Family-owned business seeks green grail

Vegan visionaries build plant to LEED Platinum standards

By Heidi Parsons contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Tofurky Company's nearly completed facility in Hood River, Oregon, boasts a host of sustainability features.
The Tofurky Company's nearly completed facility in Hood River, Oregon, boasts a host of sustainability features.
Only a handful of food processors worldwide are so committed to sustainability as to have built a facility that qualifies for the highest level of certification in the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program. The Tofurky Company is one of them.

As a small, family owned manufacturer of soy-based meat alternative products, the Tofurky Company is completing construction of the 35,000 sq ft plant at a financially sustainable pace. So although exterior photos of the Hood River, Oregon facility suggest a finished structure, the production area isn’t slated to open until mid-2015.

“This was a greenfield project,”​ company chairman and founder Seth Tibbott told FoodProductionDaily. “We broke ground in July of 2011 and moved into the offices here in early 2013, but we’re still working on the production area.”

The facility can’t be LEED-certified until it’s completed, but Tibbott and his team used the LEED Platinum standards as a sort of checklist during the design phase. Most of “green” features — from the 120 mW (megawatt) rooftop solar array to the electric vehicle charging station — are already in place.

Here comes the sun

“In food processing, you use a lot of energy, so we knew we wanted a solar array,”​ Tibbott said. “We have 400 solar panels on the roof.”

Tofurky facility employee picking tomatoes
An employee picks tomatoes from the Tofurky facility's rooftop garden.

“They’re rated for an output of 120mW (megawatts), but we’re doing better than that. We’re at 157mW for the year, so we’re playing with house money now.”

The Portland area is known for getting a lot of rain (40in per year), but 60 miles to the east, Hood River only gets about 30in per year, Tibbott said. Even on overcast days, more sunlight gets through than one might expect. “We learned that solar panels actually work better under less intense heat, so our array works more efficiently than a comparable array on a building somewhere like Phoenix, Arizona.”

Even so, the solar array only generates 8% of the total electricity the facility will need once production begins, Tibbott said. But that provides electricity for the offices and other non-production areas.

Water, water everywhere

Tibbott said he and his team originally considered installing a solar preheating system for water — until they learned such a system would have taken up the entire roof and been a huge expense. “Eventually, we found a system for only $60,000 that takes waste heat from the compressors and uses that to preheat our water.”

Water is another resource that food processing uses a lot of, so Tibbott turned to Mother Nature for help. “Our rainwater collection system can’t supply our production needs, but it gathers enough water to provide irrigation in the summer and grey water for toilets and other non-potable uses,”​ he said. A UV filter purifies the rainwater, but not to the level needed in processing.

The facility’s “green” roof also helps manage water, Tibbott explained. “Besides the solar panels, what makes the roof green is a section on the east end of the building that’s planted with native plants (in 18-by-18-by 6-in planters).”

“They’re sedums, so their pores open at night and they retain much more water than other plants,”​ he said. “That keeps water from running off the roof during a heavy rain. It also provides insulation value and is aesthetically pleasing.”

Part of the roof is also used as a garden, where staff grow blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and herbs that are used in the facility’s R&D kitchen. And then there’s the bocce court, which may be used by any Tofurky company employee.

“We play bocce during company events, and when we have visitors to the plant,”​ Tibbott said. “Playing bocce on our roof with an outstanding view of the Cascade mountains serves as a memorable part of a visit to our facility.” 

Tofurky facility green roof
The 'green' roof of the Tofurky Company facility is planted with sedums that retain water. The bocce court is visible to the right.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

Related news