Going “green” in the produce industry is good for business, says Peter Testa, who runs one of the Chicago area’s biggest food distributors.
Testa’s company, Testa Produce Inc., has added a few foodservice customers since opening a new, $20.5 million distribution center on the city’s South Side this spring.
With several features designed to curb pollution and energy use, the Testa facility attracted attention from buyers with similar aims of reducing strain on the environment, Testa said.
“It fits into a lot of customers’ sustainability and green movement type of features that they have… in their own companies,” Testa said in a late-June interview. “It’s brought us new people that we wouldn’t have gotten before. Because it’s a brand-new facility, we have the ability to expand and do other things that they all wanted to do.”
Testa’s facility, which covers 91,300 square feet and officially opened in May, includes 180 solar panels, a 5,000-gallon rainwater reclamation system, biodiesel refueling stations for trucks and a roof that’s half-covered by heat-absorbing vegetation. By the end of July, Testa expects to have a 238-foot wind turbine operating that will generate about 30% of the building’s power.
Once all features are in place, the building is expected to use 57% less energy than a conventional facility of the same size, Testa says. The company primarily serves restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other foodservice operations.
Testa is a recent example of broader food industry efforts to improve “sustainability” amid stepped-up pressure from the public and lawmakers to reduce carbon emissions and waste. In 2010, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest U.S. food retailer, announced a plan to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain over the next five years.
Among fresh produce growers and shippers, sustainability efforts also are gaining momentum, industry representatives say.
At the United Fresh Produce Association’s convention in New Orleans in May, a Testa presentation on its new facility was so popular it lasted 90 minutes, more than twice as long as scheduled, according to an association official.
“On the wholesaler-distributor side, there appears to be significant interest in managing costs and overall greening of distribution facilities,” said Miriam Miller, United Fresh’s senior director of membership and staff liaison to the wholesaler-distributor board for the Washington, D.C.-based group.