"Green" Baking: Why Sustainability Matters


Sustainability can be defined as "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance". As a practice, it can be applied to any endeavor. In the business sector, everyone from car manufacturers to tech companies to grocery stores are now committing to managing the "triple bottom line"--people, profits and planet.

So what does this mean for the baking industry? What are the implications of sustainability for bakeries at every level--home, local and national? This is the main topic at the upcoming American Society of Baking's BakingTech Conference, scheduled for Feb. 25-27 in Chicago. Whether it’s finding ways to reduce turnover, energy usage and water, or refining the production process to create better efficiency, baking companies are starting to make sustainability a priority--mainly because consumers are making purchasing decisions based on it.

“Consumers are pushing the industry to be more sustainable and thoughtful in business practices,” said Ahmad Hamade, chief executive officer of CraftMark Bakery in Indianapolis. “They drive change through their pocketbooks.”

The trend toward "green" baking is not entirely new. For the past several years, industry pros have identified environmental sustainability as an important trend—and with good reason. Bakeries that cut energy use, lower water consumption and reduce packaging are rewarded with lower overhead costs. And it isn't just the big brands that can benefit. If you own a home bakery, or a local bricks-and-mortar storefront, becoming eco-friendly is an avenue to long-term profitability as consumer demand for green practices starts to drive sales.

And this is ultimately why sustainability matters. Whether it's removing the napkin dispenser, recycling dough scraps into a tasty new offering or replacing old lighting with LED fixtures, baking businesses that get on the sustainability wagon right now are investing in what is quite possibly the future of business in general. Not only do these practices help the environment--they also show a responsiveness that pays off in higher customer satisfaction.

Examples of sustainable bakeries are everywhere, if you look for them. Maury Rubin, owner of the New York City-based City Bakery and Birdbath Bakery locations, is a pioneer of eco-friendly baking. First opened in 2005, his tiny, charming little Birdbaths are self-proclaimed "neighborhood green bakeries", constructed with green building materials and featuring bamboo, grasscloth and wall coverings made from wheat and sunflower seeds. Product is delivered to local customers via rickshaw. “When we opened, it attracted a huge amount of attention right away, and that was really driven by people’s interest in [our use of] green materials,” Rubin says. “The embrace of it was so strong, after about six months, I knew I had discovered a new bakery model.”

While the concept has since spread throughout the food industry, the shift to sustainability is not always easy. Bakery owners typically work long hours and lack the time to adequately plan out a

green strategy. Jeffery Clark, director of the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program, suggests networking with other bakery owners to see what they're doing . Contact your utility provider about rebates and incentives. “Start with one thing, be it food waste, or switching out light bulbs or composting,” he says. “When you have more time, do the next thing. It’s impossible to do everything at once.”

And of course, at the end of the day, you need to be profitable to survive. So, striking a balance

between sustainable practices and the cost and quality of your product is key. Aim for changes

that make sense for the scale of your business--ones that are affordable and doable. Changing out your lighting, for example, is a small-scale change that makes a difference. LED fixtures usually pay for themselves within a year and last much longer than conventional bulbs.

Looking for ways to go green? Start with this energy conservation checklist for bakeries. Happy eco-friendly baking!

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