Water and Corporate Culture at Golden State Foods

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New emergency rules for water use are now in effect in California as government agencies and residents attempt to address long-term water needs as well as cope with immediate shortages.

Akin to its industry peers, Irvine, California-based Golden State Foods (GSF) requires lots in the way of water to produce and distribute food products for the likes of McDonald’s and other restaurant chains and food retailers. Founded in 1947 and growing alongside California’s burgeoning agricultural sector, GSF has been addressing the issue of water use and conservation directly since at least 2008 – not only in California, but across what’s grown to be a multinational business.

Part and parcel of institutionalizing its overall sustainability strategy, GSF in 2014 set an organization-wide goal to reduce water consumption 20 percent by 2020.

“We recognize that water is a vital natural resource that is of utmost importance to our business, our associates, and the communities in which we operate,” Dimetria Jackson, GSF’s director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR), told TriplePundit.

Doing its part to conserve water in California

Aiming to reduce water usage by 25 percent state-wide, the California State Water Resources Control Board in early May instituted the first mandatory water reductions in the state’s history. The emergency water conservation measures went into effect this month. Since then, it has even gone to the extreme of curtailing diversions of water to senior rights-holders in the Delta, San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds. Fiercely protected, some of these senior water rights, which are mostly owned by farmers, have been held since as far back as 1903.

Having developed and grown alongside water access and California agriculture, Golden State Foods is well aware of the history of water resources and use in the state – and it’s intimately involved with water conservation efforts. Management takes the view that ingraining water conservation into its corporate culture will boost the company’s economic performance and financial bottom line, as well raise consciousness and contribute to improving water management in California and beyond.

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Its 2020, water conservation and broader sustainability goals, “will improve the overall efficiency of our operations; reduce the company’s environmental impact and its economic spend by reducing costs associated with wastewater, waste disposal, fuel and utility expenses; and engage our associates in corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices,” Jackson continued.

GSF’s distribution center in Chicago, for example, recently earned LEED Gold status. There, GSF harvests rainwater in a 40,000-gallon cistern. The harvested rainwater is used to irrigate the surrounding landscape. In addition, GSF Chicago makes use of ionized water, which is a by-product of the hydrogen fuel cells used to produce electricity, for cleaning warehouse floors.

GSF’s water conservation and sustainability plans

More broadly, the GSF distribution centers dedicated to supplying food products for McDonald’s have collectively reduced their water usage by 2 percent compared to a 2012 baseline.

Across the organization, GSF uses reclaimed water for cleaning and landscaping, and it has installed high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in most of its facilities. Water and sprinkler audits, as well as leak checks, are conducted regularly. The company even has a hotline number posted in facility bathrooms and kitchens, so employees can call facility maintenance personnel to report leaks or water waste.

A water cistern being installed at GSF's LEED Gold distribution center in Chicago.
A water cistern being installed at GSF’s LEED Gold distribution center in Chicago.

Company-wide, GSF’s innovative water conservation policy encompasses:

  • Using reclaimed water for washing vehicles, cleaning and irrigation
  • High efficiency plumbing fixtures in most facilities
  • Posting monthly water use at facilities to show progress toward water-saving goals
  • Planting native, water efficient landscaping
  • Conducting sprinkler and water audits
  • Posting a hotline number in bathrooms and kitchens to report leaks or water waste to facility managers or maintenance personnel
    Educating associates on water conservation and seeking their input.

The CSR and sustainability goals GSF instituted last year extend well beyond reducing water use, however:

  • Reducing GSF’s carbon footprint by 20 percent
  • Achieving zero waste-to-landfill at all facilities
  • Implementing an EMS at 100 percent of its locations
  • Incorporating renewable energy/alternative fuel in 100 percent of its fleet
  • Active engagement of at least 75 percent of its associates in these programs

Furthermore, GSF is focused on improving wellness among its associates (employees), and responsible sourcing of the materials and other resources it needs to see to its day-to-day operations and long-term viability, Jackson added.

CSR-Sustainability Champions

GSF’s efforts to ingrain CSR and sustainability into its corporate culture extends to the creation of its CSR-Sustainability Champions program. Led by a steering committee, CSR-Sustainability group members are drawn from across the organization’s functional lines. Representatives from each of its domestic U.S. facilities, as well as IT, finance, and health and wellness, are actively involved in a range of activities, from setting CSR and sustainability goals to implementing associated initiatives.

GSF’s commitment to assuring sustainable water use and, more broadly, the overall environmental sustainability of its operations is also evident in its Statement of Environmental Policy, Jackson noted. The policy, she pointed out, “recognizes environmental protection as one of our guiding principles and a key component of sound business practices.”

Looking ahead, “We recognize that there are many opportunities for improvement and through GSF’s top-down/bottom-up approach, management and associates continually seek to identify additional solutions to help achieve our goals and objectives,” Jackson told 3p.

*Image credits: Golden State Foods

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: huginn.muggin@gmail.com