The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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Sustainability Series: Frito Lay Follow Up

Sustainability Series: Frito Lay Follow Up


December 25, 2011

From modest beginnings as a mom-and-pop chip operation back in the early 1930’s, Frito Lay has grown to become the largest snack-selling company in the United States with more than fifteen $100 million brands, including such favorites as LAY'S®, FRITOS®, CHEETOS® and SUNCHIPS®. We talked to Frito Lay’s Environmental Sustainability department in 2008 about the importance of setting “green” goals – and achieving them. Recently, we caught up with Frito Lay’s Senior Director of Sustainability, Al Halvorsen, about the progress they have made in the area of sustainability – and what lies ahead.

Almost four years ago you told us that you were in the process of creating a net zero plant in Arizona that would take the manufacturing process as far off the energy and water grids as possible. Now we see that you have completed this ambitious project. What were some of the roadblocks you encountered along the way toward achieving your goal of becoming the “greenest manufacturing facility in the U.S.?”

As a company that relies on natural resources like water and fuel, we need to ensure our business remains sustainable, even if there are constraints on those very resources. The key roadblock we intend to avoid is future resource scarcity, which could impact the future of our business.

The Casa Grande “Near Net Zero” project is our most ambitious environmental sustainability project to-date. The vision was to take a facility as far “off the grid” as possible and run the facility primarily on renewable energy sources and recycled water, while producing nearly zero landfill waste. This would be challenging enough to take on with a new facility, but the biggest roadblock we faced was one we knew from the very beginning – “Near Net Zero” would NOT be a new facility, the goal was to transform a 27 year-old existing plant. 

Buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption and 13% of water consumption, but starting from scratch is not always a viable option. The “Near Net Zero” project is an industry-leading example of how companies can find innovative solutions that are right for the business and right for the environment. 

What has been the response from retailers? From consumers?

While we know that retailers and consumers value companies that are environmentally sustainable, we did not wait for them to ask us to consider sustainability or to make these changes. Our environmental strategies and efforts are right for the business and right for the planet. We consider it an added benefit if consumers and retail partners appreciate our passion for performance with purpose.

What other improvements have you made since we last spoke?

In order to reach “near net zero,” we combined the use of innovative technologies, which has resulted in the facility generating 2/3 of all energy used from renewable resources, recycling up to 75% of water, reducing natural gas usage by 80% and reducing greenhouse emissions by 50%. 

Water Reduction: The Casa Grande facility installed a water recovery and reuse system that combines Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) and Low-Pressure Reverse Osmosis (LPRO) technologies to recycle from 50% to 75% of water. The recycled process water meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) primary and secondary drinking water standards. 

Electricity Reduction: Five separate and distinct solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, installed throughout the property, produce nearly 10 million kilowatt-hours (KWHs) of electrical power. Two solar fields of single axis tracking PV systems with more than 18,000 solar panels were installed on 36 acres of the facility’s agriculture property. The three additional PV fields installed by the plant include a dual axis tracking system, a single axis covered parking lot and 10 sterling engine dual axis tracking systems.

Natural Gas Reduction: The newly installed 60,000 pounds per hour (lb/hr) biomass boiler, which uses wood and agricultural waste as its combustion energy source, will produce all the steam needed for the manufacturing plant and will reduce natural gas usage by over 80%.

Zero Landfill: As of 2010, the Casa Grande facility sends less than 1% of its overall waste to landfill through extensive recycling and using food waste for cattle feed.

What else is Frito Lay doing in sustainability?

Beyond our manufacturing-based sustainability efforts, we have also identified an opportunity when it comes to our fleet. Frito-Lay has the seventh largest privately owned fleet in the U.S. and has set a goal of becoming the most fuel efficient fleet in the country. Electric vehicles give Frito-Lay an opportunity to leverage the latest advances in transportation technology as a significant way to reduce the impact of its fleet. As the planned 176 electric trucks are deployed across the country, they eliminate the need for 500,000 gallons of fuel annually, and each truck emits 75% less greenhouse gases than a conventional diesel truck.

What do we – as a food industry – have to do to get the sustainability message through to consumers?

Our consumers make purchasing decisions based on a number of variables – for some, sustainability is one of the driving variables, but it may not be a priority for everybody. However, if we want to ensure that we will be here to support consumers ten, twenty or fifty years from now, we owe it to our current and future consumers to run our business sustainably and to build business strategies that incorporate environmental strategies. As an agriculture-based food company, we understand that our success is tied to natural resources, so we owe it to our stakeholders and our consumers to ensure that we continue to deliver the products they have come to love. Our “near net zero” project is just one way we intend on testing out solutions for tomorrow’s problems today.