Bakery sustainability is the future of bakeries

Sustainable development in business cultivates both earth-safe and cost-effective solutions, which in this case, can achieve true bakery sustainability. These solutions reduce waste, business emissions, and pollution, ultimately reducing the ecological footprint of an entity.

Once more, the business case for sustainability is irrefutable, by improving efficiency, a sustainable design creates lean processes that lower overall business costs, and improve the reputation of your brand – which attracts and retains customers and employees.

With this in mind, in this Green Business Bureau article, we present six top tips on how to implement a sustainable bakery design. The green initiatives chosen will create the foundation of your sustainable development plan, kick-starting your green journey for you to build on over time.

Why bakery sustainability is needed: The environmental impact of bakeries

Bakeries are energy-intensive and create excessive amounts of waste during the packaging and baking processes. Additionally, many bakeries offer café refreshments such as coffee or tea, which create additional waste. This is why bakery sustainability is needed.

Thinking about the main environmental impacts of bakeries, we wanted to present green initiatives that will mitigate these impacts. We’ve ordered these initiatives starting with low-effort actions first, such as moving away from disposables and sourcing local ingredients. We then wanted to bring your sustainability program further, introducing initiatives such as installing efficient kitchen tools and souring sustainable packaging.

If you’re a bakery owner or manager, there’s a long list of changes you can make to become more sustainable. Below are our six top tips, ordered by effort:

  1. Reduce the number of single-use disposables used onsite,
  2. Reduce food waste,
  3. Donate or re-purpose unsold products,
  4. Plan sustainable menus and buy locally,
  5. Use sustainable packaging,
  6. Reduce your energy impact,

Tip #1: Decrease single use disposables

To meet food health and safety regulations, bakeries turn to single-use disposable items like plastic gloves and paper towels. These items accumulate in our environment. Latex gloves for instance will take up to 5 years to biodegrade.

To achieve true bakery sustainability, these single-use disposables should be eliminated where possible, and for those which cannot be eliminated, greener alternatives, such as recyclable or biodegradable ones should be used. For example, if your customers eat within the building, provide reusable cutlery and plates, or give customers coffee cups that can be returned to the bakery to be washed and reused. This not only will boost the sustainability of your business, but it will also prompt repeat business.

For example, Green Business Bureau member, Coffee Cup Collective uses a circular business model to reduce the use of single-use disposable items. The business introduced the initiative of Bring Your Own (BYO), whereby customers are given their own reusable cup by the company, which they can return on every visit. Yet Coffee Cup Collective recognized this solution could pose a hygiene problem. Tackling this challenge with a solution-orientated mindset, the company introduced a thorough sanitation process. This meant, on the customer’s return visit, coffee cups were thoroughly cleaned before being refilled. Not only is this initiative more sustainable, but it also encourages repeat business.

Tip #2: Reduce food waste

You’ll want to ensure you have enough baked goods to sustain a storefront while also minimizing the amount of food waste you create. This demands effective ingredient forecasting. Luckily there are green technology solutions out there to help you here.

One example is ClearCOGs, another Green Business Bureau member. ClearCOGs has revolutionized the food industry with their AI and machine learning solution to ingredient forecasting. Companies use ClearCOGs to gauge a more accurate picture of what ingredients they need to meet sales demand and reduce food waste (plus the costs associated).

Yet, even with the most accurate ingredient forecasting, food waste can still be a problem. Luckily there are other strategies you can adopt to help you solve this challenge.

Firstly, you could find additional uses for food that’s passed its prime. Instead of tossing these food items into the trash, look for alternative recipes that source sour or stale ingredients, such as sour milk dough bread, banana-cake made from softened bananas, or whizzing up old bread to make bread crumbs.

Any sourdough bread that is not sold on the day is turned into things like toasties. Our leftover croissants are soaked in custard and baked into bread and butter puddings. You wouldn’t know they were made from leftovers, they are so good.” – 3 Ideas to Cope with Wastage in a Bakery, Black Star Pastry.

Secondly, you can use efficient cooking methods, that by design, result in less waste. Achieving cooking efficiency means regularly maintaining equipment, and updating old equipment with new, slick tools. Efficient cooking also calls for an organized kitchen, so make sure your food products and ingredients are labeled properly and stored appropriately.

And lastly, monitor the sales of your products. This is important to estimate how much of each item is sold and when (accounting for the time of day, week, month, and season). What are your best-selling items? Prioritize making more of these items to meet demand.

Tip #3: Donate Or Re-purpose Your Unsold Products

Yet even with effective ingredient forecasting and efficient kitchen processes, food waste can still be an issue for your business. And so you have a choice, to decide what to do with your baked goods surplus and ingredients before they go past their sell-by date.

Bakeries contribute to over 70 billion pounds of food waste annually. Hence this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed.

Your first option is to donate your baked goods to either your employees or to food pantries, homeless shelters, community fridges, or similar at the end of the day. Doing this re-purposes waste. Plus, this initiative will deliver positive knock-on effects, that is, you’ll create a more socially conscious brand image, which in turn, will attract new customers.

One company spearheading this initiative is Deerfields Bakery in Illinois. Deerfields give their surplus baked goods to homeless shelters as well as nursing homes.

Your second option is, depending on the type of baked goods, to sell products a day later for a discounted price, which will again decrease the number of baked foods that are thrown away.

Tip #4: Plan sustainable menus and buy locally

The transportation of food accounts for 20% of the total global emissions from food. According to a recent article by the New Scientist, the food industry is expected to generate 17.3 billion tonnes of CO2e annually (which is 19x the commercial aviation industry). Putting these figures together, the transportation of food emits 3.46 billion tonnes of C02e annually.

With this in mind, to improve the sustainability of your bakery, you need to take a hard look at the food miles you’re racking up transporting products and ingredients. A greener – and cheaper – alternative would be to source locally grown and in-season ingredients. This will not only reduce your carbon footprint as a business but will also benefit your community by supporting other local businesses.

Tip #5: Use sustainable packaging

Selling your baked products creates an interesting challenge. Products need to remain sanitary, however, that often leads to excessive disposable (mainly plastic) packaging.

A vital change on your road to sustainability would be to use recyclable or biodegradable materials to package your baked goods and beverages. These swaps can include things such as paper bags instead of plastic bags, soy wax wraps instead of plastic wraps, and paper cups or biodegradable cups instead of styrofoam.

Thinking about sustainable packaging, West London’s The Artisan Bakery recently rolled out their eco-friendly packaging to deliver baked goods to customers. This new packaging includes a fiber-based film and tray. The packaging is both recyclable and compostable for the home.

Tip #6: Reduce fossil fuel energy demand

Bakeries use a significant amount of energy to keep operations running, from internal heating to using energy-intensive ovens. More specifically, it’s estimated that food services and cafeterias – including bakeries – can consume ~39-43.5 kWh/square foot of electricity. This is more than twice the average for commercial businesses. Hence we have an energy problem.

There are three main ways bakeries can reduce their fossil-fuel energy demand, this includes:

  1. Improving energy efficiency,
  2. Conserving energy,
  3. Switching to renewable energy sources.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can target each method to reduce your bakery’s energy demand.

Make energy efficiency improvements

Being efficient means reducing the amount of energy that’s wasted, ensuring most of the energy captured from the grid is used for useful work. Thinking about efficiency in the kitchen, like mentioned in step #2, regularly monitoring and maintaining equipment, plus purchasing new equipment will boost the efficiency of the food preparation process. This means reducing energy and food waste.

As technology advances, more efficient appliances are coming to the marketplace, helping bakeries not only curb their carbon footprint but also drive down energy costs. And there’s one piece of equipment that’s at the center of your energy-efficiency aspirations – the oven.

There are different types of ovens having different heat transfer concepts. For example, tube ovens are suitable for baking large loaves with thick crusts, and need thermal stability throughout the baking process. In contrast, rack ovens are more suited for small to medium products with thin crusts, with operations requiring quick load and unload procedures. Hence, when it comes to making efficiency improvements, it’s important to look at the design features of any new, more efficient oven appliance, and ensure they are utilized to the maximum capability.

Plus, install top-tier controllers to turn oven devices on and off at specific times automatically. This way, the oven will be at the right temperature at the right time during the baking process, which also maximizes precision and acts as a form of quality control.

Conserve energy to reduce demand

Conserving energy is the decision and practice of using less energy, and is best achieved by encouraging a behavioral change within your workforce. This means turning off lights and appliances when not in use and setting the room temperature as an appropriate constant.

Technological devices can support these behavioral changes, such as motion sensors on lights and controllable thermostats.

Thinking about the baking processes specifically, do some research around optimal baking temperatures, to ensure a quality product while demanding less energy. For instance, baking bread traditionally uses temperatures of 94-98°C (201-206°F). However, anecdotal evidence suggests that these temperatures are higher than necessary, and lower temperatures of 90°C (194°F) will suffice.

Utilize renewable energy sources

When it comes to switching to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, there are a few ways you can make this transition.

  1. Switch to a green energy tariff,
  2. Purchase Renewable Energy Certificates and an Off-Site Power Purchase Agreement,
  3. Install your own renewable energy source onsite.

To learn more about these methods, read: GHG Protocol: Scope 2 Emissions Explained

The business case for creating a sustainable bakery

Sustainability is achieved by making both small and large-scale changes. To begin, we suggest you start small, focusing on low-effort initiatives, such as moving away from single-use disposables. This will keep momentum as you look to implement larger-scale changes, such as installing energy-efficient appliances or switching to a renewable energy provider.

Yet, implementing the green initiatives detailed in this article will do more for your business than improving operational sustainability. That is, the business case for bakery sustainability is compelling. To explain, below we consider a few ways sustainability will save you money.

Energy efficiency and conservation improvement will reduce your energy bill

Simply put, by making energy efficiency improvements, you reduce wasted energy saving you money.

Ovens are the largest single-site energy consumer in the baking industry, and the main way to reduce the energy demand of these appliances would be to improve combustion efficiency. Yet, it’s important to note that these efficiency improvements are limited. Many commercial ovens have lifespans of up to 30 years, meaning ovens used in the industry are often outdated. Making the capital investment of replacing ovens (and other outdated equipment) with new technology may be your go-to means of improving the efficiency of these appliances.

Renewable energy sources offer cheaper energy

Making the switch to renewables will save you money, with new reports indicating renewable energy undercuts the cheapest fossil fuel costs (solar energy is spouted to be the cheapest form of energy). And the cost trajectory for renewables is only set to decrease further, whereas fossil fuel costs are increasing with depleting reserves.

Swapping disposable items with reusable items will reduce overall expenditure

In addition, making the switch to using less disposable items will reduce the need to replenish them, again leading to an overall reduction in expenditure. For instance, Comfort Cafe saves $14,000 annually by swapping their disposable cups for ceramic mugs and eliminating 2.4 tons of disposable waste.

Aligning with the values of your customers and employees will bolster your organization’s bottom line

Employees and consumers are becoming more interested in working and shopping at places with a green mission. E.g. according to McKinsey and Company, customers are willing to spend up to 5% more on green products. Hence making the switch to provide sustainable options will increase sales, and boost customer satisfaction.

In terms of your employees, according to a survey by IBM, 71% of job seekers want to work for a sustainable company. Hence sustainable development will engage employees and attract and retain top talent.

Demonstrate your commitment by becoming a certified green business

In this article, we’ve presented you with six top tips on how you can make your bakery more sustainable. Yet the green initiatives you can implement aren’t limited to these. This article gives you a snapshot of what can be achieved with a dedicated green team and guided focus. To build a more thorough strategy for improved sustainability, sign up for the Green Business Bureau (GBB), and get certified for your efforts.

Upon signing up you can use GBB’s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment tools as your sustainability guides. Both lay out a plethora of green initiatives which you can filter by cost and effort. GBB is a tool designed to help you make continuous green improvements while documenting your achievements for ultimate transparency.

Using the Green Business Bureau’s certification program and tools will not only help you track and confirm your business’s accomplishments and progress, but GBB will allow you to showcase your green commitment to the world.

Lauren is pursing a bachelors in environmental engineering as well as gender studies. She loves learning about the intricacies within each individual major, as well as where they overlap. She is hoping to go into environmental justice after college. In her free time she loves spending time with her cats and dogs, tending to her plants, and reading all sorts of books.

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