Chiquita Brands International has saved $4 million a year in operating costs and cut CO2 emissions by an annual 17,000 tons by acquiring or leasing over 7,000 new refrigerated containers to replace older models, according to the company’s 2009-2012 corporate social responsibility report.
Since 2009, the agribusiness giant has engaged in a four-year program to replace 65 percent of its refrigerated containers – key components in banana logistics. Chiquita operates more than 10,000 40-foot containers. The company has invested $135 million in the program.
It has achieved energy savings of up to 35 percent compared to old units, and up to 58 percent when equipped with Quest software that automatically shuts down the compressor of the reefer unit,without affecting fruit quality, the company says.
Chiquita also retrofitted older container models in 2008 to eliminate the use of Freon R12 chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. As of 2012, all containers are operating with the refrigerant R134a. Chiquita has also adopted the low-emissions blowing agents Supotec and cyclopentane to replace R141b, and from this change it expects to cut more than 90,000 tons of CO2 over the lifetime of the equipment.
The report, covering the years 2009-2012, is surprisingly short on data. It states that Chiquita has targets to cut fresh water use by 15 percent and carbon emissions by 30 percent, both by 2020 from a 2007 baseline. But it does not report progress against these goals, or indeed any company-wide environmental metrics on water, energy, carbon or waste. Chiquita does report some results from individual initiatives, such as its efforts to reduce GHGs from transportation.
Chiquita’s banana and salad transportation businesses reduced carbon dioxide emissions per case by 48 percent from 2007 to 2011, and saved 420,000 gallons of diesel since 2010 by converting truck transportation to combined truck and rail. The company has encouraged carriers to join the EPA’s SmartWay partnerships, and its proportion of SmartWay carrier miles increased 15 percent from 2008 to 2011, to 95 percent, saving about 3.5 million gallons of diesel.
Chiquita also reduced emissions related to ocean transportation from Latin America to Europe, by 37 percent per box of bananas, from 2009 to 2012.
In 2011, Chiquita published the results of a study by Edgar Blanco of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who set out to measure bananas’ carbon footprint, from farms in Latin America to retailers in North America and Europe. The study includes the full range of input materials and Chiquita’s shipping data, including round-trip shipping records, the company says. The methodology was consistent with ISO standards for lifecycle analysis, and influenced by leading carbon-labeling programs, such as the PAS-2050 (British Standards Institute 2008) standard used by the Carbon Trust.
This study identified the greatest opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Chiquita said, and since then the company says it has made considerable progress in reducing emissions.
In 2011 it completed a “carbon-neutral” ripening facility in Gorinchem, the Netherlands. The building uses reversed air technology, natural refrigerants (ammonia and water), energy-efficient lighting, motion detectors and daylighting, and recovers the heat generated by bananas during ripening for use in heating offices and warehouses.
In 2012, the first full new year of operation, the facility’s electricity consumption per box of bananas was less than half the average for 2009-10 at the previous facility, and at 0.84 kWh per box far below the average for comparable facilities, Chiquita says. It is offsetting remaining emissions by buying carbon credits from a reforestation project.
In 2010, the company installed a biodigester system at its Mundimar S.A. facility in Guapiles, Costa Rica, which uses excess fruit material and processing water to produce energy. The system yields 500-600 cubic meters (17,000-21,000 cubic feet) of biogas per day, enough to replace the liquefied petroleum gas and electricity previously consumed in the cafeteria’s kitchen and administrative offices. The facility also reduces the organic load entering lagoons. Chiquita hopes to further develop the facility, to generate enough energy for the entire plant.
In 2012, Chiquita and WWF International developed a detailed Water Risk and Footprint Assessment of the company’s main agricultural operations and activities: banana production in the Latin American tropics and lettuce production in the western United States.
The study found bananas consume 400-600 liters of water per kilogram, with the crop in the field consuming 90-99 percent of this. The balance is consumed in the packing station during washing and packing, but this can be reduced to less than two liters per kilogram through water recirculation and other measures. Water is relatively abundant where Chiquita grows bananas, but climate change has increased irregularity and intensity of rainfall and droughts. Because of this, Chiquita has already had to increase irrigation.
To reduce its water footprint and emissions of waterborne pollutants, the company is monitoring and managing irrigation cycles, micro-irrigating in some locations, carrying out heavy mulching, covering crops and establishing buffer zones to reduce water run-off. It is recirculating water in 14 packing stations, and also lowering the depth of cleaning tanks in certain packing stations.
The study found that the water footprint of salad crops such as iceberg and romaine ranges from 30 to 100 liters per kilo produced, depending on climate, growing season, crop yield and irrigation practices. Water risks are significant in the dry climate regions of the US where Chiquita sources salad crops from independent growers. (The company does not own salad farming operations.)
Farming has already been disrupted due to lack of water in some regions, costing the company money, and water quality risks are also significant in some areas due to contamination of water by fertilizer. Chiquita expects that water scarcity will lead to higher water prices and new regulatory frameworks for water allocation. It says farm lobbies have been successful in advocating for sufficient water, but this dynamic is likely to change under increased competition for limited water.
Research by Chiquita and the University of California Cooperative Extension found that irrigation water can be reduced by 15 percent and fertilizer applications by up to 50 percent using the techniques developed in the company’s Grower Ag-Vantage through Irrigation and Nutrient Management (GAIN) project, a web-based sustainability management tool for lettuce growers.
But the supply chain is the largest contributor to the water footprint of processed lettuce, Chiquita says. (It did not say which aspects of the supply chain are responsible for this water use – only that water consumed in the packing plants typically represents less than two percent of the total water footprint.)
Rainforest Alliance partnership
The company started working with the Rainforest Alliance in 1992, and in 1996 committed to achieving Rainforest Alliance certification at all its Latin American banana farms. Chiquita says its 20 years of collaboration with the alliance is probably one of the longest sustained relationships between a company and an NGO.
Today it has over 40,000 hectares (98,840 acres) of Rainforest Alliance Certified banana farms, that includes not only Chiquita’s owned farms in Latin America, but also over 200 local growers who supply Chiquita. All of these farms use the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard pioneered by the Rainforest Alliance, including social and environmental requirements. SAN members audit the farms annually.