This post is sponsored by Hormel Foods. Opinions are my own.
The Chinese capitol of Beijing suffers from severe air pollution. It's plagued by the emissions of 5 million cars, as well as coal emissions and dust storms from the north. Clouds of smog can literally engulf the city. This issue was under the spotlight in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics and continues to persist.
Eliminating emissions at the source is one of the most effective ways to mitigate smog and promote human and environmental health. Sustainability was the leading driver that prompted the Hormel Foods Beijing plant to replace its coal boiler with a cleaner natural gas-fired boiler, with a goal of cutting emissions by 45 percent.
The Hormel Beijing plant has approximately 500 workers and primarily produces food products, including hot dogs, dry sausage and pepperoni. A central boiler is used to produce steam and heat for the production process, and to provide some comfort heat. The company uses the Six Sigma method and a team-based approach to make triple-bottom-line improvements.
"Environmental sustainability isn’t an individual sport – it’s a team sport," explains Tom Raymond, director of environmental sustainability for Hormel Foods. "In a team sport, people are engaged in their role and can interact with other people in their roles to get the desired result. We realize that our employees are our greatest asset and when we can get people to work within that team concept, we can get some tremendous results."
Raymond stresses the importance of having all the key players at the table early on in the planning phase. The Beijing Blue Skies Team contained both internal and external experts, working together toward the clearly identified goal of cutting emissions at the plant. Replacing the boiler was a large task, because plant operators also wanted to minimize disturbance to production, cut costs, boost efficiency and seamlessly integrate the new system from day one.
"What makes this an interesting project is the team went well beyond the challenge and said, 'Let’s use a whole-system approach and make a win-win solution for the project,'" says Raymond. "It is unique how much detail they put into it to get the biggest benefit for the project."
The team looked at the big picture to identify opportunities to most efficiently distribute heat and for heat recovery by capturing heat to minimize the use of natural gas. Economizers are used to capture the heat that would normally go up the boiler stack to preheat water. The entire project needed to cater to plant production to minimize disturbance.
Triple-bottom-line improvements have also occurred at other Hormel plants, with a similar team approach. The Dold Foods plant in Wichita, Kansas, had a goal to eliminate 39 tons of solid waste by 2020. In a plant-wide effort that embraced the concept of continuous improvement, the Kansas team was able to realize an annualized savings of 127 tons of solid waste, including opportunities to compost and recycle what had been waste materials. These efficiency innovations resulted in a staggering threefold improvement over the 2020 goal, six years ahead of schedule.
“The plant teams have demonstrated yet again that fantastic results can be achieved with hard work and a spirit of continuous improvement,” Raymond said. “It is an honor to acknowledge the leadership in environmental stewardship demonstrated by the teams participating in the Sustainability Best of the Best competition.”
Raymond praises the team approach and the contributions of employees in realizing sustainability goals. "It starts with recognizing the employees for what they are, a tremendous asset to the company," he said. "Fostering the growth, development and engagement of the employees is critical from the get-go."
Image credit: Flickr/Meng Zhang
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.