Talking to Clif Bar About Building a Greener Business
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As socially and environmentally-conscious consumers, we try to spend our hard-earned money on supporting businesses that put in the effort to sell things to people without engaging in practices that destroy the world we live in. This is why we shop at farmer’s markets, or support businesses that value sustainability just as much as they value making money (yes, these businesses exist!).
For example, the makers of gDiapers, who decided to produce and sell biodegradable flushable diapers after learning that disposable diapers take nearly 500 years to decompose, also make sure they offset the carbon they produce when shipping their diapers by partnering with GreenShipping.
One thing I’m always stocking up on at the office, for hurricanes, or just to keep in my bag in case anyone ever gets hungry and needs something (no joke) are Clif Bars. And the company happens to be very green, which I wasn’t aware of until I checked out their website last week. I emailed with Elysa Hammond, a staff ecologist and Director of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar & Company to learn more about how they run a sustainable business (and who managed to do this while weathering out the storm and having her power shut off).
What were some of the main sides of the business that Clif Bar considered making as sustainable as possible?
At Clif Bar & Company, we want the way we work and the food we make to be part of a holistic solution to improving the food system from the field to the final product. We’re approaching that goal by focusing on four major areas: sustainable food and agriculture, climate, zero waste and natural resources. We believe our commitment to sustainability helps create a more healthy, just and sustainable food system.
I’ve learned that one of the biggest business waste comes from shipping and logistics, which is necessary for a business that ships products to buyers. Has Clif Bar streamlined a green process for shipping?
Actually, research shows that in food production, the greatest environmental impact comes from the raw materials we use — in other words, the ingredients such as oats, brown rice, fruits and nuts that you find in Clif energy, snack and nutrition bars.
That’s why the most important environmental step we took was in 2002, when we began purchasing organic ingredients, which now comprise more than 70 percent of all the ingredients we use. In the last decade, we’ve purchased nearly 250 million pounds of organic ingredients. Organic farms use 30 percent to 50 percent less fossil fuels than conventional farms, mainly because organic farms don’t use fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, which require huge amounts of energy to make and apply. In addition, their manufacture and use creates harmful emissions of both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Shipping and logistics also have a significant environmental impact. We’ve been addressing Clif Bar’s climate footprint attributable to shipping, logistics, our bakeries and our headquarters since 2003. Here are some examples:
• We’ve made great strides in packaging by eliminating the use of shrink wrap, moving to recycled paperboard and corrugate, and reducing waste. We are working on a more sustainable packaging system involving wrappers, caddies, boxes and shippers.
• The majority of Clif products are shipped from our bakeries to our warehouses in biodiesel-fueled trucks. We also use rail whenever possible. One of our logistics partners has also installed two solar arrays on their warehouses.
• Our business emissions are climate neutral. We track and offset the carbon emissions generated by our headquarters, bakeries, warehouses and in-bound shipping. In 2007, we even offset our historical carbon footprint back to our company’s start.
• To offset our carbon footprint, we’ve been partnering with NativeEnergy to help build new sources of wind energy that generate both social and environmental benefits. For example, we’ve “helped build” four school-owned wind turbines in Indiana over the past two years.
• We are moving towards zero waste at our headquarters, in our field marketing events, and at key facilities where we make our food, with a 2015 goal of 90 or more percent waste diversion from landfills. We are now at 70 percent at our headquarters.
• In 2012, our Clif Bar headquarters in Emeryville, Calif., was awarded LEED® Platinum certification, the highest standard buildings can earn as a measure of their sustainability. Energy efficiency was a priority in the headquarters’ design. Crowning the building’s rooftop is a “smart” solar array that provides the building with the majority of its power.
We also encourage and work with our logistics partners to address their climate impact, and they’ve been phenomenal at getting on board. Our key logistics partners have begun their own sustainability programs, including onsite solar and energy efficiency improvements. They’ve also joined EPA SmartWay, a program that provides guidelines for improved trucking and shipping efficiency.
Green consumers obviously want to support green businesses, and I think a lot of people aren’t aware of how green Clif Bar is (I did not initially realize this myself). What sort of initiatives has Clif Bar pushed forward to get in front of greens consumers?
Clif Bar does virtually no advertising, preferring instead to meet with consumers face-to-face at events that reflect our values. We support a wide variety of eco-minded efforts annually, from “green” events for kids to litter cleanups at marathons and bike valets at eco-festivals. We also work with social media to spread green initiatives more widely.
What kind of positive environmental impact has CLIF Bar been able see in its own or other communities?
We believe companies should walk the talk when it comes to environmental sustainability, starting in their own backyards. That’s why we designed our Clif Bar headquarters with the highest green building standards in mind and were pleased this year when it was awarded LEED® Platinum certification, the highest standard buildings can earn as a measure of their sustainability.
We’ve also been able to help provide a positive environmental impact in a variety of communities around the country through our 2080 Project, Clif Bar Family Foundation and In Good Company alliance.
An employee-run program, Project 2080 makes it easy for staff to volunteer in the community on company time. Founded in 2001, Project 2080 had an initial goal of committing at least 2,080 hours to community service each year or the equivalent of one full-time employee. As the company has grown, so too has the Project 2080 annual hourly target. In 2011, with a 91 percent participation rate, employees collectively donated over 6,700 hours to groups such as GRID Alternatives, which installs solar for lower-income homeowners.