Fast Company's Top Innovative Companies in Food: 3 _ For making its supply chain more sustainable--and more profitable. Over the last six years, the yogurt company has introduced eco-friendly innovations in transportation, light-weight packaging, and waste reduction (including a program to recycle up to 90% of manufacturing waste) that have cut costs by some $24 million. Now, the company is helping its suppliers do the same. A new program is underway to build small, mobile processing plants at a Costa Rican banana coop so that its growers can slash waste by as much as 50% and improve their profit margins. The project is a model for Stonyfield’s parent, the global giant Danone Group, which has made sustainable development a corporate priority.
Since our beginnings here at Stonyfield 30 years ago, we have always sought a better way to make healthy yogurt. We’ve spent lots of time and heart seeking new ways to source responsibly, take care with our processes and packaging, and treat both farmers and the planet well. Innovation in sustainability has been part of our DNA since producing our first cup of yogurt and we’re proud of that.
We’re also proud that others have noticed. We are honored to have been named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Innovative Companies in Food for 2013. (Number 3, in fact!)
We thought this was the perfect time to shed a little more light on some of our current innovations and what else the company has on the horizon. We had a little chat with Wood Turner, Stonyfield’s VP of Sustainability Innovation.
What are some examples of the “eco-friendly innovations in transportation, light-weight packaging, and waste reduction” we have been working towards in the past six years?
One thing is really true -- when you reduce waste, you reduce costs. Any time you produce waste in any form, it costs money that doesn’t actually create any real value for the company. Avoiding waste is an ethic that all Stonyfielders strive to bring to their work because it’s better for the planet and can really contribute to the strength of our business.
- We have increased recycling by 51% since 2006 and we have kept 34 million pounds of waste out of landfills and incinerators since 1997.
- We are the first dairy company to use plant-based packaging. This has reduced our greenhouse emissions by 65% for our smoothie bottles, and 48% for our multi-packs.
- We currently create only 1.03 grams (about the weight of a paper clip) of waste per yogurt cup.
- Utilizing rail to transport as much of our product as possible to market is 11 times more fuel efficient than shipping by truck.
- When we first launched of our Mission Action Program in 2006, six truckloads of trash were leaving our facility every week; now there is just one. Reduction of that much waste has helped us avoid about one million dollars in unnecessary disposal costs.
Say a bit about the project you’re working on to create opportunities for our Costa Rican banana growers.
When our nearly 1200 cooperative banana growers harvest their crop, it begins a complex process to get it into our yogurt. The bananas have to be picked from the hills and slopes of the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica and carried over rivers and along dirt roads to a central location. Cooperative members currently can’t puree the banana themselves, so it gets sent to a contract processor who prepares it for safe shipment to the US. In partnership with our banana growers and the non-profit Sustainable Food Lab, we’re working to establish the capability for the puree process to be implemented by the growers themselves, creating jobs and other economic opportunity, including the fact that many bananas that currently rot in the trees, never to make it to market, will be able to be pureed and sold. This model of reducing the length of the supply chain could be revolutionary for small growers around the world. We’re less than one year into a three-year project, but we’re hopeful for great results
Are there any other exciting innovations/programs Stonyfield is working on at the moment?
We’re working on lots of different things, but we’re particularly excited about rolling out our SourceMap project this year and think it will be a great new way to engage our retail partners and our yogurt lovers who want know more about how we do what we do and what our relationships are like with our dairy and ingredient suppliers. Essentially, our SourceMap will take the form of a website with an interactive map of our supply chain. The purpose is to demonstrate, through videos, images, and data, the positive impact we’re having and the relationships that matter so much to our business. Our goal is to communicate to our retailers and consumers the hard work we are doing to reduce the impact of everything that goes into making our yogurt.
What‘s the sustainability innovation path forward for Stonyfield?
2013 is our 30th anniversary as a business, and it’s a great time to be thinking of the many ways we can honor our history and create the kind of future for our business that we want. Just our goals of being true zero waste and using 100% renewable energy to produce our yogurt, we truly believe we can be the kind of company that can put more good things back into the environment than we take away. To me, it’s such an incredible aspiration to think about being a restorative company, rather than an extractive company. It’s within our power to do it. We’ve always believed in the power of business to transform the world, and there’s no time like the present to come together as a team and get it done.