GREEN BUSINESS – Masters of the green-iverse – Program recognizes local companies for efforts to improve sustainability

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

Efforts to use less energy and water and produce less waste have been part of Menasha Packaging Company’s business plan for many years.

“Sustainability is one of four key strategies for all of Menasha company,” says Morgan Wiswall, purchasing initiatives and sustainability manager for the Neenah-based company. “We really believe it’s not only the right thing to do from an environmental and social performance, but good sustainability performance yields good financial performance.”

Menasha Packaging has joined other Wisconsin businesses in learning how to be sustainable through the Green Masters program, offered by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

The program, started in 2009, is an objective, points-based recognition program that recognizes Wisconsin’s sustainability leaders and encourages continuous improvement through applications and networking. Based on the awarded points, companies are labeled Green Apprentice, Green Professional or Green Masters.

“It gives you a nice snap shot where you are at,” says Wiswall, noting Menasha Packaging’s Green Master status.

Tom Eggert, executive director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, says the program gives companies credit for making efforts to improve sustainability.

“It’s one thing to pat yourself on the back and say ‘We are doing great things,’” he says, adding the Green Masters puts truth behind those words.

Currently, 100 Wisconsin companies of all sizes participate in the program, with 22 hailing from northeast Wisconsin.

“We’re the only state in the country that has a program like this,” says Eggert.

Companies submit an application, which includes a survey about their present sustainability efforts, and they are required to take action in nine areas: waste, water, energy, climate change, transportation, supply chain, employees, governance and community interaction.

“The more actions they take, the more points they get,” says Eggert.

The companies are given a list of ideas to get them started. Ideas include changing light bulbs, installing low-flow toilets, making a rain garden, producing an external sustainability report and providing employees with opportunities to take part in an annual community service event.

“It is a continuous improvement process only to the extent that as companies participate, it triggers ideas for them,” says Eggert, noting that a vast majority of companies reapply year after year to measure their progress. “It sends signals to the company about where their opportunities are as well as where their strengths are.”

Wiswall says there is a wide range of suggestions.

“A renewable energy project might be difficult but changing the power settings on your computers may be easy to do,” he says. “There are certainly things that are very easy in each of these categories and there are things that get progressively harder.”

Diane Ernst, environmental and market analyst of Appleton Coated in Combined Locks, says the program shows the company how to focus on inside efforts, such as offering incentives to use hybrid cars as company vehicles, switching to local vendors, leasing equipment instead of buying it and eliminating the use of pesticides.

“We did the big things first and now we have to come back and look inside at some of the smaller items,” she says. “I just think it’s a good, objective way on where your progress is on becoming sustainable.”

Jim Eckberg, facility and safety leader at Miles Kimball Company in Oshkosh, agrees, noting that the company hopes to learn more to bring about some green initiatives in the company.

Miles Kimball, which has Green Professional status, had already implemented some practices over the years, but the program has opened more possibilities, like encouraging the company to form a green team.

The Green Masters program “was a way to kind of kink that together and kind of be recognized for the things we are doing,” says Eckberg. “I think we have learned a lot. I think the program really helped nudge us along and try to formalize some of the actions we are taking.”

The benefits of being in the Green Masters program are environmental as well as financial, says Ernst, “but in the long run, you hope it’s going to improve your relationship with your customers and increase the sales of your green products,” she says.

Ernst says being sustainable is something that is desirable across the supply chain.

“Customers are demanding our suppliers be responsible,” she said. “It’s very much a competitive advantage or something you have to do to remain competitive.”

— By Linda Dums

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