Amy’s Kitchen is scrupulous about cleanliness at its main processing plant in southwest Santa Rosa.
It takes millions of gallons of water a month to clean the equipment used to cook, assemble and freeze the company’s vegetarian food before it is shipped all over the country, making Amy’s Kitchen one of the largest water users in the city.
But in the face of one of the worst droughts in state history, Amy’s has taken a hard look at its water use and has been surprised by what it has found.
With the help of a city-funded water audit and ideas solicited from its 800-strong workforce, Amy’s has been able to reduce its water use by 30 percent with minimal investment. That’s 1 million gallons of water saved per month, or the equivalent of 154 households.
“It’s really a part of the culture of this company now to be more efficient with water,” said Kevin Haslebacher, vice president of manufacturing for the Petaluma-based company.
Amy’s accomplishment is being hailed by city officials as an important step toward meeting the city’s communitywide goal of a 20 percent reduction in water use. It also demonstrates how big water users can have a significant impact on water use with relatively small changes in operations.
“This is a big customer stepping up and doing the right thing,” said David Guhin, the city’s director of utilities.
Amy’s began talking with the city in earnest about its water use after the expansion plans it announced last spring came with a preliminary price tag of $34 million in city fees alone.
The largest of those was a $31 million hookup fee for new water and wastewater service, a cost company officials have said was a “showstopper.” But the hookup fee did not reflect significant reductions in water use the city felt Amy’s could achieve with a close look at its plant operations and practices.
So the city and Amy’s agreed on a two-pronged approach: The city would hire an engineering firm to help the company get a better handle on its water use, and the company would internally review its practices at the 120,000-square-foot Northpoint Parkway plant.
The effort was a more complicated version of the water audits that the city does for all users, from apartment dwellers to major companies employing hundreds. The city is on track to perform nearly 1,200 such audits this year, a 50 percent increase from last year. In the first six months of the year, city staff performed audits for 520 single-family homes, 26 apartment buildings and 40 businesses.
But the city didn’t have anyone on staff with enough expertise in food manufacturing to meet Amy’s unique needs. So it hired the consulting firm of Brelje & Race to help out.
The first step was to figure out how much water Amy’s used and where it was used in the manufacturing process. The company had lots of data from its 13 internal water meters. But because some retrofitting had been done at the plant since Amy’s started operating there in 1994, it wasn’t clear what water was going to what processes.
“We weren’t really using the meters to our advantage,” Haslebacher said.