Embracing Green - An Operational Way of Life!
Change is the one thing that remains constant in business.
The speed of change has accelerated with the advent of new technologies, and through the creativity of the brilliant minds that are perpetually enhancing, and in some cases disrupting the norms of our time. As we all grow older we become somewhat resistant to this change, but we all realize that in order to remain viable in business we must embrace the changes that are thrust upon us. It is a way of life and a norm as we look to evolve, grow, and diversify the businesses that we operate.
Why would I start out an article about “Green Initiatives” using the topic of change? It is simple….. Green has truly become a way of life for all of us regardless of if we are environmental junkies, or simply average Joe’s who don’t have any desire to pursue being green. Every day the green movement impacts our lives. Whether it is at the grocery store via organic alternatives, recycled containers used to store the products that we purchase, or if it is in the technologies that we use to power our vehicles or businesses. Green is here to stay, and it isn’t a bad thing.
A few months back I was in a business planning meeting and our team started to reflect on the many ways that each of our departments has been impacted by the green movement, and more importantly on the initiatives that we have adopted to have a favorable impact on the environment. This discussion did not stop there. As we continued to discuss how we evolved to our current state we realized that being green wasn’t necessarily the primary driver, but that the smart design and operating practices led to these green initiatives being institutionalized within our business. As we dug into this further we started to realize how significant the impacts have been on our product portfolio, on our operating practices, and on the value that this now allows us to afford to our client partners. I don’t want to say it was a “eureka moment”, but it was one that created a heightened sense of awareness and pride in what has been accomplished.
As a manufacturer in our industry we are often are looked upon as simply a supplier, and not as a process manufacturer. The reality is that we run plants, we use metrics to measure everything that we do, we face dynamic supply-chain markets, and aggressive competition like every one of our potential clients. The reality is that we are no different from our clients, and we all have to run disciplined businesses if we want to be viable in the market. These similarities continue as our clients perpetually look at ways to reduce their costs, and in many cases (whether by choice, or by regulatory mandate) pursue opportunities to embrace green practices to reduce their carbon footprint. As noted we are all in this together and we can all benefit from the experiences that we share. Every day we are sharing the green/efficiency benefits of our designs and products with our clients, but it usually stops there. This is what led me to write this article in the hope that our story will benefit and possibly motivate others.
From a products perspective we are always discussing gallons per pound of linen processed, chemicals or KWh’s used per hundred weight, BTU’s consumed per pound of water removed, or pounds per operator hour. This discussion surrounds how our products help our clients achieve a lower level of consumption in all categories noted. This is a green initiative on both sides of the equation……as the supplier, and as the buyer / end user! I could write a book on the features, functions, and benefits of our products, and how we have developed and evolved each to bring greater value to the end users and in so doing afford them greener operations. Rather than do so now I will leave it to the reader to visit the products section of our website or discuss each with our regional technical sales leadership to get a true appreciation for how our tunnel systems, conventional washroom, and textile finishing solutions provide said benefits. As most in this industry we are pretty proud of our solutions, and love to have the opportunity to discuss them with potential users, or to host this same audience at our manufacturing and R&D center to do a deep dive with our technical staff. In an effort to keep our focus on other green initiatives I instead would like to touch on some of the plant specific efforts and portfolio offerings that grew out of our lean program that are having a significant green impact.
In our manufacturing facility we have made a host of changes to operating practices, and we have also spent a good deal of capital to improve our overall efficiency. On the practices side we have institutionalized the 100% recycling of all wood, steel, and carboard utilized in our daily operations. This means all materials received by us or used in the generation of our end products that fall into these categories that used to go the dumpster and hence the landfill or incinerator are recycled. This initiative was put into place in the early 2000’s and today we recycle an average of 1,560 cubic yards of paper and cardboard out of our factory. At this same time, we went from having pallets incinerated to recycling them into mulch through a partnership with a local manufacturer. Obviously, as a heavy equipment manufacturer we use a significant amount of steel. Through our capital investment in highly automated equipment and strategic utilization planning of the material we process we have been able to virtually eliminate scrap material. What little waste we do produce whether it be aluminum, carbon steel, stainless steel, copper or brass is recycled through our local recycling centers. In the last 10 years we have made significant investments in energy efficient infrastructure in the form of a new plant, extensive plant expansion, the installation of high efficiency boilers and compressors, and LED lighting (it should be noted that when we eliminated all of our original T5 lighting which was the most efficient at the time the initial factory was built, that we repurposed these fixtures with local manufacturers to replace their older technology). All were strategic investments that we were able to leverage grant funds to support, and anyone reading this article should get educated on what grants and incentives may be available to you via your local, State governments. In 2006 we converted a good deal of our painting operations over to powder coating, and at the same time altered our wet painting process.The combined benefit of this change has been a reduction of VOC emissions in the neighborhood of 6 tons per year. The most recent decision we made was to leverage hydropower for roughly ½ of our electricity needs. Although this is not necessarily a cheaper solution it is a clean and green alternative to fossil fuels as the hydro plants do not emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
As if all of these plant efforts aren’t exciting enough the real exciting development over the last 5 years has been our remanufacturing process. In the last three years alone, we have remanufactured numerous machines preventing over 605 TONS of steel from going either to the scrap yard or recycling center. Why is this so significant? This means that we reduced the need to produce this material at the mills, and that we have had a significant impact on the environment through the many savings that this represents. This means that we have been able to bring machines back to life after 20+ years of dedicated service and return them to the market rebuilt to current day specifications with a new equipment warranty. This not only is great for the environment, but it presents a significant savings opportunity for our client partners. The only negative is that not all products are logical candidates for remanufacturing as certain machines which do not contain a large steel content simply don’t afford the economics to support the costs to return said machines to new. As we dug deeper into the remanufacturing process we found that we could invest capital in a green sandblasting operation which afforded us a more efficient and clean solution for preparing machines for this process. Concurrently, we found that we could recover or repurpose many of the components (electrical, pneumatic, mechanical, and hydraulic) that were removed from the old machines as they were disassembled. The outcome of this effort is an offering we now call our “R-part” program. By handling components with care, applying a detailed inspection and testing protocol (in some cases having the components repaired) we were able to create a dedicated inventory of lower cost parts alternative for our client partners. We have motors, cylinders, baskets, control boards, inverters, etc. that are available depending on our current inventory. We have found that many of our clients truly appreciate this as they are looking for older components that may be challenging to find, or expensive given the need that they have. Also, as a client has a machine that may be within the last few years of use they don’t want to spend the long dollar on new parts only to not exhaust the life of said components. As a result, these clients will often opt for the lower cost R-part as it meets their needs. Again, this effort has kept dumpsters loads of components from going to the scrap yard before their time and provided a way to lower the cost of operations for our client partners……win / win!!!
At the end of the day it is amazing to see how best practices, and a continuous improvement mindset have aligned with being green. This journey does require work, dedication, and discipline. However, the rewards are significant not only for all who are impacted by the outcomes of these efforts.
“Embracing Green….An Operational Way of Life” is a two-part series featured in the Laundry Ledger publication