

Mr. McKeown: Uncertainty in the energy market also concerns us. We are at a point where there is a reasonable energy cost for our industry’s supply needs with the new exploration. However, questions still remain about new fracking technologies and what the next five to 10 years will hold for us as we begin to expand our nation’s energy supply.

How will these challenges change the way bakers and exhibitors approach IBIE 2013 in October?

Mr. Hancock: IBIE provides an opportunity for bakers to see and evaluate new technologies and ideas in one place. This convergence of products and solutions may be exactly what someone needs to improve a process line so it’s more efficient. Sharing ideas with exhibitors and leveraging their experience also may help identify new solutions to common problems. Exhibitors are eager to reach out to bakers. I encourage my colleagues to take advantage of this resource and gather as much information from them as you can.

Mr. McKeown: In terms of driving innovation and improving technologies, the IBIE show is the one place where you can see it all. There will be opportunities to see how the equipment manufacturers are seeking innovation to make bakery equipment more energy efficient.