Green Business Awards 2008: Best Consumer Goods or Retail Company - Winner McCain Foods

As the UK's largest producer of frozen chips, McCain Foods is one of the most recognisable consumer brands on the market.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The family-owned firm aims to put sustainability at the heart of its business and has engaged in long-term efforts to support British agriculture and to continually focus on its impact on society and on the environment. In 2007, McCain launched major investments in renewable energy at one of its manufacturing plants, resulting in a reduction of 7,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide in six months. The company is continuing to explore further opportunities for eco-innovation and aims to demonstrate that manufacturing and the environment can co-exist.

Operating under the premise that 'good ethics is good business', McCain has long recognised the value of forging relationships with local farmers and suppliers. Today, it is British potato farmers' single largest customer, purchasing 12% of the country's annual crop.

In 2007, the company enhanced this commitment by taking steps to improve manufacturing processes and the transport of its goods. In particular, McCain launched two major renewable-energy projects. First, it invested £10m to construct three large wind turbines at its Whittlesey factory, near Peterborough, each rated at 3MW capacity. They now provide 60% of the plant's power consumption.

The company also put £5m into building a sealed lagoon to anaerobically digest the factory's wastewater, which is loaded with potato starch. The lagoon produces methane biogas, which is burned, generating electricity to meet another 10% of the plant's needs. At times of low demand, Whittlesey exports power to the national grid.

An important side benefit of the lagoon is that it eliminates most of the pollution potential of the wastewater before it is discharged. This kind of pollution is one of the food industry's environmental Achilles' heels. According to an EU study in 2006, the food sector is responsible for half of all eutrophication (nutrient pollution) of surface waters across Europe.

As a result of these investments, carbon dioxide emissions at Whittlesey fell by 7,500 tonnes in six months, equivalent to the output of 600 households. At current prices for carbon allowances in the EU emission trading scheme, this would amount to a saving of about £130,000.

McCain is planning to extend its Whittlesey lagoon to handle larger pieces of potato peel, thus boosting its biogas production. It is also assessing the viability of introducing renewable energy at two more of its manufacturing plants.

McCain's quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has also focused on energy-efficiency measures, such as a series of heat-recovery systems installed at its Scarborough site. As a result, the company reduced its energy consumption per kilogram of product by 10% over the six years to 2007.

McCain has addressed the issue of food miles by using potatoes exclusively from the UK to make its chips. Where possible, potatoes are used in the factory closest to where they are grown.

Food miles are further reduced through the use of double-decker trailers. In addition, solar panels are used to help power the lorries' refrigeration units. The introduction of double-deck delivery vehicles, plus more efficient route planning, has helped reduce road journeys by 20% over the past two years.

The judges were impressed by McCain's investment in green improvements and the scale of the benefits achieved. The company itself said it was setting an example to suppliers, customers and peers of how large-scale manufacturing could operate with a significantly reduced environmental footprint.

Shortlisted - Alpro (UK) p24; Dell p25; Motorola p26; Yeo Valley Organic p27

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