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Thomas Hinton

Quality Insider

People, Planet, Profits

Discovering the gold in going green

Published: Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 10:07

It was Kermit the Frog who said “It’s not easy being green.” With all due respect to my favorite Muppet, I beg to differ. In fact, it’s never been easier to be green. Kermit would be proud to know that companies around the world are finally discovering the gold in going green.

This decade, the role of quality managers has shifted to include two nontraditional areas—environmental compliance and safety. Today, more quality managers are being tasked with establishing green policies and finding ways to ensure that their workplaces remain safe as well as in compliance with state and federal environmental regulators.

Rejuvenation and Reser’s Fine Foods, two progressive companies headquartered in Oregon, are among the many companies that have found ways to go beyond the required environmental regulations and adopt environmental policies and practices that are contributing to their bottom line in tough economic times.
It requires leadership and innovation for a business that is highly regulated to move beyond the mindset of compliance and, instead, adopt a philosophy of sustainability and concern for the environment, says Jeff Shay, Rejuvenation’s engineering manager and environmental and safety officer.

“Our founder, Jim Kelly, made a strong environmental commitment when he started Rejuvenation,” Shay explains. “Jim challenged us to move beyond the mindset of ‘staying out of trouble’ with regulators and, instead, think in terms of adopting business practices that truly benefited the environment.”

It was this philosophy that encouraged Shay and others at Rejuvenation to find innovative environmental practices such as recycling the rain off the roof of their old building in Portland, Oregon, and creating a closed-loop system for processed water. Today, Rejuvenation uses its rain water to wash-out chemicals from its customized light fixtures and then cleans the water through a closed-loop system to reuse it inside their plant.

“Although our treated water meets the environmental standards for going into the city drainage system, we found a better use for it,” says Shay. “Now, this water never leaves our plant. That saves us money and doesn’t burden the city’s water treatment facilities.”

Another example of Rejuvenation’s commitment to sustainability and environmental compliance is in the area of packaging.

Becoming a certified green business involves:

Complying with environmental regulations

Preventing pollution

Conserving energy, water, and other natural resources

Reducing waste

Controlling chemicals and hazardous materials

Tracking resource use

Educating employees and customers on green practices

Introducing green practices to your vendors and suppliers

“For many years, rejuvenation has used one hundred percent recyclable packaging,” says Shay. “In fact, all of our suppliers must adhere to our eco guidelines so that once a customer discards our packaging we know it can easily be reused or recycled several times.”

Rejuvenation also participates in the Oregon Natural Step Network, a nonprofit organization formed to support Oregon business, governmental, and educational organizations interested in using The Natural Step (TNS) framework for sustainability.

At Reser’s Fine Foods, in Beaverton, Oregon, going green has as much to do with their salads as it does with protecting the environment. Since 1950, Reser’s has played a leading role in ensuring that its refrigerated salads and other foods far exceed regulation standards. With 14 plants and 2,600 employees, Reser’s is a leader in discovering the gold in going green.

Steve Loehndorf, Reser’s technical director, explains that quality and reputation are everything to his company: “Green technology has been something we’ve focused on for decades. It’s engrained in our agronomy and corporate culture at Reser’s.”

He adds that green practices at Reser’s include the development and growth of local crops to control the quality of its products and radically reduce shipping and transportation costs. Reser’s also recovers its organic waste material, such as potato peels, and sells them as animal feed to local operators.

When Reser’s built a new water pretreatment facility at its Topeka, Kansas, salad plant, employees discovered an innovative way to divert vegetable oil and grease so it could be used as a biofuel. The new processes were included in Reser’s new plant at Halifax, North Carolina, and are in use today.

Another growing environmental trend among companies is finding ways to offset the carbon footprint of their employees. The average American produces 20 tons of carbon dioxide every year. The primary greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorocarbons, have been growing steadily as the Earth’s population booms and demand for products increases. Fears are that if people keep producing these gases at increasing rates, the results will be negative and could result in more severe floods and droughts, a harmful level of insects, rising sea levels, and the potential redistribution of the Earth's precipitation.

But quality managers and environmental officers aren’t standing still. Many are finding innovative ways to reduce their company’s output of carbon dioxide. For example, Rejuvenation has in place an alternative commuting program that encourages employees to ride bikes and use public transportation to reduce their carbon footprint. Rejuvenation also participates in a carbon offset program that contributes money to nonprofit organizations that plant trees to absorb their employees’ carbon footprint. Although these types of programs cost money, the goodwill such programs create among consumers, combined with the favorable publicity they receive, outweigh the costs of participating in a carbon offset initiative, according to Sunshine Morrison of Radiance Communications, a Northwest-based public relations firm.

The green movement has also produced some unexpected benefits for companies. “Our commitment to going green has taught our employees to think beyond ‘compliance’ and become systems thinkers,” says Shay. “This shift in how we approach problems has been a major boon to solving issues and helping us become more innovative in all areas of our company, not just the quality department.”

There are formal steps companies can take to convert their environmental compliance initiatives into a competitive advantage in the marketplace. One way, according to Gary Plantz, chairman of the nonprofit American Consumer Council (ACC), is to be formally certified for your environmental compliance. The ACC is ranked among the leaders for its Green C certification program. This progressive certification program certifies and recognizes companies that successfully respond to ACC’s Green C certification criteria. For new and existing buildings, the U.S. Green Building Council offers the LEED certification. Specific products can also be certified by Green Seal, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Another effective way to educate employees and consumers on the importance of going green is to follow the five R’s of sustainability: rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, and report out on your achievements (the fifth R varies; other options include repurchase, replenish, respect). As more quality managers assume responsibility for their company’s environmental compliance and sustainability initiatives, there’s genuine hope that their training and discipline will yield long-term, meaningful solutions that not only preserve our natural resources but contribute to the bottom line.

Recommended Books

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living, by Trish Riley (Alpha, Penguin Group, 2007)

Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth (and Get Rich Trying), by David Bach and Hillary Rosner (Broadway Press, 2008)

Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston (Yale University Press, 2006)

Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the Planet, by Gary Hirshberg (Hyperion, 2008)

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Thomas Hinton