Greening the Workplace

By Jack Kenny | May 13, 2008

Efforts at environmental improvement range from the simple to the complex,

A big objective in business today is to move away from activities that pollute and destroy to those that have lesser, little or no effect upon the environment. It's called the green movement, and it has several drivers. Producers of consumer products say that consumers insist on products that are safer for humans to use, that are not made with chemicals or processes that can harm people, animals or nature. Witness the proliferation of organic foods, and new cleaning products that lack the strong chemical bases of brands that have long been popular.

Another driver, for those who supply the consumer products companies – label converters, for example – is the insistence by customers to supply green products. That push for green also can extend into the manufacturing environment; customers want to know if the green mindset permeates the workplace.

Yet another force that drives green in the manufacturing world is the people, management and labor alike. When a company decides that it no longer can endure the production of waste and its attendant costs, it takes action. That action can assume many forms.

Steps to green the workplace can range from the simple and cheap to the complex and costly. Many converters in the narrow web industry have undertaken a variety of projects to lessen their company's impact on the environment.

A green team

Prestige Label, Burgaw, NC, USA, has an energetic leader in Terie Syme. Formerly the head of prepress, Syme now performs general management functions (the company uses no titles) for the operation, which is a unit of Atlantic Packaging, based in the nearby city of Wilmington. She also is a member of TLMI's Environmental Best Practices Task Force.

"I started a green team throughout the corporation in January of this year," she says. "It has 13 members, one from each of our locations. We meet monthly via conference calls and set goals, and we have an annual face-to-face meeting." Most of Atlantic Packaging's divisions are located in the Southeast US. "Right from the start the team came back with ideas, too many to implement at once. When you have 13 people on a board you get ideas from all angles.

"We need to make sure that we are heading forward every month," Syme says. "There is a lot that we should have been doing already, and there's a lot that we are doing. Simple things, really: We got rid of all styrofoam cups throughout the company. We moved to more eco-friendly utensils. We are recycling office paper. We had a waste company come in and look into recycling all types of our waste paper, and we have that recycling process in place now.

"We send out awareness emails to all employees, giving advice on such things as how they can create a pdf from a website instead of printing it out, how to print on two sides of the paper, and avoiding the use of fax cover sheets.

"We have put automatic motion sensors on light switches, starting with breakrooms and restrooms," Syme adds. "We'll probably expand that to some offices and hallways. We are also looking at flow reducers for spigots. Last year we started changing over our gas-powered materials handling equipment to electric. We are also beginning a program to change our lighting. That's a big area.

"We are not able to do this all at once," says Syme. "We can make a lot of simple changes instantly and easily, but others take time. We need to keep moving forward, constantly challenging ourselves."

Atlantic Packaging's green team is aware that they cannot consume everyone's time on these projects, or propose changes that are too costly. Still, the team has the backing of Rusty Carter, president of the $300 million company. "The president is behind it," Syme says. "He was at our kickoff meeting, and he told us that this is not an option – we have to do it."

Carter has overhauled the company's fleet of trucks as well. It has acquired larger vehicles in order to reduce the number of trucks on the road.

Material waste recycling

Coast Label Company, Fountain Valley, CA, USA, has been pursuing green manufacturing in three specific ways, according to President Craig Moreland.

"One is to try to cut our waste as a byproduct of the Lean Manufacturing process. Lean cuts waste," he says. "Second, we have upgraded our lighting (see sidebar below). And third, we have found a company that will recycle our waste."

Dalton Enterprises, of Anaheim, CA, collects the press and matrix waste from Coast Label at no cost. "We reduced the amount of material we were sending to a landfill by 93 percent," Moreland says. "We've gone from having to pay to have it landfilled to having them haul it away for nothing. We're saving between $500 and $600 a month. That's a lot of money for a small specialty converter."

Moreland says he found out about Dalton Enterprises when he went to look at a press that was for sale. "I was talking with a press operator who was throwing waste into a special bin, and that's when I learned about it. They supply us with a bin that they haul away. We separate our plastic waste into one bin and everything else into another."

Justin Dalton of Dalton Enterprises says that his company has recently increased its waste recycling program, calling it "one of the better markets that we have seen in the past eight to 10 years."
The collected waste, he says, is mixed at Dalton's facility with other paper products, and processed through a baler into 2,000-pound cubes. The cubes are put into containers and shipped to foreign countries. "They go to paper mills in Asia or South America," he says.

Dalton notes that in the past the adhesive part of PS waste was an obstacle to the recycling process. "With the reclamation value for that material now much higher, the paper mills are a little more lenient in what they will accept. We try to keep it to no more than 10 percent of the shipment."

Fuel pellets

Another company that recycles its waste is Dion Label Printing, Westfield, MA, USA. Dion has a contract with International Paper Products, which converts the pressure sensitive waste into fuel pellets, according to Stacy Santos, Dion's marketing coordinator.

"Three years ago, our owner, John Dion, made a rare delivery of labels that were urgently needed by the customer. It turned out that he went to a company with a similar name instead of to the customer, and he got a tour of the business and found out what it does," Santos says. "He realized that converting our waste into energy would be a great way to help the environment while reducing disposal costs."
The fuel pellets, says Santos, are added to coal-burning furnaces in power plants, thereby reducing the amount of coal needed to heat the furnaces, and also burning cleaner.

"And we lower our disposal costs, especially since landfill space is nearly exhausted in Massachusetts," she adds. What also helps is that the recycling plant is located in the same town.
According to John Dion, the cost of hauling the PS waste to the recycling company is less than half of what it would cost to landfill the same product. More than 90 percent of Dion's waste can go to the pellet factory.

The company also engages in ink recovery. Ink residues are captured, rinsed and filtered in a special tank, Dion says, and then made into a thin sheet of cake.

The green building

Metro Label, Scarborough, ON, Canada, is known in the industry for the environmental consciousnesss of its management, and the expense and effort that it has put into emphasizing harmony with the environment.

Several years ago, when the company had acquired property to build a new plant, it hired an architect, an engineer and an interior designer to create a 132,000 square foot green building. According to President Sandeep Lal, Metro considered wind turbines, solar panels, and even geothermal energy sources, but the ROI was disadvantageous.

Still, the building is a wonder of green construction. One side of the building has a lot of glass for natural light, as well as skylights. Heat recovery units are on the roof for trapping UV and IR energy produced inside. Insulation values were raised in the exterior and roof. Exhaust ducts are insulated. Hot air is cleaned and scrubbed, VOCs are removed, and it comes back into the building in winter.
Paints chosen for the interior are low or zero VOC. Fabrics for furniture are natural, not synthetic, as is the wallpaper and carpeting in the offices. All wood veneer, as well as carpets, are glued with water based adhesives. Panels in cubicles and elsewhere are made of wheat straw. Drywall and ceiling tiles have a recycled component. All doors in the building are made from a material called Medite, not wood. Glass panels in the reception area are made from recycled glass.

Rainwater and snowmelt from the roof is collected and stored, and used for the buildings toilet water. Urinals use no water, only a clean chemical process.

Today, Metro Label is still at work to lessen its impact on the environment. This time the focus is on material waste.

"We are looking at ways to recycle certain substrates," Lal says. "We are in negotiations with a manufacturer of lawn furniture to have them buy our synthetic label matrix, the polypropylene and polyethylene, so that the material won't have to go into the landfill. Because they regrind a lot of their materials, they are considering our byproduct. If it's successful, we will make that information available to the supplier community."

Metro Label's other initiative is to remove as much paper as possible from the management of the business. "When we get an order from a client," says Lal, "all of the information gets printed as hard copy. Our plant processes 3,300 orders a month, and a typical order includes a stock release ticket, a couple of pages of instructions for the press operator, a separate page for the inspection machine operator, another for shipping. We have set up an integrated scheduling package, using EFI software customized for our use, to eliminate six to eight pages per order by arranging it so that when an operator finishs a job and logs off in whatever part of the building they are working in, the system will show them the next scheduled job."

The electronic document management process also has cut back on processing time in customer service, which had been as long as a day and a half in the past, as well as eliminating paper invoicing to the customer.

Reduce, recycle, re-use

"Before the green movement got started, we put in a machine that separates ink pigments from water, so we were sending only clean water back to the city sewer system," says Tim Goodwin, operations manager for Resource Label Group, Franklin, TN, USA. "The pigments were then dried and disposed of safely."

Resource Label has undertaken a wide range of re-use and recycling projects. "We recycle all cans, bottles and paper products, all shredder waste, and scrap waste from booklet labels," Goodwin says. "We are very interested in release liner recycling, but that hasn't gotten off the ground yet." Another project is core recycling with the customer. "Any time we can reuse them, we collect them from our customers," he adds.

The company is "heavily investigating" energy use reduction, Goodwin notes. "We have addressed lighting, and have taken two bulbs out of our four-bulb fixtures. We're discussing using 5,000-Kelvin bulbs, testing the light over the presses to see if we can reduce energy use.

Resource Label Group also is researching how it can capture hot air from its presses to use for heat throughout the building in winter. "We are really running the gamut to see what we can do, working with our HVAC vendor to put in a computerized system to better regulate our energy use."
Goodwin makes another point about waste that is common sense: "Don't print things you don't need to print."

Lighting overhaul improves plant and bottom line

Coast Label's building utilized a combination of fluorescent, incandescent and metal halide "high bay" light sources. "We solicited bids from electrical contractors for an entire building lighting retrofit that not only improved our lighting quality, but also reduced our energy consumption," Moreland says. "Our utility company rebated 21 percent of the capital cost to us after an application and inspection of the completed work.

"For office lighting we replaced magnetic ballasts and T-12 (1.5" diameter) tubes with high efficiency electronic ballasts and T-8 (1" in diameter) tubes on a two-replaces-four basis. Even with half the tubes, lighting quality and brightness improved everywhere due to tube design and superior reflectors that focus the light where it's needed. Electronic ballasts eliminate flicker and the improved lighting is also less fatiguing to company associates. Compact fluorescent reflector bulbs replaced incandescent bulbs in cans, and occupancy sensors were installed in restrooms."

In the manufacturing areas the 400-watt Metal Halide fixtures were replaced with high bay fluorescent fixtures using six 4-foot T-8 tubes each. Task strip lighting over presses and other machines was retrofitted with electronic ballasts and T-8 tubes. Occupancy sensors were installed in storage rooms where lights tended to get left on and forgotten. Light quantity was improved in every area of the plant.
"Additionally, the 5000-Kelvin color spectrum of the fluorescent tubes we selected is superior for accurate color rendition, and this is now consistent everywhere in the manufacturing area. Before, the color perception varied depending upon the type of light source you were closest too. And since we used these exact same bulbs in the office, the colors look the same in the offices as they do in the plant.

"Other benefits are derived from the fact that fluorescent tubes have an instant re-strike, so people are comfortable turning off lights they don't need knowing they can turn them back on and get light right away when they need it. Metal halide lights can take 10 to 15 minutes of warm-up time to produce full light output, so we never turned them off. Additionally, light output on metal halide bulbs decreases sharply over bulb life even though power consumption remains constant. We discovered that our older metal halide bulbs were only producing a fraction of their as-new lumens, but they were still costing the same to operate."

Other changes:

- Warehouse areas near doors were equipped with photocells. When ambient light from open doors and skylights is sufficient, the lights go off to conserve energy.
- All exit signs were retrofitted with LED lights that consume very little power and have an extremely long life. This enhances safety due to signs always being lit and it reduces maintenance cost, Moreland says.
- Reduced power consumption reduces the waste heat that must be removed by air conditioning, further reducing power consumption.

"The retrofit was completed in November 2006," says Moreland. "Comparing the December 2006-June 2007 period with the prior year, our electricity consumption in KW has declined 20.2 percent, and our electricity costs have declined by 22.6 percent (due to a non-linear rate structure). Our ROI is currently running at 45 percent per year on our net investment, and total investment payback is estimated at 27 months based on results thus far. Our actual savings have exceeded our projections."

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