7 Success Stories from the Journey to Zero Waste

At the beginning of the 80's teen classic film, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Ferris warns, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." This is sage advice, not just in our personal lives, but also as practitioners and implementers of sustainable business.

It can be all too easy to lose ourselves in the tangle of daily challenges, incremental progress, and project minutiae. It is important to slow down, take stock, and appreciate accomplishments on a regular basis.

That is exactly what we did last month, when the StopWaste Partnership honored seven Alameda County, Calif., companies with the 2011 StopWaste Partnership Business Efficiency Awards, presented at the East Bay Sustainable Business Trends & Awards event. This annual celebration, co-hosted by public agency StopWaste.Org and the East Bay Economic Development Alliance, recognizes Alameda County organizations for outstanding achievements in waste reduction, environmental performance, and mentoring peers on business efficiency practices.

I want to share some of the impressive success stories of this year's awardees as a representative sample of the great work being done at the local level as businesses big and small take steps to green their operations and supply chains.

Business Efficiency Awards

Awards in the Business Efficiency category honor organizations that have not only cut waste significantly, but also streamlined their operations in the process, often realizing significant financial cost savings. A prime example of this is SYNNEX, a global IT company that assembles and distributes information technology components.

Their Fremont facility used ISO 14001 guidelines to redesign the company's waste handling processes, with the goal of capturing the maximum amount of recyclables. The efforts reduced the site's waste by 500 tons in 2010 alone, resulting in $100,000 savings annually.

Also right on track with their efficiency initiatives is the Amtrak Operations & Maintenance Facility in Oakland, which maintains 18 locomotives and 83 passenger cars. The facility recycles over 58 tons of maintenance materials each year, in addition to recyclables collected from passengers.

They also compost an impressive 20 tons of food scraps annually, and prevent hazardous waste by laundering oily rags--instead of throwing them away. An innovative "Blue Glove Pledge" has actively engaged staff to help keep disposable gloves from contaminating the recycling.

chabotA well loved and respected educational institution, Oakland's Chabot Space & Science Center has developed Earth-focused activities that include teaching waste reduction concepts in their classes, composting food scraps, and encouraging children to pack zero waste lunches.

Chabot's fun and inspiring programs reach thousands of youth and instill values around resource efficiency to our future workforce, while their comprehensive recycling programs keep over 13 tons of material out of the landfill each year.

We have seen a notable "green wave" of activity from commercial property management firms in recent years, and Dublin Corporate Center, managed by Tishman Speyer, is a true leader. Still a rare practice at multi-tenant, property-managed sites, they successfully implemented the collection of compostables in addition to a comprehensive recycling program.

Their three-building site, which houses seven businesses and 1,000 people, recycled and composted over 39 tons in their first year -- cutting overall waste by nearly a third.

Another industry increasingly embracing "lean and green" operations is healthcare. Kaiser Permanente is not just telling their members to "Thrive," but two regional divisions of the healthcare giant each received an award this year for their thriving sustainability efforts.

Next page: The winner of the Leadership Award

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland diverts almost half of their waste with the help of 1,400 employees who recycle paper and cardboard and compost paper towels. Taking efforts even further, the facility is currently rolling out food scrap recycling to the cafeteria and kitchenettes. Kaiser Greater Southern Alameda Area (GSAA) is also being recognized for significant waste reduction -- over 100 tons per year -- at their medical centers in Hayward, Union City and Fremont.

Going beyond recycling, these centers have replaced bottled water with filtered tap water, eliminated the use of mercury, and donated two tons of reusable supplies to charity. One of Kaiser GSAA's keys to success is their volunteer Green Team who effectively engages employees in the programs.

The Mentor Award

This year we introduced an inspiring new award category, the Mentor Award, to recognize exemplary companies that give back to the business community by helping others in their network adopt clean, lean and green practices. The 2011 Mentor Award went to the US Foods San Francisco Division in Livermore, part of one of the nation's largest foodservice distributors.

A StopWaste Partnership client since 2006, they recycle many different materials netting over $90,000 annually in avoided disposal costs and recycling revenue. US Foods also prevents waste in their supply chain: They have replaced thousands of limited-use wood pallets with durable, reusable plastic pallets, and are in the process of eliminating disposable shrink-wrap with reusable rubber bands for their palletized products.

The facility recycles water from refrigeration units, has reduced electricity use by 37 percent, and covers 40 percent of its remaining energy need with its own one-megawatt solar array. With such a wealth of sustainable business experience, US Foods generously shares their knowledge by actively mentoring customers and vendors to help them green their own operations.

The Leadership Award

FineliteStopWaste's highest honor, the Leadership and Achievement in Sustainability Award, recognizes one local company every year that demonstrates not only ongoing commitment to waste reduction, but also finds innovative solutions to prevent waste before it's created. The 2011 winner is Finelite, Inc., a Union City manufacturer of high-performance lighting fixtures with a staff of 170.

Working with StopWaste since 2005, Finelite has reduced waste by 84 percent and is saving over $27,000 annually. The company not only recycles and reuses materials, they also return packaging to their vendors for open-loop reuse. But what really sets Finelite apart is a culture of continuous improvement that permeates all aspects of their operations.

Not content with recycling the large amounts of shrink-wrap from incoming orders of lighting components, Finelite designed their own reusable tarps to replace shrink-wrap. With a payback period of less than one year, the innovation prevents 3 tons of plastic film and saves the company over $10,000 per year.

Congratulations to all of this year's winners! We have posted their full stories here and hope that these champions of efficiency will inspire others to examine their operations for waste reduction opportunities, too. Who will be next making time to celebrate their accomplishments?

Stop Waste winners