IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Posted in Environment.

 California case study: Communities

 Doing Their Part to Fight Global Warming

Stopping global warming requires thinking in new ways about how we live, do business and interact with one other. While climate policy is finally at the forefront of national political discussions, its impact will have decidedly local and personal effects. Each of us is part of the solution and what we do at home and work affects us, our children, and communities around the world. Reversing the trend of rapid resource depletion and growing risks of a climate gone haywire requires engaging our families, neighbors, businesses and elected and appointed officials in ways that make our communities more sustainable.

Environmental Defense Fund is committed to “finding the ways that work” to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. One of our projects, called Climate for Community, is demonstrating what small businesses and San Francisco Bay Area residents are doing to engage their communities in the fight against global warming.

Growing Sustainably
Rene Feliciano clocks in at 6:30 on Monday morning. By nine o’clock, she has helped pack a small fleet of trucks to supply a handful of California’s supermarkets and restaurants. One big rig heads up the Pacific Coast to Eureka; two more traverse the great Central Valley destined for Sacramento and Fresno; another heads south across the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their cargo: organic produce from one of San Francisco’s greenest wholesale distributors.
As facilities manager and leader of the company’s Green Team, it’s part of Feliciano’s job to make Veritable Vegetable as environmentally friendly as possible. That includes making sure the thousands of long- and short-haul trips the truckers make annually are as productive as possible, and greening the  company’s operations.
“When it started, I was supposed to take care of getting us to zero waste,” said Feliciano. “As we progressed, we ran out of things to divert and when we started to question everything, the program blossomed into all different areas of our business.”
    

Veritable Vegetable started addressing environmental challenges long before green had serious cachet.  And there’s been no shortage of things to do. Since the sustainability dimension to her position was created three years ago, Feliciano has been busy finding ways to change the business’ physical plant and office culture.
The wholesaler’s efforts began with a lighting retrofit to its main warehouse, switching out fluorescent tube lighting for energy-efficient high-bay lights and ballasts. Much of the warehouse space needs only intermittent lighting so adding motion sensors allowed the company to keep lights off for most of the day when rooms are unoccupied. A combination of skylights and lumen sensors allowed Veritable Vegetable to dim the interior lights around the loading dock and central floor on sunny days. The net result: electricity use plummeted even as the business grew.
Veritable Vegetable grew by an average of seven percent annually from 2001 to 2008, and  added 50 percent more warehouse space in 2007. But some benefits are hard to quantify and don’t show up on the balance sheet.  For example, employees are offered numerous food programs that reduce the distance from farm to table while simultaneously increasing job satisfaction. They have the option of buying into a worker food share cooperative, enrolling in a juice program and getting catered lunches four times a week.

“The company originally did this as a way to provide employees with at least one good organic meal a day,” said Feliciano, “but it’s a two-way street. It’s a nice perk that makes it hard to leave.”

A sustainability ethos has long been part of the company’s creed. Veritable Vegetable was founded in 1974 with progressive ideals of social and environmental responsibility.  In a field dominated by large food producers and suppliers, Veritable Vegetable made a commitment to promoting smaller farms that offer fresh and healthy food and give back to their communities.
 That spirit lives on today in all aspects of the business. This winter, Veritable Vegetable added a 106-kilowatt solar array that will pay for itself in just four years, providing nearly cost-free electricity thereafter.
The company continues to invest in its employees as well. In 2006, Veritable Vegetable moved their locker room downstairs and added a bike rack to provide better commute options. It offers travel reimbursement for public transportation trips up to $115 a month so that workers don’t have to rely on a car to get to work.
Other changes are common practices for many San Francisco businesses. Sunset Scavenger, San Francisco’s municipal waste management company, has offered recycling and organic waste pick-up for many years. Yet Veritable Vegetable has gone above and beyond by diverting 99 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling, composting and clever reuse. For example, Feliciano devised a way to use Mylar wrap from food packaging as insulation for ductwork in the warehouse. The company also invested in a baler that compresses cardboard shipping boxes for recycling. Large items that can’t be readily sold, such as old furniture and computers, are taken to local nonprofits like the Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP) and Building Resources center.
Other green strategies are more specific to the food services industry. Between two warehouses, Veritable Vegetable has 350,000 cubic feet of cold storage space, all of which must be carefully controlled at different temperatures based on food type. The company has calibrated its thermostats to the temperature of the food instead of the ambient air temperature to avoid over-cooling. In addition, to minimize the loss of cold air when workers enter and exit the coolers, the company invested in heavy strip curtains that improve insulation and last longer than the cheaper, thinner curtains.
The improvements Veritable Vegetable has made result in fewer greenhouse gases polluting the air, whether it’s indirect emissions from power plants supplying electricity and organic waste decomposing in landfills, or direct emissions from vehicles. But that distant-seeming connection to global temperature is less important to the company than bringing the green message to people on a daily basis.
“Sustainability is actually a company directive that has spilled over into everybody’s life,” said Feliciano. “Because of the awareness and our mission statement, I think other people are catching on and thinking differently and purchasing differently. Now we have options when we spend our dollar.”
Stopping global warming requires thinking in new ways about how we live, do business and interact with one other. While climate policy is finally at the forefront of national political discussions, its impact will have decidedly local and personal effects. Each of us is part of the solution and what we do at home and work affects us, our children, and communities around the world. Reversing the trend of rapid resource depletion and growing risks of a climate gone haywire requires engaging our families, neighbors, businesses and elected and appointed officials in ways that make our communities more sustainable.
Environmental Defense Fund is committed to “finding the ways that work” to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. One of our projects, called Climate for Community, is demonstrating what small businesses and San Francisco Bay Area residents are doing to engage their communities in the fight against global warming.

 

Taking the Lead

Jim Duffy looks relaxed as he walks the floor at Alonzo Printing Company. Wearing faded blue jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and friendly smile, he nearly blends in with the other uniformed workers shuffling reams of paper from one whirring machine to the next. He stops to introduce our tour group to Renee Smith, a line worker who’s carrying a freshly inked stack of newsletters from the printer to the laser-guided paper cutter.
From his casual demeanor, no one would suspect that Duffy is founder and president of a commercial printing operation that’s become a leading success story for green businesses across the country. Alonzo Printing became the Bay Area’s first “green certified” color printing specialist in 1997 and won the Gold Award for Environmental Excellence from American Printer Magazine in 2008.
Duffy has taken a proactive, all-inclusive approach to assessing his operation’s sustainability, a practice that’s common in other parts of the world but in its infancy in the United States. “Everything in England has a carbon footprint label on it. Same thing in Japan,” he said. “This country is way behind in measuring these different steps.”
Last year, he took it upon himself to calculate and publish a complete review of the company’s carbon footprint in its monthly newsletter, including material shipping, employee commute miles, heat and power consumption for operations and delivery of final product to customers.

“I tried to put together a transparent way to measure our footprint,” Duffy said. “The value is starting to measure where you are so you can tell where you’re going. If I hadn’t measured water usage, for example, I wouldn’t have been able to report where we were 12 months later,” he explained. “We wouldn’t have a baseline to start with. Now, we can go all the way back to 2005.”

This holistic approach also makes it easier to understand the energy that goes into every sheet of paper produced, making a real connection between the trees and trucks and the printed paper.
The more Duffy learns about the carbon intensity of his product, however, the more complicated the picture becomes. Case in point: based on his calculations, it appears that virgin paper manufactured with clean energy in British Columbia and shipped via barge and railcar creates fewer total emissions than a 100% recycled fiber sheet produced in Arizona and trucked over land.
In part, Alonzo’s survival depends on producers and consumers assigning the proper value to a given commodity in a resource-constrained world. That’s why Duffy started to use Environmental Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator to help quantify the environmental impact of their paper choices.
Alonzo has done what it can to conserve virgin forest and draw on sustainably harvested woods for its paper products. In 2007, 92 percent of the paper Alonzo used contained recycled material—44 percent post-consumer waste—and the company is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, meaning it tracks where paper comes from and where it’s shipped.
It’s not just paper that has Duffy seeing the forest for the trees. He realizes occupational safety is another key ingredient for a successful business.
One of the many hazards for commercial print shop workers is exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which evaporate from printing press inks and cleaners and can be both powerful greenhouse gases and cancer causing when inhaled. To remedy the problem, Alonzo switched to non-toxic cleaners and VOC-free soy-based inks that eliminate hazardous chemicals from the work environment and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Duffy indentified another significant source of emissions during the footprinting process: employee commute miles. Alonzo’s printing warehouse is tucked away in an industrial corridor along Hayward’s shorefront, several miles from major transit centers. As a result, many employees drive to work alone. To solve this problem and reduce the number of employee trips, Alonzo is pursuing a transit shuttle with other businesses in its industrial park that will connect their facilities to major rail and bus lines, thus enabling better utilization of public transportation and reducing emissions from commuting employees’ cars.   
Ultimately, all of this goodwill feeds back into Alonzo’s bottom line. That’s an essential factor, says Duffy, especially during troubled economic times when business owners are looking to cut costs any way possible. Some green investments make sense, while others do not.
Periods of belt-tightening can actually provide the incentive to go green. Take Alonzo’s new process-free plate developer, for instance. Though a substantial capital investment, the new technology drastically reduces water use, saving more than $1,000 a year on water bills. Alonzo saves money, California conserves its scarce water resources, and there’s an indirect emissions reduction benefit since transporting, treating and heating water accounts for 20 percent of statewide electricity use.
Duffy found that he was able to save even more money than predicted when he installed a variable speed, 50-hp compressor. It uses 120,000 kilowatts less per year than the old fixed speed drive—the equivalent of $12,000 to $17,000 in energy savings each year. The system will pay for itself in less than two years.
 ”I’m reducing my carbon footprint, and I’m going to see savings much greater than expected,” he said.

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