Keeping Ahead of the Pack on SustainabilityWed, 02/19/2014 - 12:47
Few companies in Mexico have the visibility and fame of Grupo Bimbo. Arguably the most important baking company in the world, every move the corporation makes is instantly scrutinized, and it is expected to be a CSR leader. Rosalío Rodríguez, the group’s Director of Operations, knows something of Grupo Bimbo’s commitment to give back to society. “We formalized sustainable practices in the 1990s, before it was called sustainability. Our system was called SIGA, which sought to correctly manage resources, such as energy, raw materials and waste. This was part of a commitment to respecting the needs of the community, rather than to make money or to improve our reputation,” says Rodríguez. What began as SIGA has become a global set of processes that aim to reduce environmental impact, as well as energy and water use. One of its principal moves was to invest in the Piedra Larga wind farm in Oaxaca, which began operations in October 2012. Piedra Larga supplies virtually all of Grupo Bimbo’s electrical needs in Mexico. Although few companies could hope to emulate Grupo Bimbo’s strategy of going it alone on a single wind farm, the move still echoed across the Mexican corporate world as a herald of the potential of wind energy. As Rodríguez explains, the bakery giant had been trying to enter the wind energy sector for more than six years. Regulations had long been a hindrance to this kind of investment, but Grupo Bimbo was active in lobbying the government to simplify the creation of renewable energy projects. The group’s desire to engage in wind rather than any alternative energy source came from internal benchmark studies that showed the generation potential and the minimal environmental impact of harvesting wind energy. A further advantage was that this research also showed such projects could be profitable and spark savings for Grupo Bimbo, making them a perfect sustainable fit. Grupo Bimbo is expecting cost advantages throughout the 18 years that the contract is due to last. To make sure these expectations are met, a number of financial estimates will take place to ensure that the wind farm’s energy contributions do not cost the group more per kWh than that generated by regular means. Although Piedra Larga has been up and running for just over a year, initial results have pleased the company. Despite still being at an early stage, Rodríguez gives Piedra Larga a ringing endorsement, saying “The experience has been good. We are trying to find solutions of this kind for our facilities in other countries.”
Another major area where Grupo Bimbo has long sought to reduce emissions is its vast fleet of over 40,000 vehicles. Naturally, the company’s main producer of CO2 emissions is gasoline, so finding ways to improve the fleet’s performance has been high atop the sustainability agenda, along with increasing efficiency at its plants. One step in the right direction at the plants has been to replace all motors with high-efficiency versions, which brought immediately noticeable benefits in terms of reducing Grupo Bimbo’s carbon footprint. For its vehicle fleet, several programs have been rolled out. A partnership for ecofriendly vans running on LNG was struck with MercedesBenz in 2012, while experimentation with electric cars has happened more recently, and despite their limited range these have proven popular. “These cars are very useful in cities. A hybrid car in Mexico City reaches an average speed of 32km/h if using highways. If it is just moving in downtown areas or at peak congestion times, this speed drops to under 10km/h. This can make a significant carbon footprint, which we save, since we do not use these cars to travel long distances,” says Rodríguez.
Optimizing this sustainability strategy across all the different areas of the business has netted Grupo Bimbo a significant amount of savings, though these have not gone toward the company’s bottom line. Instead, all of the money is reinvested in more sustainable initiatives, ensuring a threepronged win-win scenario: money is saved, those savings are re-invested and the environment directly benefits. As one of Mexico’s leading companies, Grupo Bimbo is also aware of how the example it sets will influence other companies, as well as its suppliers. As such, all information about the group’s sustainability program is made publicly available. Collaborations are formed with suppliers to ensure that solutions are created for environmental issues. Some of these partnerships have been so successful that Rodríguez recognizes that some of Grupo Bimbo’s suppliers are “just as good as we are, if not better in certain areas.” In October 2013, Grupo Bimbo and over 30 of its suppliers even participated in Walmart’s sustainability forum, ‘Together for a Better Planet 2013’, to share their collective experiences and successes in reducing their overall environmental footprint.
Grupo Bimbo is contemplating sustainability progress in five year increments, and has set clear targets for 2015 and for 2020. As should be expected of a worldwide corporation, such efforts are not being fought alone in Mexico, as all the achievements listed above fit into the broader spectrum of targets for Argentina, the US and every other country where Grupo Bimbo operates.