GREEN BUSINESS – Easy being green? – Four area sustainability practitioners offer their insights

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Kevin Crawford, senior vice president of external affairs at Orion Energy Systems, says the company’s solar light pipe provides full-spectrum daylight, offering a sustainable alternative to energy use. Companies that have used sustainable practices often find the savings are worth the initial investment.

Company leaders in the New North know that sometimes going “green” can make the most business sense – it can reduce energy costs, it can strengthen a company brand and it can even create customer and employee loyalty.

Four regional green experts, each of whom were part of the Sheboygan Chamber of Commerce’s recent First Friday Forum on Green, shared their experiences with improving sustainability in their companies.

What “green” initiatives are you focusing on?

Brian Schwaller, owner of energy consulting firm EcoManity, points to new technology in energy-efficient lighting. “That’s the low-hanging fruit because it’s always on. There are some new things like daylight harvesting or lighting controls that do automatic dimming, or occupancy sensors. There is also LED lighting. LED pricing has come down lately, and people are very interested in that because your maintenance costs go down. You can get 10 years out of a bulb, instead of two or three or four.”

“We also do a lot of power conditioning – equipment we can install that allows the building to use the power more efficiently. We actually have a power conditioner manufacturer that will guarantee a 10 percent reduction in kilowatt hours. The return on investment is almost always under two years.”

Kevin Crawford, senior vice president of external affairs at Orion Energy Systems, cites Orion’s work with permanent distributed load reduction. “We want to reduce energy consumption as much as possible right at the end user’s site. We are actually able to run our own facility without using power off the grid.”

Orion also focuses on direct-use renewable energy. “Our Apollo Solar Light Pipe, which provides full-spectrum daylight, accomplishes work as a renewable source without first having to turn the energy into electricity.”

“We have new products underway that will provide better heat dissipation. Anything electric hates heat, so we are constantly trying to figure out ways to wick away or dissipate heat,” adds Crawford.

Paul Rutledge, environmental health and safety director for Johnsonville Sausage, says life-cycle analysis is important to how Johnsonville thinks about “green.” “We look at the whole creation of a product – how it’s manufactured, put in a box, what kind of packaging and transportation.”

Glen Schnicke is Bemis Manufacturing Company’s continuous improvement manager. He takes pride in the fact that “every single pound of wood that goes into our products is a by-product of some other industry. We buy sawdust, shavings or scrap, so there are no trees actually harvested for our toilet seat products, saving the equivalent of about 612,000 trees a year.”

But, Schnicke adds, “It’s not all about traditional recycling. We’ve got a cross-functional team at Bemis that looks at our energy usage. Electricity is the fifth-largest expense. Since we’ve started tracking our use and making changes, we’ve reduced our electrical consumption by 6 million kilowatts per year.”


How does “green” create customer or employee loyalty?

Schwaller: “The general public wants to go green if there’s a cost-effective way to do it. Fortune 500 companies are being much more sustainable and setting an example, and many have sustainability reports to show their customers what they are doing.”

Crawford: “When employees can see that you can reduce energy consumption without compromising their work tasks in their shop, they feel comfortable going home with that as well. You’ll find people willing to reduce their energy consumption through lighting – or even recycling their coffee grounds.”

Rutledge: “We actually call our employees ‘members.’ They feel really good about our company and want to work for a company that cares – and we do care. Each facility has a green team, dealing particularly with energy and water conservation.”

Schnicke: “When we meet with customers on any level, we do stress the fact that we use recycled material content to the greatest extent we can. Almost 100 percent of customers appreciate this and value the fact that their products are being made at least partially from recycled products.”

Bemis builds employee buy-in through personal recycling as well. Employees can bring in some of their recycled goods and know they are being used in Bemis products.


What advice do you have for those who want to be greener?

Schwaller: “Everyone is always interested in what everyone else can do. But it’s really about what you can do. If it’s good for the people and the planet, it’s good for us. Sometimes it’s the little things that you do – like having a rain barrel so you don’t have to use city-treated water.

“A lot of companies don’t really know how to read their electric bill. Once you get them started on energy cost reduction, it can be a big savings to the company because all of the money goes directly to the bottom line.”

Rutledge: Get advice from experts. “We’re sausage-makers – not experts in waste management. So we reach out to experts in waste management, sludge management. For example, we had our waste hauler spread out a container of waste and take pictures. That helped us to think about the process differently.”

Schnicke: “We consciously look for suppliers that will use our materials. We struggled for about five years to find an outlet for our silicone-coated paper backing from labels. We now have an outlet that converts it to energy.

“We’ve gotten serious about looking at what we sent to the landfill and have had a 50 percent reduction in landfill costs in just the last two years. This has been a double savings for us. We’re not paying the tipping charge at the landfill, and we’re generating a bit of revenue from the material we’re not landfilling.”



Brian Schwaller is owner of EcoManity, LLC, an independent energy consulting firm based in Elkhart Lake that provides energy audits as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy implementation. He is also president of the Sustainable Living Group, a Sheboygan-area networking group that educates the local community about sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Kevin Crawford is senior vice president of external affairs at Orion Energy Systems of Manitowoc. Through patented technology and energy management strategies, Orion helps companies significantly reduce their lighting consumption.

Paul Rutledge is environmental health and safety director for Johnsonville Sausage, LLC, based in Sheboygan Falls.

Glen Schnicke is continuous improvement manager at Bemis Manufacturing Company of Sheboygan Falls. The company’s proprietary division manufactures toilet seats and toilet seat components, and its contract division does custom molding for the health industry and a variety of major corporations.