Compost
Compost and Recycling station in the Wave Cafe

Molly’s post earlier this week touched on some of the Zero Waste stuff we do here, and it’s really one of the cooler things we have  going on at WhiteWave. If you take a walk around the four floors of our building you’ll see that each copy room is outfitted with recycling stations for paper and cardboard, and each break room and our cafe, with compost and recycling bins. The recycling stuff, while important, isn’t anything new; most offices do the same these days. But the compost stations, that’s different. And not just because it’s rare to see such a thing at a corporate office, but also because come spring time, employees here get to take all the compost we’ve generated over the year home.

Freshly delivered compost

Local companies Eco-Cycle and A1Organics help us manage and store the compost, and when the weather starts to warm up they drop a giant bin of the nutrient rich fertilizer in our parking lot. Then everyone here is free to take what they need for home gardens or yards. It’s a pretty cool perk, but I think more importantly it’s a pretty good educational tool. Every day we’re reminded of the importance of waste management. And since starting the program, we’ve kept more than 386,000 pounds of waste from the ending up in the landfill.

Dropped off right in our parking lot

Check back next week, and we’ll tell you a little more about some other conservation efforts going on at our production plants, where there’s been a lot of excellent work in the realm of waste and water conservation.

“BIG” Changes

In 2003, I was at a PR firm in Chicago working on several food company accounts. That work required that I travel to Colorado on a regular basis. I loved Colorado. Open skies, big mountains, lots of sunshine. I loved it so much that I began looking for a new job. Outside of location, though, I had one requirement: the company needed to be honest about food and honest about its story. Then I read a profile about Horizon Organic.

An opportunity presented itself and before I knew it, I landed a job with Horizon, tasked with the responsibility of helping tell the company’s story. I was thrilled, and quickly came to find out that people across the company shared a common desire to do better, and in Horizon’s case that was to change the world one organic acre at a time. I loved talking to the press, who at the time felt we could do no wrong – vocal advocate for organic agriculture, proponent for the humane treatment of animals, partner to family farmers, champion for healthy foods for kids.  Anyway you sliced it our story was positive and it felt good to tell.

During that time Horizon was owned by Dean Foods, a parent company that had a pretty hands off approach to its individual divisions – at least that’s what it felt like where I sat. About a year later, Dean decided to merge Horizon with some other national Dean brands (International Delight) and also with WhiteWave Inc. (makers of Silk Soymilk). At that point WhiteWave Foods was born. During that process the spotlight was on us and all of a sudden we were now “Big”.  I’d worked with “Big” food companies before, and seen first-hand the negative association. Admittedly, that made me a little nervous. But looking back, it’s interesting to see that since then our story hasn’t only evolved it’s gotten better. And a lot of it has to do with being “Big”, combined with what we learned when we were “Small”. Balancing the two has been one of the most interesting, challenging and energizing aspects of my career.

Back then, Silk purchased renewable energy certificates to offset the electricity used in the production of the product. And now our Horizon, International Delight brands and WhiteWave’s corporate headquarters have followed suit – all now purchase renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to help balance the electricity usage and emissions created by doing business.

Back then, Silk and Horizon offered recycling programs in the buildings in which they were housed.  At WhiteWave we take that to another level by partnering with Eco-Cycle and A1Organics to institute a state-of-the-art Zero Waste Recycling and Composting Program at our Broomfield headquarters. (From recycling and composting alone, we’ve diverted more than 386,000 pounds of waste from landfills to date.)

Back then, recycling and the impact of our carbon footprint was not top of mind for our manufacturing facilities. Today, our plants reduce their impact on the environment. Take our Bridgeton, New Jersey, location – in 2008 that plant reduced its annual waste by 21 percent.  Another example took place last year when our plant in City of Industry, Calif., conducted a water audit. As a result of the findings, the team implemented several water saving measures that will save more than 11 million gallons of water annually.

These are just a few examples. It’s not all we’ve done, but it gives you an idea of what we’re about and how things started changing once WhiteWave was created. Can we do better? Absolutely.  I’m proud to work for a company that struggles with the issues we have – from where we procure our ingredients to how we transport our products to the packages in which we sell them. The discussions we have across this company continue to energize me. I love that we struggle to find the “and” as we like to say. How can we be a profitable business AND do what’s right for the planet? We don’t get it right all the time, but we’re constantly challenging ourselves. That’s a story I can get behind.

This week’s sweet links – time to dust off the bike…

How to build (bike) a sidewalk (via Treehugger)

Denver launches largest bike sharing program in the nation. Click for more…

Waste not, want not

Yesterday, WhiteWave Foods was proud to sponsor the “2010 Green Business of the Year Award” at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Business Awards luncheon. There were three very cool finalists, each offering products for a more sustainable future or working to make Colorado greener.

However,  I was secretly rooting for Waste Farmers an organization that was founded on the belief that in nature there is no waste. Everything begins and ends with soil. To put it simply, Waste Farmers works with restaurants, hotels, schools and other organizations to take food “waste” and turn the scraps into compost, which replenishes and feeds the soil, which grows the plants and in turn makes the food we eat. A closed cycle. A restorative economy.

I was impressed by Waste Farmers and the service they provide. But I also like the story behind the company. Who doesn’t root for the guy who starts his business with $9,000, a pickup truck, and a dream that its possible to make a profit while enriching the community? I believe more businesses should be built on the idea that idealism and capitalism don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the future depends on it.

Happy Earth Day!

Food for Thought

  • Americans throw away 43,000 tons of food each day
  • 70% of world’s waste stream consists of organic material (food, paper, leaves) that could be composted
Planting seeds for a sustainable future

Earth Day began as a political demonstration, a protest, designed to bring more awareness to environmental issues. And over the years, that original concept has evolved and changed a lot. It isn’t just about protests or festivals anymore, it’s a mainstream event with main street attention.

The way people approach Earth Day has changed too. In fact at WhiteWave, we see it as a way to educate our kids not just on the importance of sustainability, but its role in modern business.

Obviously educating our kids about the importance of sustainability is an everyday kind of thing, but as it turns out, this year’s Earth Day is also national Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. So we’re blowing it out a little.

This isn’t going to be your average day at the office, it goes way beyond simply shadowing mom or dad. We’re actually going to have more than 150 kids, divided into 15 groups, attending 15 different “tour stops” throughout the day. All developed and led by WhiteWave employees… all dedicated to showcasing a wide variety of careers, and how sustainability fits into them. It would take way too long to explain what that looks like, so I think it’s best we just show you.

Tomorrow we’ll be tweeting highlights from the event itself, as well as other Earth Day activities via our WhiteWave twitter feed (@whitewavefoods) throughout the day. And don’t forget to also check out what our Silk brand is doing with The Huffington Post to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th anniversary…

Not just a source of food, a source of inspiration

This past Saturday night several of us from WhiteWave attended a fundraiser to benefit Community Food Share (CFS), a local organization that serves as a safety net for those who are hungry in Boulder and Broomfield Counties. I’ve gone to this annual event for several years and not only is it a fun night and a chance to spend some time with colleagues and friends in the community, it also helps connect me back to one of the things that makes WhiteWave so special.

Last week our company president, Blaine McPeak, hosted a luncheon with a randomly selected group of a dozen employees. He routinely does this to get to know people better, to find out what’s on their mind, ask them questions, encourage them to ask him questions, etc. About half way through the lunch he asked, “What do you like about WhiteWave?” and almost immediately a woman said, “I like that we work with Community Food Share. I love volunteering there.’’ Two other employees chimed in to echo her sentiment.

As I was sitting at the event Saturday night Jim Baldwin, CEO of CFS spoke very highly about WhiteWave as he mentioned the financial contributions, product donations and volunteer hours we’ve provided CFS over the years. It was hard not to feel proud as Jim spoke eloquently about how much WhiteWave means to CFS. But frankly, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much CFS means to WhiteWave. I think it’s pretty remarkable that one of the things employees like most about our company is our commitment to those in need in our local community.

Last year our employees volunteered 6,000 hours in the local communities in which WhiteWave is present – 800 of which were spent at CFS. What’s even cooler is that at WhiteWave we actively encourage employees to spend time volunteering and even offer paid time off to do so.

So when an organization like CFS sees a 20% uptick in the need for food assistance from its 57 member agencies and its own direct service programs – we can step in and help. Sadly, you never want to hear that an organization like CFS experiences a 20% increase in demand for its services, but I am thankful that WhiteWave can play at least a small part in helping CFS achieve its mission by making sure people receive healthy food.

As CFS noted in the event brochure they distributed Saturday night, “While there certainly have been signs of improvement for some in our community, for many others, especially for those living in poverty, the struggle to decide which to pay for – rent, utilities, medical expenses, gas and food – is a daily one.” Please, if you’re at all interested in learning more about how to feed the hungry in your community check out the Feeding America network, of which CFS is a part. Together we can make a difference.

This week’s sweet links – Window Farms and Wall Gardens…

Window Farm Project…

Wall Garden. Click for more...

Seeds

I’ve tried gardening a number of times over the past few years. Mostly small veggies and herbs. I even tried grapes last year after someone told me they pretty much take care of themselves once you get them started. But alas, my grape dream died. Something in the spring air makes me think I can do it, but the end result is always the same. Epic fail.

I admittedly could probably work a little harder at it, but let’s be honest, I see home gardens as more of a hobby than anything. Where most likely, you’re only generating enough food for a number of meals in late summer. To really do something worthwhile—to do something big—I’d  need more land, more help and oh yeah, I need to know what the heck I’m doing.

It looks like I may be in luck. In doing a little more research after the River Cottage post from a few weeks ago, I found that there’s a Landshare program right here in Colorado. And just like the operation based across the pond they’re “connecting people who want to grow food to land to grow it on.” More importantly, they help you do it. Consulting and planning services, plant variety recommendations, planting calendars… you name it.

My black thumb may have tints of green in its future….

Crop circles in the city

Urban crop circles.

Cool project from design firm, Pentagram incorporates multiple perspectives on how a city can be seen.

This week’s sweet links – PSFK

Wishing I was at the PSFK conference today… so thought it fitting to make them the feature this week…

Glow in the dark cans. Click for more…

New gum could detect Malaria. Click for more…

Top 10 Package Designs. Click for more…

Packaged Vertical Gardens. Click for more…