ST. LOUIS — Climate change is at the forefront of the global conversation, especially coming off the heels of the COP26 summit earlier this year, where citizens took to the streets to demand change from those in power. But consumers aren’t the only ones working to make a difference.

Companies are looking inward and implementing measures to make their own operations more sustainable. And while some industries are trying to catch up, commercial bakeries are already leading the charge. Baked goods manufacturers large and small have innovated sustainable practices that create long-term value for their brands.

For bakeries simply focused on day-to-day operations, actually putting these steps into practice can get sidelined. But by understanding common strategies and starting small, bakeries can become empowered through sustainability and the tangible benefits that come with it.


Cutting down on material waste — or transforming it — can serve as a low barrier to entry for sustainability.

The nonprofit organization Feeding America reports that 108 billion lbs. of food are wasted every year in the US. That equates to more than $161 billion worth of food thrown away each year, and 40% of all food in America.

Headshot of Josh AllenJosh Allen, founder and owner of St. Louis-based Companion Baking, has made a dent in those numbers. He was named as this year’s “Sustainability Hero” by the Tiptree World Bread Awards for reducing his bakery’s trash by more than 1 million lbs. Allen and his team take a holistic approach to waste reduction, using tools such as flour reclamation on the bread lines and a composting and recycling program that cut the bakery’s landfill contribution by more than 75%.

Some bakeries are avoiding the landfill altogether. The Upcycled Food Association (UFA) encourages bakers to get creative and find new ways to repurpose their food waste … and even commercialize it.

“Chances are, you have something going to waste somewhere in your supply chain, and that’s costing you money,” said Turner Wyatt, co-founder and CEO of UFA. “Instead, use it to create something new.” For example, CaPao, a Mondelez brand, formulates its Quinoa Squares with reclaimed cacao fruit, and the product recently became the first on the market to carry the UFA’s “Upcycled Certified” mark on its packaging.

This action is being driven in part by end-users. As people increasingly support businesses that positively impact the environment, companies are realizing that sustainability pays. Cone Communications’ latest corporate social responsibility study revealed that 87% of American consumers will make a purchase because a company advocated for an issue that they care about.

“Chances are, you have something going to waste somewhere in your supply chain, and that’s costing you money. Instead, use it to create something new.” —Turner Wyatt | co-founder and CEO | Upcycled Food Association


But this grassroots support for environmentally friendly manufacturing is creating a trickle-up effect.

Due to supply chain disruptions and increased focus on health, shoppers are aware — perhaps now more than ever— of a product’s full lifecycle. Consumers now know there are a lot of steps involved in creating commercially baked food … from the time a croissant or cookie is just ingredients in a commercial mixer until it’s a finished product ready to eat. They scrutinize not only how these products are being made, but also the impact that production has on the planet.

This is why major retailers such as Whole Foods and Target are putting more pressure on their suppliers to meet sustainability specifications.

Target has committed to a 2040 goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions across its entire supply chain. This ambitious goal breaks down greenhouse gas emissions into three categories: Scope 1 relates to emissions generated from one’s facility, scope 2 relates to emissions from energy purchased to power one’s facility, and scope 3 relates to emissions generated from the entire supply chain.

By pursuing incremental change, this encourages bakery manufacturers to make necessary changes in ways that don’t disrupt productivity. Thomasville, GA-based Flowers Foods can vouch for this approach.

Headshot of Margaret Ann Marsh“Change is always challenging, so we try to integrate sustainability into the design of new lines or upgrades rather than a completely new project or process,” said Margaret Ann Marsh, VP of environmental sustainability at Flowers Foods. “And communication is key. It’s important to provide consistent and transparent messages to employees, consumers and stakeholders about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what progress we’re making toward our goals.”

Whole Foods underscores this kind of transparency with its rigorous quality standards and “Sourced for Good” program. Rather than simply expecting compliance with sustainability directives, this retailer sets the bar for consumers and companies. Whole Foods has increased its preference for products that are certified by third-party organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance. It also strictly limits use of palm oil, a common ingredient in baked goods, to only products certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

These certifications are just one component of the marketing benefits that sustainability can bring to brands … if they do it right. By maintaining an authentic and transparent commitment to having a sustainable operation, bakeries can improve their planet and profits at the same time. But soon, this may no longer be a choice. Local, state and federal governments are implementing stricter regulations on manufacturers’ greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change.

There are a million different ways to pursue sustainability, but it’s all united by one goal — to lessen our carbon footprint — which creates long-term value for companies as they adapt to increasing regulations.

Even the longest journey begins with one step in the right direction. But there’s also an urgency to get started now. After all, a snowball effect should probably get rolling before the rest of the glaciers melt.

This story was adapted from a longer piece in Commercial Baking’s Innovations Annual. Read the full story here.