Eco-Friendly, Eco-Efficient Is Now a Bottom-line Plus

Barbara Lauer
November 06, 2007
Written by Barbara Lauer
Canadian food processors spent almost $1.3 billion on energy and water in 2004
barbara-lauerOn the day the federal government announced its energy and environmental initiatives, I was in Guelph, listening to several speakers on the emerging issues the food industry faces around sustainability. Coincidence? Serendipitous?  Perhaps.  Sustainable, in this instance, was all about technological solutions that addressed climate change, clean air, water and soil, and how energy use is truly a strategic business issue.

Hosted by the Guelph Food Technology Centre, the morning seminar, with its two industry professionals, opened the eyes and ears of those in attendance to not only the value of improving energy efficiency, but many of the common barriers to acting on energy-efficient recommendations: lack of awareness, information and expertise; no confidence in outcomes; lack of time; insufficient capital; and restrictive hurdle rates. Natural Resources Canada has tracked our food processing industry, and it consumes enough energy to heat almost all the homes in Alberta – and bakeries purchase just under 10 per cent of this energy.

Canadian food processors spent almost $1.3 billion on energy and water in 2004. Over 40 per cent of that amount was spent in Ontario alone. Consider this: if all food processors reduced their energy consumption by a mere one per cent, the sector could save over $1 million annually. Natural Resources Canada has two new programs – ecoEnergy for Industry and ecoEnergy Retrofit Initiative – that provide funding to industry (small, medium and large businesses) in order to conduct energy audits, find the savings, and institute efficiencies. Through specific program elements, under the Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation (CIPEC), companies can learn how to reduce costs and increase profits. CIPEC offers benchmarking studies, three “Dollars to $ense” energy management workshops, publications, technical information, and a company-level program, Industrial Energy Innovators, as just some of the tools to begin implementing your sustainability. Coming in November 2007, in Ottawa, a conference, “Energy 2007,” will profile all the new environmental technologies available to the industrial sector.

The other speaker addressed specific new technologies that Sustainable Development Technology of Canada (SDTC) had funded as part of its mandate to improve “Cleantech” – the eco-environmental concept that has replaced the “classic” environmental approach of the 1970s and ’80s. Cleantech means good for business and good for the environment – improving operational performance, productivity or efficiency — while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste or pollution. It is not tied to a particular industry, and no longer regulatory driven, as the “classic” or “Envirotech” was. 

With Cleantech, economic market drivers determine the future, as does productivity-based purchasing, and a positive bottom-line impact.  “Front-of-pipe” tech, such as zero emission plants, is a focus, as is rapid growth markets, like solar energy. Cleantech requires an entrepreneurial mentality and a high use of IT – and the SDTC is a government-funded, non-profit organization ready to provide venture capital to companies with a viable, sustainable development, infrastructure technology idea. In addressing the food sector, opportunities such as cleaner burning biofuels in transportation fleets, co-generation and waste heat recovery from cooking, as well as process water recycling, are just a few of the ones suggested to the food industry in order to deliver economic, environmental and health benefits to our shareholders, and Canadians in general. 

SDTC was established in late 2001, and since then, has been responsible for funding technology investments that have transformed all parts of the food value chain, delivering clean air, water and soil benefits, from agriculture to food handling and transportation to food processing. Synergies exist from other sectors – such as a new invention that efficiently recaptures heat from wastewater, now being used in logging, but with tremendous potential for the food industry. There’s even a new process – developed using crude oil – that is being applied to edible oils with great success. Technology spillover and serial entrepreneurs will aid every industry in meeting – or beating – the government’s annual one per cent energy reduction goal. We’ll share more in upcoming issues.

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