Crystal Creamery began its sustainability voyage back in 2014. The company wanted to create a sustainability program promoting accountability in environmental practices, was socially responsible, and rewarded the company’s efforts with profitability — a triple bottom line. The company developed and implemented a plan to achieve its goals, and early this year, received well-deserved recognition for its efforts. On January 10, 2017, the EPA presented Crystal Creamery with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Food Recovery Challenge Innovation Award, citing the company as frontrunner in sustainability advancements.
The Food Waste Recovery Challenge is a way for food-making businesses to report and track their food waste totals, originally with the goal of companies in the food supply chain to reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste. Tiffany Hooser, Crystal Creamery’s sustainability and environmental program manager, spearheaded the company’s sustainability plan and was responsible for Crystal Creamery becoming a participant in the challenge and reporting its food waste totals.
Part of Hooser’s plan was to find new uses for the company’s waste, as well as its byproducts, one of which the company nicknamed, “Sludge.” The “sludge” comes from the wastewater treatment process, and it found a new use under Hooser’s watch. First, Crystal Creamery transported the byproduct to become compost for land applications. Next, the company partnered with a neighboring farm, Fiscalini Farms, to use “sludge” as a renewable energy source. Hooser explains, “We collect our waste byproduct and send it to our partner’s dairy digester. There, it is mixed with cow manure, and other byproducts from other plants. The digester is able to convert those waste products into methane gas. This gas is used to create energy that powers Fiscalini Farms. In fact, they produce enough excess energy to sell some back to the power grid.”
Another portion of Crystal Creamery’s sustainability plan included a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Prior to “sludge” being used as part of a renewable energy source, the company would haul it away from the plant. Since the digester at Fiscalini Farms is very close to Crystal Creamery, more than 10,000 miles of travel have been eliminated from the company. Further, because fewer organic contaminants were being put into wastewater, Modesto, CA — home base for Crystal Creamery — has a reduced volume of waste to process, which saves the city money. Under its current sustainability plan, Crystal Creamery is 98 percent waste free, sending only 2 percent of its waste to landfill.
Of course, this plan wasn’t just put together at the drop of a hat. Careful planning about what would need to go into it, what would come out of it, and the repercussions of both were considered. Crystal Creamery’s efforts needed to be part of a “triple bottom line.” First, the company’s actions should be ethically right for the planet, helping to reduce, reuse, recycle, and conserve resources. Next, the company’s endeavors should be beneficial to the community it serves and have implications that positively influence others. Finally, like all food makers, Crystal Creamery is in the business to make money and its endeavors should offer monetary payback. “The plan we created really ‘closes the loop’ in terms of dairy,” says Hooser. “We found a better use of a byproduct we were putting down the drain; this helps the planet. Our ‘sludge’ is now creating renewable energy; this helps people. And it is saves and generates money for us. The plan really is a triple bottom line.”
So, how did Crystal Creamery receive such high recognition from the EPA? Hooser was aware of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, submitted the company’s entry for the contest, and presented the EPA with its data. “We presented our story to the EPA, along with our data,” says Hooser. “The EPA called months later to inform us we were the winner of innovation in the Food Recovery Challenge. Crystal Creamery is thrilled the EPA offers this type of recognition. We want to provide a model for other companies to become more sustainable and we also want to learn from other food makers, even in different sectors of the industry. So many times the EPA is labeled as the bad guy, coming in, inspecting, and looking for reasons to shut down operations. But, they're recognizing businesses for sustainability initiatives and money-saving endeavors. They want to share these stories and give out recognition and I think it’s wonderful.”
As Crystal Creamery moves forward with its sustainability initiative, it seeks to continuously improve. Currently, the company diverts more than 98 percent of its waste from the landfill, with the ultimate goal of diverting 100 percent and becoming a zero-waste facility by 2020. Hooser says the final two percent of reaching its goal will be the hardest because those materials generally aren’t able to be reused or recycled, such as excess labeling ribbon. “If we can package our products in a different way to reduce any waste, we will, and we continue to look for those opportunities with our procurement department,” says Hooser.
Another obstacle in the company’s journey of continually improving its sustainability plan will be water conservation and reclamation. “Currently, our program of collecting the sludge creates cleaner waste water going to the city of Modesto,” says Hooser. “However, that system is less than perfect. Ideally, we would like a system to reuse that water and putting it back into our loop of operations.”
Crystal Creamery is thrilled it won the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge Innovation Award. However, the company knows that its plan, its recognition, and its mission to continually improve are just the first steps. “The recognition from the EPA has been very exciting, but also eye-opening,” says Hooser. “Our plan has accomplished a lot, but we know there’s no ‘stamp-of-approval’ saying a company is sustainable. It’s always a process of continuous improvement. As technology and the industry changes, we’ll change with it.”
About Tiffany Hooser
Tiffany graduated from the University of Cincinnati with her MBA. There she was Co-President for a student group Net Impact which focused on the triple bottom line. At UC, she was recognized as the 2013 MBA Student of the year. Tiffany has worked in the dairy business for eight years.