This morning, PepsiCo announced the latest phase of the company's ongoing efforts to transform a 27-year-old Frito-Lay manufacturing facility in Casa Grande, Arizona into a "Near Net Zero" consumer of energy and water. I had the chance to tour the facility recently with Al Halvorsen, the company's Director of Environmental Sustainability.
Spoiler alert: I'm a manufacturing and warehousing geek, having spent 20 years touring hundreds of factories and distribution centers in the past. I can get just as excited by an inspection machine that sorts out sub-standard potato chips -- really, it kicks out the individual chip while all the others head toward the bag -- as I can about the latest advances in solar technology. And while there are a number of innovative technologies being used, PepsiCo's real story is two-fold:
- Taking a systems thinking approach to bundling improvements in such a way that the sum is much greater than its parts.
- Focusing on sustainability as a team sport.
Performance with Purpose from the Top Down
Frito-Lay's Casa Grande plant is about an hour drive south of Phoenix. As you approach the plant, the first thing you notice is the parking lot. Most of the cars are shaded by single axis photovoltaic solar panels that rotate to follow the sun while additional arrays stand like energy sentinels at the entrance to the property.
As we settle into the conference room to discuss the tour, Halvorsen points out the light tubes passively lighting the room. They seemed to light up the room as if it were flooded with fluorescents, but much warmer. Only afterwards did I wonder how to turn them off.
According to Halvorsen, the challenge PepsiCo is trying to meet with projects such as those highlighted at the Casa Grande plant is to figure out what the company can do after they've picked much of the low-hanging fruit. Or, to put it another way, how many times can a company do another lighting retrofit and get a significant reduction in energy use?
PepsiCo has aggressive sustainability goals. In their 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report, the $60 billion company identifies 47 goals and commitments, 15 of which are specifically related to environmental sustainability. These include a 20 percent reduction in water use, efforts that strive to eliminate solid waste to landfill at their production facilities, and improvements in electricity use efficiency by 20 percent.
Achieving PepsiCo's Performance with Purpose goals starts at the top with a commitment by PepsiCo's CEO, Indra K. Nooyi. According to Halvorsen, her support was critical for the company to invest in some of the technologies at the Casa Grande plant that wouldn't normally meet the company's standard return on investment (ROI) requirements.
Powering the Snacks of the Future
In April 2010, PepsiCo's Rob Schasel wrote in GreenBiz that the company was shifting away from Renewable Energy Certificates "in order to focus on direct investments that will accelerate our use of alternative energy sources to power operations at the facility level throughout the PepsiCo network."
The results of some of those investments are on display in Casa Grande where two-thirds of all power used by the facility is renewably sourced.
Power generation is a bit of a smorgasbord of solar strategies so the company can test a number of options. Five separate and distinct photovoltaic solar systems are installed throughout the property, which produce approximately 10,000,000 kwhs of electrical power annually -- enough to power 860 homes.
Next page: Frito-Lay puts Stirling Engines to work on charging EVs