Sustainability for the food and beverage industry is a hot topic. Climate change and a growing global population is putting demands on supplies, and consumers are demanding more transparency about the food they eat. Processors are now examining their entire supply chain for opportunities to reduce energy and water use, carbon emissions and waste, and are targeting their processing facilities as a logical place to optimize.
As we’ve discussed on this blog before, owners of food and beverage processing facilities face a number of unique challenges when striving to operate a sustainable plant. A high performance building and production process cannot come at the expense of quality or cost for the end consumer. However, reduction of heavy resource use is also an opportunity, and one that is being embraced by the market.
The U.S. Green Building Council recognized the demand for green manufacturing facilities of all kinds with the launch of the LEED Manufacturing User Group last year to encourage collaboration and sharing of best practices. From our work with beverage processors we know there are still a lot of questions about LEED in the industry. Below is a brief primer.
What is the significance of LEED certification for beverage facilities?
For most manufacturers, carbon emissions come from one of two sources: Transportation of products and the buildings in which their products are made.The LEED program offers manufacturers a surefire way to reduce carbon emissions and validate performance through the USGBC review process, which in turn allows them to report progress towards carbon reduction goals to their investors. In addition to carbon emissions, the program allows manufacturers to demonstrate a focus on the health and productivity of their employees, through specific credits that target indoor air quality, access to daylight, and low toxicity materials.
What is the significance of the different levels of LEED? How do building operators decide which is best suited for them?
Certification levels appear to be the way to increase building performance as each level represents a higher total of points. However, each point in the LEED systems means something different to each company, depending on the companies’ values and the processes that are included in the facility to be certified. As such, we recommend a targeted approach to selecting credits that add value to the company, and let the certification level be determined after high value points are catalogued to see which certification level makes the most sense.
What are some considerations when you are building or updating a LEED facility? Which approach would you recommend?
Whether starting from scratch, or working with an existing facility, all manufacturers attempting LEED should focus on energy and water consumption processes. When worked into the design process early, energy and water balance studies help process equipment engineers think outside the box and connect waste heat/water from one process to another that can use it. The resulting efficiency can earn LEED points, but it also provides quick payback as utility operating expenses can be massive.
What types of structural updates/features are necessary for a LEED building?
The LEED program does not dictate which features/updates must be installed to achieve points. Rather, the program sets a performance target and designers must determine the best strategy to achieve them. These strategies, of course, vary widely depending on the specific processes that are used to manufacture the product. In general, if owners identify which pieces of equipment are like to cost the most to maintain/operate, they will be on the right track to look for potential improvements.
How can beverage-makers ensure that their equipment is LEED compliant?
The program does not rate equipment, but rather evaluates the total efficiency energy and water consumption of systems used to manufacture a product. Selecting the most efficient components of a system is one way to go; however, it may be more efficient to focus on the central plant efficiency. Often times, co-generation and capture of waste heat can dramatically improve operational efficiency and drive down operating expenses.
Are there any new materials, products or processes that make it easier to construct or renovate a building according to LEED specifications?
In general, LEED buildings do not require manufactures to invest in specific products or materials to achieve a rating. Rather, the program focuses on an integrated design process that requires engineers, architects and the owner to work much more collaboratively in search of a higher performance outcome. LEED-related activities that may be new to a team include deep review of energy/water consumption, studies on energy/water conservation measures, and calculations on ROI and NPV. Teams that do these studies early and back-check their performance during the design development phase are the ones who are likely to find the most value in the LEED program.
What is the typical return on investment for a LEED facility?
Depending on the annual utility expenses, we have seen payback happen in as little as a few months. However, if you find that payback is longer than five years, then you should consider modifying your approach to LEED certification–a sound business case should be your decision making guide throughout the program.
How long does the LEED certification process usually take?
The program starts at the beginning of the design process and concludes roughly three months after construction is complete. If you attempt the enhanced commissioning credit, a high value point for most owners, activities typically conclude one year after operations begin.
Once certified, do companies need to renew their certification? If so, how often and how does this process work?
The USGBC states that a New Construction certification lasts five years, after which you should re-certify the building through the LEED for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (EB:OM) rating system. If owners follow their own values in creating their approach to initial certification, the use of LEED-EB:OM becomes an easy transition as it ensures strategies that were invested in during design and construction remain effective throughout the life of the facility.
What other advice do you have for a beverage company seeking LEED certification for its facilities?
Owners should make the connection between corporate sustainability reporting requirements and the LEED program. In 2010, the SEC declared that climate change was material to investors, which has led to the growth of carbon footprint reporting through third party programs such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). The LEED program offers companies the ability to demonstrate third party validated performance improvements that can help companies meet their corporate carbon reduction goals and achieve higher rankings from investors, bringing further value to the LEED program.