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With Clif Bar, supplier States Logistics gains an appetite for clean energy

An inside look at how the logistics company is embracing renewable energy, attracting new customers.

The vast warehouse that holds States Logistics Services' headquarters and packaged food operation in Buena Park, California, stretches a nondescript length of six football fields in a lot that replicates industrial parks nationwide.

But a closer look, and a little conversation, reveal several things that make this mainstream logistics company a player in the transition to a low-carbon economy. More than 1,000 solar panels top the giant building, providing it with 100 percent renewably powered electricity, helped occasionally by renewable energy credit purchases. Trucks moving in and out of the warehouse run on biodiesel fuel when weather conditions allow, reducing carbon emissions from its transit-heavy operation. And the packing, sorting and repacking done inside the logistics facilities involve a sophisticated recycling program that leaves only 15 percent of material not reused or recycled. 

States Logistics describes itself as a third-party provider of warehousing, packaging, transportation and distribution of goods. It’s a behind the scenes business-to-business company, not a household name. One of States Logistics’ main customers is Clif Bar & Company, whose product fills this warehouse in row after row of boxes stacked high.

Clif Bar, in a testament to the influence companies can have on their supply chains, has been evangelizing sustainability during its long working relationship with States Logistics, convincing it of the benefits of Clif’s 100-percent-renewable energy electricity sourcing and waste-free operations. Before long, States Logistics decided to follow with similar steps.

As I toured the giant facility and heard how large the company is, it struck me what unalike sustainability partners these two companies are.
Visiting States Logistics Buena Park facilities at the invitation of Clif Bar, I was gratified to see and hear about this transition. "Clif Bar got us excited and kicked us a few times," States Logistics President Ryan Donovan told me as we walked through the facilities.

Over the course of a decade-long business relationship, States Logistics joined into Clif Bar’s "100-percent green power program" to gradually transition its electricity supply to renewable power. Like Clif Bar, it began using biodiesel-fueled transportation fleets and embraced a no-waste philosophy. Also, it launched an energy efficiency program, cutting lighting electricity use by 65 percent in most locations.

As I toured the giant facility and heard how large the company is — States Logistics operates 11 logistics facilities employing upwards of 600 people and serving 250 vendors — it struck me what unalike sustainability partners these two companies are. Consumer-facing Clif Bar built its brand around wholesomeness and sustainability, using a motto of "think like a tree" to tell customers it strives to do no harm to the Earth, and consumers expect that of them.

Logistics companies don’t have to win the hearts of consumers. Instead, they win business on efficiency. As States Logistics has gone wholeheartedly into sustainability, that begs the question, are renewable energy and zero waste more efficient?

States Logistics' CEO says so. "Sustainability is a priority at States Logistics, and clean energy is a cornerstone of our efforts. In fact, we run our Buena Park facility on 100-percent green power. We understand that clean energy is not just good for the environment, but it’s also good for our bottom line," Daniel Monson wrote in a recent letter urging California legislators to support Senate Bill 100, which would establish a goal for the state to get all of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045.

But States Logistics also noticed an unexpected side benefit of its efforts to reduce emissions, cut waste and use renewable power: These operating changes attracted new customers that also wanted to green their supply chains.

"Part of the reason they chose us is because of what we are doing on the sustainability side; it gives us a competitive advantage," Donovan told me.

Usually you don’t think about a logistics partner as a leader in green business.
In the past decade, scores of companies have been pushing their supply chains to adopt sustainable practices — often in answer to consumers. Ranging from retailers such as Walmart to packaged food companies such as PepsiCo and Kellogg to iPhone maker Apple and other tech giants, these companies often view greening a supply chain as a way to win customers themselves. Increasingly, their investors are looking at sustainability creds as well. But business-to-business companies, especially old-school logistics suppliers, are not often in the ranks of the sustainability avant-garde. 

Now, companies are becoming more active as advocates for climate-smart policies.

Clif Bar has been a vocal proponent of SB 100 and twice has sent letters to the California legislature and governor expressing support of SB 100. It has visited lawmakers in Sacramento to share why businesses are behind 100-percent clean energy.

Since 2014, Clif Bar has been trying to encourage the use of renewable energy and no-waste operations down its supply chain, recognizing that its footprint on the Earth is much wider than what it does in its own facilities.

It moved from being carbon neutral in its own operations in 2003 to becoming a recognized evangelist of climate-saving practices and climate advocacy. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named it a "2017 Climate Leader" for its efforts to promote clean power across its supply chain.

Now among its many suppliers, from oats and raisin growers to logistics and packaging firms, it has quite a few converts not only to clean power but to climate action.

"Usually you don’t think about a logistics partner as a leader in green business," said Elysa Hammond, vice president of environmental stewardship at Clif Bar. But, she added, that is the case for States Logistics.

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