The Hershey Co., headquartered in Derry Township, has undertaken a number of sustainability practices in the last few years, all with roots in Milton S. Hershey's original intentions when he founded the company in 1894.
The principles have been tweaked for a new industrial world, and today two of the biggest current areas of emphasis are eliminating waste sent to landfills and keeping its palm oil supply environmentally friendly.
"We evaluate 25 different potential categories or issues and then concentrate on what we believe are priority items, like responsible sourcing and sustainable agriculture," said Todd Camp, senior director for corporate social responsibility at The Hershey Co.
Company spokesman Jeff Beckman could not say how much the company had invested in sustainability, but said the amount is substantial and that it would be "years" before it paid off with cost savings for The Hershey Co.
The Hershey Co. started using palm oil, imported mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, ahead of the Food and Drug Administration's mid-2000s requirement of labeling how much saturated fat a product contains, according to company spokesman Jeff Beckman and Eric Boyle, manager of responsible sourcing at The Hershey Co.
The company formerly used hydrogenated soybean oil for production of candies such as Kit Kats and Whoppers, Beckman said. Soybean oil contains saturated fat, whereas palm oil does not.
But The Hershey Co. isn't the only company that started using palm oil with the FDA's labeling requirement. That caused its production from palm trees to increase, Boyle said.
That can lead to deforestation, Boyle said, which resulted in what he called the "second phase" of the company's palm oil sustainability plan: to independently verify the palm oil it's receiving is not causing deforestation.
By the end of the year, the company said in a news release, it plans to "achieve 100 percent traceable and sustainably sourced palm oil."
"It's not just what the supplier tells us (about how the palm oil is being produced)," Boyle said. "We're finding out ourselves. We're trying to have full accountability."
The company also is working toward achieving zero-waste-to-landfill status for all of its properties. The program calls for manufacturing and other company facilities to reduce waste streams and increase recycling rates to 90 percent.
Under the program, routine manufacturing waste either is reused or recycled, but the goal is to have none of it taken to landfills, Beckman and Camp said.
Eleven of the 14 U.S. manufacturing sites within The Hershey Co. have been certified as zero-waste-to-landfill sites; two of those were added to the list Jan. 1.
The company goal had been to convert five of the 14 plants to zero-waste-to-landfill sites by 2015.
The zero-waste-to-landfill initiative isn't just for the current manufacturing plants. During the $300 million construction of the expanded plant in Derry Township, The Hershey Co. required its crews to have no waste transported to landfills.
Also, the company is shooting for a 98 percent rate of waste not being taken to a landfill during the demolition of the former Hershey plant on Chocolate Avenue, Beckman said.
The demolition is expected to be completed this year, with the site ready for commercial development in 2016, Beckman said.
Those kind of efforts have landed The Hershey Co. on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index and North American index, as well as being recognized in 2013 at No. 98 by Corporate Responsibility Magazine in its annual list of the top 100 corporate citizens.
"(Sustainability) is a process we undertake every year, it changes over time, and it's one that we view as vitally important," Camp said. "We're out to make a difference to the folks who are vested in our company."