Original Story from The Oregonian

With consumers increasingly interested in the sustainability of their food, the food manufacturing industry has put pressure on growers and manufacturers to save energy and generate renewable power. “Companies like Kraft Foods and Ferrero, the Italian company that produces Nutella, look for sustainability practices throughout the supply chain,” said Larry George, vice president of Northwest Hazelnut Company in Hubbard, Ore., which processes one-half of Oregon’s hazelnut crop. “They visit suppliers like us to conduct sustainability audits.”

Northwest Hazelnut turned sustainability into a competitive advantage that benefits the company as well as Oregon’s rapidly growing hazelnut industry. By investing in energy efficiency and solar power, Northwest Hazelnut has become the world’s first 100 percent solar-powered hazelnut processing plant — producing all of its own energy onsite from a clean, renewable source.

The company upgraded its refrigerator doors to open and close more quickly, reducing the energy required to cool refrigerated space. It also replaced inefficient halogen lighting in its manufacturing plant and warehouse with LEDs. The resulting energy savings allowed Northwest Hazelnut to take the next sustainability step: installing a 435-kilowatt solar system that meets its remaining energy needs.

Throughout the process, Northwest Hazelnut worked with Energy Trust of Oregon, a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance and cash incentives to help Oregon businesses control energy costs. Thanks to Energy Trust cash incentives totaling $151,000, plus a 30 percent federal investment tax credit for the solar system, George expects the company’s investments to pay for themselves through energy savings within six years.

The big benefit has been in how the company has changed its marketing approach. “We began highlighting our sustainability efforts in our brochures and saw a big increase in sales within six months,” George said.

That’s good news for Oregon’s 800 hazelnut growers. With the state’s hazelnut acreage doubling in the last 10 years and expected to nearly triple in the next three, sustainability will help Oregon’s hazelnut industry expand into new markets and be more competitive, especially internationally where Oregon hazelnuts represent only 4 percent of the market.

“Hazelnuts could become a $300 million Oregon industry in the next few years,” George said. “Sustainability will help ensure Oregon nuts are highly sought after worldwide and command a premium price.”

According to George, several local hazelnut growers are considering solar systems of their own after seeing the positive benefits for Northwest Hazelnut. It’s all part of a growing understanding of the role energy efficiency plays in keeping dollars where they’re needed most: at home, where they can support local farms, businesses and jobs. Since 2002, Energy Trust has helped Oregon residents and businesses trim their energy bills by $3.2 billion. Those investments in energy efficiency have cumulatively spurred another $6.3 billion in local economic activity.

Learn more about Energy Trust’s results and benefits for Oregonians in its 2017 annual report.