GREEN BUSINESS – Getting greener – K-C Experimental Mill steps up its environmental efforts

Posted on Apr 1, 2012 :: Green Business
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The innovative Kimberly-Clark Experimental Mill in Neenah is used to taking its products one step further – now, it’s taking its commitment to the environment a step further too.

The facility, which is a Wisconsin Green Tier participant, signed a contract in mid-January to move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in the program. What does that mean?

Well, Green Tier is a program of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) established by the Wisconsin legislature in 2004 that recognizes and rewards companies for their environmental performance. It encourages collaboration on environmental issues between the DNR and Wisconsin businesses, local governments and other organizations.

The participants commit to high-level environmental performance beyond what state law requires, and the DNR provides important business incentives – such as a single point of contact with the department for all environmental issues, certain types of regulatory flexibility, use of the Green Tier logo, and public recognition for participation in the program.

To qualify as a Tier 1 participant, a company must complete an application and certify that it will have an Environmental Management System (which must either be ISO-14001 certified or functionally equivalent within a year after application). The certification is based on a 12-element checklist that includes an environmental policy, plans and procedures to achieve compliance, a process for setting environmental objectives, employee training and a plan for continuous improvement.

To become a Tier 2, a company must have a well-developed, more mature Environmental Management System with documented results for each of the 12 components. That includes baseline information and one year of additional results that show effective performance. The company also must file an acceptable letter of intent with DNR staff to indicate the additional improvements it will make.

“The agreement lends credibility and formalizes the commitment,” says Laurel Sukup, the DNR’s Environmental Assistance Coordinator for this region who was involved with the Experimental Mill’s journey. “It’s a wonderful process. We’re able to reward companies for wanting to go beyond the basics. They’re not just greenwashing, but making a serious commitment to environmental performance.”

The Kimberly-Clark Experimental Mill, which develops innovations in facial tissue, bath tissue, paper towels and other products for the family care business sector, joined Green Tier as a Tier 1 company in late 2006.

“It’s a real advantage to have a single-point contact with the DNR,” says Susan Tarr, who became director of the Experimental Mill last May. “They get to know your facility and help you navigate through what’s needed.”

During the past five years, the Mill has replaced more than 500 metal halide light fixtures with high-efficiency fluorescent fixtures, saved 3.8 million gallons of water each year by reclaiming cooling water, improved ground water remediation with the help of site data models, and helped community redevelopment efforts by selling a section of a parking lot to the City of Neenah to be turned into permanent green space.

Now, as a Tier 2 participant, the Experimental Mill has plans to conserve more energy, reduce its use of city water, and will undertake efforts to reduce and recycle more non-hazardous wastes. Enhanced employee training is another key focus, with courses planned on spill prevention, recycling and storm water management.

“We are definitely committed to going above and beyond,” adds Tarr. “This switches things from ‘government makes sure you’re upholding the law’ to a real partnership and a relationship.”

Tarr points out that as a research facility, the Experimental Mill has a forward-thinking mindset. “We have a unique team here, and this is one way to provide recognition for them. Our team sees environmental sustainability as an expectation – more than just a fad. They get it!”

The Experimental Mill is one of 14 organizations in the New North region to have earned Tier 1 designation (see sidebar), and of the three Tier 2 companies, the only one based in the New North.

“We are pleased the Experimental Mill has moved into Tier 2,” says Sukup. “They are a real example of commitment to environmental compliance, as well as going beyond compliance. I’m hoping their example will encourage other companies to do so.”

“At Kimberly-Clark, we strive to provide a safe working environment for our employees and operate with a sustainable mindset by applying environmentally innovative processes in material sourcing, managing energy and water usage, and eliminating waste to the landfill,” says Suhas Apte, vice president, Global Sustainability. “The Experimental Mill’s Green Tier 2 status reinforces this commitment and our desire to continue to identify opportunities to positively impact the communities in which we live and work through sustainable operations.”

“There’s definitely a deep commitment to environmental performance from the corporate headquarters,” adds Sukup. “They clearly understand the linkage between green efforts and the bottom line.”