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HWTR Pollution Prevention

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SunOpta Healthy Fruit Snacks

Washington Manufacturer Saves $100,000 per Year

SunOpta Healthy Fruit Snacks, a food processor in Omak, set goals to improve efficiencies and cut waste in their operations. To achieve the goals, the company turned to Impact Washington for lean manufacturing facilitation. SunOpta enhanced these lean efforts by adding energy reduction and environmental improvements for even more savings. Washington State University Extension Energy Program and the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) provided technical assistance.  Ecology also provided a grant to cover a portion of the project costs.

Results of the four partners’ work included:

  • SunOpta saved $84,000 annually on their electric bill through more efficient use of cold storage space.
  • They saved $10,000 per year by recycling pallets and $3,900 per year by replacing paper towels with efficient air hand dryers.
  • They insulated and segregated hot equipment and pipes to make the production workspace cooler and safer for workers during hot summer months.  
  • They reduced solid waste by 64 tons per year.
  • They increased employee participation and creativity to spur greater company success.

Their success can be attributed to corporate leadership setting sustainability goals, the employees who took ownership of improvement efforts, and the public/private partnerships forged.  And, the company isn’t done yet:  SunOpta has identified even more opportunities to cut material use, save energy, and save money.

Boiler room image
Infrared image of the boiler room
Regular and infrared images of SunOpta's boiler room. Infrared imaging showed the areas of greatest heat loss (yellow and red) where insulation can save energy and improve working conditions.

The Company  
SunOpta Healthy Fruit Snacks, in Omak, Washington is one of several facilities in the SunOpta Fruit Group. The Omak plant has been operating since 2003, and is a primary processor and producer of organic and natural fruit bars and fruit snacks.

SunOpta set goals to improve certain energy, facility, material, chemical, and waste inefficiencies throughout the plant. They wanted to accelerate the move toward achieving their targets.

The Results
Actions and savings (to date) include: 

  • Rearranged cold storage warehousing – this cut energy use by 190,000 kWh per year saving about $84,000 annually. This is an 18% reduction in CO2 emissions for the plant.
  • Made low-capital energy efficiency improvements to save energy, increase product output, and make workers more comfortable. Improvements included:
    • Insulating hot pipes and equipment.
    • Exhausting excess vacuum pump heat directly outdoors.
    • Moving air compressor to an alternate location.
  • Replaced two paper-towel dispensers in employee restrooms with energy-efficient “air knives”, eliminating paper towel use by 320 rolls per year and saving over $3,900 in purchase costs. This effort also reduced solid waste generation.  
  • Created a unique solid waste recycling program through coordination with a supply vendor and a Spokane recycling company. The supply vendor and recycling company provided a cardboard and office paper compacting baler at no charge. All recyclables are backhauled by the vendor after a delivery. This program removed 64 tons of solid waste per year from landfill disposal.
  • Switched to a single cleaning product, which reduces water use and allows easy recycling of empty bulk containers.

Other Lean and Environment actions currently underway or slated for future efforts include:

  • Install new lighting and occupancy sensors with utility rebate.
  • Eliminate plastic storage bags for raw material. This has the potential to reduce the use of 52,000 plastic bags each year.
  • Improve signs and color coding for recycling versus garbage bins.

How They Did It
SunOpta chose “Lean and Environment” tools to accelerate their progress. Lean and Environment is a strategy that identifies wastes and quickly initiates the changes to reduce those wastes and environmental impacts. See http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/lean/index.html for additional detail.

SunOpta partnered with Impact Washington, Department of Ecology, and Washington State University (WSU) Extension Energy Program to conduct four Lean and Environment events. Selected staff from each organization worked together as teams to bring their respective knowledge and skills to achieve the company’s goals.  

The teams completed two value stream maps to find waste, a kaizen event to immediately reduce solid waste, and a focused energy audit. A value stream map assesses time, people, and materials required to produce a product and where wastes exist. A kaizen event immediately implements changes to reduce waste. Lean and Environment adds specific environmental components to the lean assessment. Examples include evaluating water use, chemical use, wastewater improvements, energy use, and solid waste generation.

The sequence was:  

  • March 2010 –  Lean training and value stream mapping event of the overall plant.
  • April 2010 –  Solid waste reduction and recycling kaizen event.
  • June 2010 –  Value stream mapping of the drying portion of the production line.
  • June 2010 – Focused energy audit to save energy and cool workspaces.

Used pallets took up a lot of storage space.
SunOpta had difficulties getting these removed
from the facility and received no monies.
Now, used pallets are picked up bi-monthly
whenever new pallets are delivered, to limit
the transportation costs. Pallet storage
has been reduced by 68%. The facility is now
being paid for the used pallets and
the cost of new pallets was reduced by 20%.

SunOpta then began devoting resources to targeted improvements. They completed several projects in short order, continue to implement others, and have slated some for future efforts.   

These events allowed the Lean and Environment teams to identify preferred future conditions, gain understanding of their wasted materials, water, and energy. They learned how Lean and Environment strategies can work together.    

SunOpta covered the cost of their staff training and participation, and a portion of the cost for the lean project management and facilitation. Supplemental funding for the project was provided by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and matching funds from Ecology.

SunOpta also covered the cost of opportunities they chose to implement. Significant rebates may be available for a portion of the additional energy opportunities they are considering.

More Information
For more information on the participants, available grant funding, or additional lean and environment resources, see:

Data collection and report writing support were provided by Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center and Ross & Associates.

Prepared by:  Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center and Department of Ecology