Taking Sustainability Seriously

Posted on Apr 1, 2011 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Menasha Packaging

Some people assume that companies in the packaging industry are automatically contributors to waste – and less than good stewards when it comes to sustainability. By all accounts, that’s not the case with Menasha Corporation, a packaging, logistics and marketing services company based in Neenah.

As a family-owned company founded in 1849, “we’ve been doing sustainability the entire time and have a great environmental record,” says Morgan Wiswall, purchasing manager for Menasha Packaging, one of Menasha’s three operating units.

In the past three years, Menasha Corp. has ratcheted things up a notch. It has launched more than 40 sustainability initiatives, including the installation of five wind turbines outside its Neenah campus. It also published its first corporate sustainability report in January to make sure its employees, customers, suppliers and communities know how seriously it takes its environmental responsibility.

“As we looked at our strategic direction during the past year, we elevated sustainability to be one of four company-wide strategies,” says Jim Kotek, Menasha Corp.’s president and CEO. “We are committed to it, and we want to make sure our customers, our employees and others clearly understand that.”

Wiswall points to Menasha’s Environmental Sustainability Calculator as one initiative that has made a difference. “When we offer product solutions to our customers, we can not only give them cost differences, we can also be specific about the environmental trade-offs,” he says.

“Menasha Packaging is one of our vendors for point-of-purchase displays,” says Kathleen Gauger, a packaging engineer for Kimberly-Clark Corporation. “Their Sustainability Calculator really helps us weigh the options and make informed decisions about the most efficient use of resources.”
Wiswall offers other examples of how the company is thinking differently – like more efficient use of ink.

“A lot of our printing work is done in custom colors to match our customers’ brands. At one time, we simply shipped our leftover ink to the landfill,” says Wiswall. “Now, we’ve refined our process for estimating ink needs to minimize the amount of waste. And we’ve developed processes to blend waste ink into basic black that can be used for industrial container lettering and basic bar codes.”

Another initiative focused on the corrugation process. Menasha’s new glue machine applies a thinner, more even layer of starch, which also requires less heat for bonding. That has reduced cornstarch and water consumption by up to 40 percent and natural gas use by 20 percent.

Menasha Corp. is reducing its carbon footprint, with high-efficiency fluorescent lighting that has reduced carbon dioxide emissions annually by 1,064 tons and a high-efficiency boiler in the Neenah facility that has reduced annual CO2 emissions by 482 tons.

Menasha Packaging recently installed a heat recovery system to capture heat that was previously vented out of the roof. Now that waste heat is used to heat the facility, contributing to a projected 40 percent reduction of carbon emissions per unit of production for the plant.

“Are we leading in every category?” asks Wiswall. “No. But very few companies can say they reduced carbon emissions by 40 percent.”

Jerry Eaton, senior energy advisor for Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s energy efficiency program, is impressed by what he has seen: “Few companies have taken sustainability to the level of Menasha Packaging.”

The newest and most visible signs of Menasha’s commitment are the five 20-kilowatt wind turbines along U.S. 41. They are projected to generate more than 150,000 kilowatt hours annually. The turbine project plays a key role in Menasha’s commitment to incrementally shift energy consumption to cleaner technologies.

“Wind is a visible sign of our commitment to sustainability. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy on heat recovery and things you can’t really see. Now, both the turbines and our 2010 Sustainability Report have become platforms to tell our story,” says Mike Waite, president of Menasha Packaging and the executive who leads the sustainability efforts for the whole corporation.

In addition to documenting sustainability progress, the report sets forth its 20/20 Vision for the future: by the year 2020, to reduce carbon emissions, water consumption and solid waste by 20 percent relative to current production levels.

Paul Linzmeyer, president of ISO International and chair of the New North Sustainability Committee,
was a consultant to Menasha Corp. early on in its journey. He applauds their work: “They’ve done a great job of building on lean, removing waste in their processes and creating a culture of innovation. They are definitely on the leading edge of their industry.”

Menasha Corp.’s sustainability report is available on the web at www.menasha.com.