In October of 2008, executives from food processing companies around Washington and the Northwest convened for a facilitated discussion about reducing energy consumption at their plants. It is estimated that 90% of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions at a plant are tied to energy use. Reduce the amount of energy used and you can reduce the amount of GHG emissions. It’s that simple.
At the conference, company leaders decided to create a goal for energy conservation: to reduce industry-wide energy intensity (the amount of energy used to produce one pound of product) by 25% over 10 years and by 50% over 20 years. It was a bold decision, but it came with carrots not sticks. The companies would partner with government agencies and other industry collaborations that provide technical assistance and grant money to help them voluntarily achieve these goals. That kind of collaboration has produced dramatic results. Between 2009 and 2012, the Northwest food processing industry reduced its energy intensity by 9%. Food processors are well on their way to their 25% goal by 2020.
Darigold, to name one example, is a dairy cooperative representing over 500 family farms across the Northwest. Through the creation of an Energy Management System, investments in new equipment, and the development of Energy Teams at each plant, the company reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 5.4% (as measured by pound of food produced) between 2010 and 2011 and is on track to achieve a 25% reduction by 2020. Darigold signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that commits them to specific energy reduction targets in exchange for technical assistance to help them achieve those goals.
These kinds of voluntary programs between companies and government agencies have a proven track record of results. If we want to continue to make progress towards reducing GHG emissions, it’s carrots – not sticks – that will make the difference.