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Clif Bar’s Sustainable Business Model Runs ‘Like A Tree’

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The Clif Bar Company’s bakery in Idaho recently received the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry’s 2021 Environmental Excellence Award. It’s an award with a particularly special meaning for a company known for its long-time sustainability practices and its “think like a tree” approach to business. Clif Bar’s 300,000-square foot facility in Twin Falls is a sustainable building in every sense of the word – in fact, it’s the first food manufacturing plant in the world to achieve LEED Zero Waste. It’s a workplace where sustainability comes first: from solar panels built in tandem with a pollinator habitat to lawn-mowing sheep.

Photo Courtesy Clif Bar Media

“The award is deeply gratifying for our bakery and for the many innovations built into that bakery,” Elysa Hammond, senior vice president of environmental stewardship at Clif Bar, explained to The Business Download. “Our bakery is in a state where the environment is everything. Idaho is a place where people love the outdoors, and Clif Bar is a brand founded on the love of the outdoors.”

“We are trying to follow nature’s lead,” she continued. “We want to create a business that runs like a tree. A tree runs on 100 percent renewable energy: the leaves are solar panels, everything the tree produces goes to the earth and restores the soil in decomposition and produces food. Trees sustain and restore the place where they grow. We want to be the kind of citizens in Idaho that we sustain and give back to our community, and we feel the award really honors that approach.”

The award is a result of the company’s innovative approach to both building design and business operations. But for Clif Bar, founded in 1992, sustainability has always been a way of life, with zero waste practices, biodiversity, organic food sources, and clean energy built into its ethos by design. The Twin Falls bakery – recognized frequently – is a shining example of biophilic design, a type of architecture where “love of nature” is above all else. The building features cooling towers, LED lighting, skylights, a reflective roof, solar tubes, recycled barn wood, local stone, and an outdoor events space.

“When it came to designing the building, we designed it for LEED certification, but also to be the first food manufacturing plant to incorporate biophilic design,” Hammond said. “Most [food manufacturing] plants in the United States are windowless boxes where you don’t see the connection to the outdoors. It was a game-changer to bring our company’s Five Aspirations into its design.”

Those Five Aspirations are the cornerstone of Clif Bar: sustaining people, communities, the planet, the brand, and the business. It’s only natural that each step the company makes is based on an environmentally friendly, low carbon approach. In fact, in 2019, the company added a two-megawatt, five-acre solar array to power the Idaho bakery. It immediately set a new standard for solar by including a pollinator habitat under and around each panel. At midday, it provides 90 percent of the electricity the bakery needs to operate.

“There are multiple uses for this solar array,” Hammond continued. “We put in native, pollinating plants, and that really opened up a new way of thinking. In the long term, it’s a more sustainable and affordable way to manage the landscape. By adding these plants, you cool the array, and you add more carbon back in the soil. But, most importantly, it helps us address two crises – not only a changing climate and the need for renewable electricity – but also, the extreme decline in insects and pollinators. As a food company, we have a responsibility to address this native pollinator crisis. We often say we are a different kind of company, so a different kind of company should have a different kind of solar array. We always want to scale up our positive impact.”

Photo Courtesy Clif Bar Media

Additionally, Clif Bar offers many ways to help employees lessen their own carbon footprint with electric vehicle chargers and financial incentives to purchase their own electric vehicles. Also of note, the company recently reached 1 billion pounds of certified organic ingredients used. Where conventional agriculture relies on fossil fuels, Clif Bar is setting a new standard on how companies can wean themselves off that from the ground up.

“The real challenge ahead is how we are going to decarbonize our society, economy, and food system and learn how to create a thriving, healthy world by transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy,” Hammond said. “That starts with organic agriculture and flows to every step of the food system. We are proud we are trying to keep a holistic system approach with an eye on creating impact beyond our four walls.”

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