Don’t know where to start? Follow these steps to create a sustainability strategy.
By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Many National Precast Concrete Association members are well on their way down the road of sustainability. Others are just starting or unsure how to even begin. Many company owners and executives understand adopting sustainable practices at their facilities can not only make them better stewards of the environment and better neighbors, but also improves efficiency and saves money. However, between the time it takes to keep up with product demand, sales, safety and maintenance, often no time is left for the creation of a sustainability strategy. The process can be as simple as delegating the task to the right person.
Appoint a champion
Sustainability is akin to quality and safety. If it’s going to work, it needs to be more than words on a wall. It needs to be part of the company culture, but can’t be dictated. You must first understand employees’ attitudes, beliefs and perceptions about sustainability. The best way to do this is to appoint a champion. Preferably, this is a staff member who does not hold a managerial position, shows initiative in other areas and would appreciate an opportunity to start a grassroots program. The staff member could form a small task group or start alone, depending on the size and product diversity of the plant. He or she may be unsure what sustainability means. You may be unsure. That’s OK. Allow the champion some time to research the subject and gather resources.
A good online resource is NPCA’s website at precast.org/sustainability. Articles such as “Precaster’s Perspective: What is Sustainability Anyway?” which can be found by searching “sustainability,” provide a great primer on the basics.
Once you have your champion, first gauge the perceptions and attitudes of employees. Some people may relate sustainability directly to saving animals and rain forests. Dialogue and discussion will likely be required to explain that it’s much more. Are we being good neighbors to this community? Are we being wasteful? Are we as efficient as we can be?
Develop a plan
Based on discussions with employees, the champion would next present potential strategies. These may be vague, but will provide a starting point. For example, reducing waste could be a strategy. What kind of waste is concrete, trash or process water? Identify specific areas that can be explored. Perhaps someone proposed developing unused portions of land to conserve or restore wildlife. Maybe this person is a Boy Scout leader and wants to use an area for a troop project.1 These need to be transformed into a plan with short- and long-term goals.
Cyndi Glascock, senior design manager at Gainey’s Concrete Products in Holden, La., suggests precasters could have a sustainability suggestion contest and monthly select ideas that have the most impact. She said Lisa Roache, vice president, came up with the idea to collect ideas for improving efficiency and safety at Gainey’s with a $30 prize for the winner.
“Other suggestions may be implemented, depending on their feasibility and whether or not they contribute to our company goals,” Glascock said. “We have gotten a lot of buy-in from this and some truly great innovations.”
Fawn Bradfield, sustainable communities coordinator at Anchor Concrete Products in Kingston, Ontario, said it is easy for sustainability approaches to get disrupted due to competing priorities, but meeting regularly helps to keep the strategy progressing.
“There is always something to be done when it comes to sustainability, it is about continual progression,” Bradfield said.
Once a plan is in place, incentives are a great way to recognize goal achievements. This could be as simple as passing out gift cards or ordering lunch for the plant. Celebrate small victories and soon, you will be celebrating big ones.
Real sustainability strategies
M.A. Industries’ manufacturing plant in Peachtree City, Ga., generated an excess amount of waste and needed a recycling program. The waste hauled away in a 30-yard dumpster included items that could have been recycled. This resulted in costs of approximately $55,000 a year. The company formed a core team to develop a project to reduce waste costs by 25% through recycling paper and cardboard products.
The group came up with a solution that not only resulted in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly operation, but also saved M.A. Industries $53,400 per year in costs.
Reducing electricity use
Anchor Concrete Products wanted to switch lighting systems to provide better lighting while reducing utility bills. Rather than selecting a system and installing it, management gathered employee feedback about the new lighting. One suggestion received was to include automatic, area-specific sensors that turn lights on and off according to where workers are on the plant floor. This feature is useful during swing shifts when some areas of the plant are inactive.
The next big idea is a discussion away
There are incredible innovations in manufacturing at many NPCA member facilities. In most cases, these innovations started with a suggestion from an employee on the production floor. This is why it is crucial to promote sharing of ideas on all aspects of manufacturing, including sustainability. A bottom-up approach on developing a sustainability strategy can be a rewarding experience that not only fosters a culture, but also contributes to the company’s long-term success. That’s a win for everyone.
For more information on this or any other sustainability topic, please contact Claude Goguen, director of sustainability and technical education, at (317) 571-9500 or at [email protected]
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.
1 More information on biodiversity can be found at precast.org/2013/09/the-birds-and-the-bees-of-biodiversity/