Vermont dairy processing facilities share to save, learn, and grow

by Tim Perrin, Account Manager

When you picture Vermont, one of the images that comes to mind might be a green rolling meadow full of grazing Holsteins. Indeed, the Green Mountain State has a long and rich agricultural history. Dairy farming has been driving our economy for hundreds of years. Today, dairy represents 70% of all agricultural sales in Vermont.

Dairy is a major supplier of milk and a vital economic engine in Vermont. Some of the world’s premier dairy products are made with Vermont milk. The finest ice creams, cheeses, and yogurts are all on the roster. But did you know that these products are also made in Vermont manufacturing facilities?

Continuous energy improvement has come to dairy production facilities

Energy is the third largest cost driver in dairy production behind milk and labor.  Dairy product manufacturing is energy intensive, requiring a significant amount of heat and energy for pasteurization, and running process equipment. These facilities also have large refrigeration systems in common. However, energy costs are manageable through streamlining processes, recovering energy, and optimizing system performance. 

We are partnering with four organizations who are behind some of Vermont’s best-known dairy brands: Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Vermont Creamery, Ben & Jerry’s, and the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. All four of these companies are either certified as or work closely with B Corporations or B Corps. B-Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.  So it is no surprise that each of these companies has adopted a continuous energy improvement (CEI) approach to energy management. This approach, facilitated by staff at Efficiency Vermont, is a proactive, systematic way of assessing and reducing the energy required to do business. It is an on-going process that helps to shape the culture of how an organization thinks about and manages energy use.

Each company develops and implements an energy management plan, often through a cross-functional team comprised of individuals that perform various functions within their company, such as maintenance, engineering, production, financing and management. Together with a member of the Efficiency Vermont staff, the team assesses the current state and baseline performance, and then sets energy saving targets.  From there, energy performance is measured and tracked on an ongoing basis, which provides a feedback loop to site staff about the impacts of their efforts.

Facilitating peer-to-peer exchange

In 2013, Efficiency Vermont began fostering peer-to-peer learning amongst large industrial energy users in Vermont bringing them together to compare notes and best practices.  These exchanges, also known as CEI cohorts, connect industry peers and energy experts for opportunities to learn and exchange ideas.

In 2016 these dairy businesses are participating in a cohort focusing on optimizing performance of their process refrigeration systems.  While many of the conversations start out about energy use, our true measure of success is when participants leverage the knowledge of peers to understand and address fundamental challenges they experience in their operational processes. Ann Hoogenboom, Sustainability Coordinator for Cabot Creamery shared, “I like when we can speak with other dairy facilities and learn together. The whole process and working with Efficiency Vermont allows us to share knowledge in a productive and pre-competitive way.”

Over the course of this year, representatives from each company will participate in technical trainings, on-site system assessments, and other facilitated events. In March of this year, we hosted an all-day training opportunity on the best practices for industrial refrigeration. Our partners at Cascade Energy (the authors of one of the premier guides on this topic) came and presented a packed agenda. CEI cohort participants left the day with a better understanding of the mechanical systems that deliver refrigeration at their facilities, how energy inputs drive the process, and opportunities to reduce energy use without compromising cooling needs. 

A two-day refrigeration assessment of Cabot’s cheese production facility happened in April. CEI cohort members gained first-hand knowledge of how to apply these tools and techniques at their own facilities. Each facility will undergo similar refrigeration assessments over the summer of 2016.

 “It is unique. As dairy processors we’re working with largely the same equipment and materials, but we’re producing very different products. For Cabot, refrigeration is among our biggest uses for energy, so the desire for increased efficiency and conservation has positive environmental and economic benefits.”  Jim Tringe, Director of Plant Services for the Agri-Mark dairy cooperative and its flagship Cabot® brand.

Peer learning and networking events are planned throughout the year that will bring CEI cohort representatives together to give them a fresh perspective and allow them to share collective wisdom gathered from across their organizations. We’ve learned from past experiences hosting peer connections events that they often serve to catalyze energy savings and business improvements.

CEI can deliver energy saving benefits year after year, infusing a culture of energy management for participating organizations. This approach is providing the state’s largest dairy product producers with the opportunity to build on each other’s successes and ideas and helping to strengthen one of Vermont’s core economic drivers.

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