As the largest dairy products company in the world, Lactalis unquestionably has a huge impact on the food industry. When it comes to the environmental side of its operations, however, the company strives to leave as little of a mark as possible.
Sustainability is one of the strongest driving forces for the multinational company, headquartered in Laval, France, with U.S. operations based in Buffalo, N.Y. Lactalis owns a number of notable dairy brands including Galbani, Sorrento and President.
“In Lactalis American Group Inc., we believe that making a better future for the communities where we operate makes good business sense, and we are proud of our brands and of the products we market,” CEO Frederick Bouisset says.
The company’s corporate sustainability policy has three core components: Complying with and exceeding all legal regulatory requirements; reducing its consumption of energy, fuel, water, packaging and other re¬sourc¬es; and promoting its efforts to consumers and customers.
“Promoting sustainability helps us to meet our goal to put consumers and customers first,” Bouisset adds.
“All our marketing and sales teams know some of our achievements in this area, but I want to go much further and asked to our corporate sustainability program committee to build upon our ongoing sustainability initiatives throughout our operations.”
Lactalis’ American operation in¬cludes production facilities in Buffalo; Nampa, Idaho; Tipton, Calif.; and Belmont and Merr¬ill, Wis. The Buffalo and Nampa facilities produce Italian cheeses such as mozz¬arella and ricotta cheese, the Tip¬ton fac¬ility makes fresh mozzarella cheese, the Bel¬mont plant makes brie and feta cheeses, and the Merrill plant produces Ron¬dele spreadable cheese.
All of the company’s U.S. production facilities demonstrate environmental stewardship as an effort to be a responsible corporate citizen as well as a way to positively impact its bottom line.
“From a manufacturing and financial perspective, we’re always looking at crunching numbers and analyzing our production costs per unit,” says Robert Planter, corporate manager of safety and environmental affairs. “We’re always looking at incentive programs and projects to improve our profitability and trying to fine-tune and drill down deeper to get to lower unit costs.”
Lactalis’ environmental efforts generally fall into four categories: energy saving, wastewater reduction, pollution reduction and composting. Combined, these efforts save close to 930 million kilowatt hours and reduce more than 500,000 tons of CO2 yearly.
“Sustainability at Lactialis goes be¬yond the bottom line,” Planter adds. “It is now an integral design component of any new process.”
Lactalis is also pursuing the use of sustainable packaging including recycled corrugated cardboard.
Lactalis’ Buffalo and Nampa facilities both utilize hydroelectric power generation as part of the company’s effort to pursue non-fossil fuel-based energy sources and prevent carbon dioxide emissions. Hydroelectric power makes up about 46 percent of the Buffalo plant’s total energy intake, Planter says.
The company also uses energy management control systems to speed up or slow down the refrigeration compressors used in its plants based on the demand for cold temperature. Roughly 900,000-kilowatt hours and 700 tons of CO2 emissions are saved annually as a result, the company notes.
Several of Lactalis’ facilities have also recently received an overhaul in their lighting fixtures, which combined with the use of motion detectors and day/night timers has helped the company save more than 750,000 kilowatt hours annually.
Energy also is saved through the company’s use of a video conferencing system provided by New York-based Stereo Advantage. Each of the company’s plants in the United States and France features a videoconferencing room that allows for high-speed, real-time virtual communications throughout its operations.
“A lot of time, money and energy is spent on airplanes and travelling,” Planter says, noting that a round-trip plane ride from Idaho to Buffalo consumes roughly 1.5 tons of carbon. “Our philosophy is that if you don’t have to be there to touch it, you can videoconference it.”
The company’s reduction of kilowatt hours allows it to take advantage of energy incentive programs offered through providers such as Idaho Power Co., which refunded Lactalis $750,000 for its efforts in 2011. This was the largest amount of incentives given to any business in the state of Idaho that year, he adds.
These incentives help Lactalis show a positive return on investment from its sustainability programs and allow its American operations to better compete for capital improvement funding within the company, Planter says.
State-of-the-art wastewater treatment plants at Lactalis’ Nampa and Belmont locations allow the company to conserve and re-use water as well as reduce its trucking and fuel costs.
The plants, built in conjunction with contracting and engineering firm McMahon Group, process excess water from the cheese making process. Wastewater is treated at the two facilities and discharged back into the environment to replenish the natural environment, according to the company.
More than 700,000 gallons of untreated water was hauled to disposal sites more than 40 miles away from each plant daily before the plants were completed in 2005 in Nampa and 2004 in Belmont. Trucking the water consumed roughly 360,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 4,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. Lactalis also demonstrates water conservation in its Tipton facility, as it provides 125,000 gallons of reused water daily for local crop irrigation there. This saves well water supplies as well as adds nutrients to local soil, the company says.
The wastewater treatment plants also demonstrate Lactalis’ ability to forecast the company’s future needs.
“When we built the facility in Nampa, we anticipated that environmental restrictions such as those dictating phosphorous levels would be tighter in the future,” Planter says. “We try to forecast so we’re not just building to today’s standards, but the standards we see coming down the road. We build for the long haul, and don’t just try to do things for the short term.”
Wastewater treatment is not the company’s only method of water conservation, however. Lactalis estimates that it recovers a total of 180,000 gallons of hot water daily across all of its operations from heat exchanges. This water is stored for use, saving roughly 1,400 tons of CO2 each year, the company says.
“In addition to being good for the environment, reducing our energy costs, water consumption and the amount of waste we discharge helps us offer a more competitive product,” Planter adds. “In our cheese making process, we are very alert to energy conservation and we prevent raw material losses from discharging.”
Eliminating the need to truck wastewater from the Nampa and Belmont plants is just one component of Lactalis’ overall effort to reduce fuel consumption. The company prevents the release of more than 1,189 tons of CO2 and saves roughly $3.5 million a year in trucking costs annually, Planter says.
Other conservation methods include using a software package that helps the company control transportation. Lactalis also utilizes rail transportation when necessary and transports some products between Nampa and Buffalo via intermodal freight transport.
Lactalis also seeks to reduce pollution released into the atmosphere through the use of flue stack heat exchangers in its steam boilers. These exchangers pre-heat water from hot flue gases. This water is then used as boiler feed water that is converted to steam, the company says.
Lactalis also practices responsible re-use of resources through composting. “Sludge is created in any production environment,” the company says. “Rather than dumping this waste, we convert sludge into compost, an essential element in revitalizing soil. We believe we are truly giving back to the earth by turning waste into something productive, and we are also decreasing the amount of CO2 gases discharged in the air.”