IB Sustainability Awards winners go green to grow their businesses

Six forward-thinking companies and one remarkable individual received Business Sustainability Awards at the recent In Business Expo & Conference, reflecting an emphasis this year on melding good environmental stewardship with good business sense.

“We’re going to look at businesses that are not only sustainable, but now we’re going to add a caveat to that – they’re replicable,” said In Business Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick at the luncheon honoring the winners. “So other people could come and look at some instances and say, ‘Wow, maybe I could do that in my business.’ So they’re not off the wall. … These are models for businesses this year. So that’s the purpose of the awards; that’s why we’re here.”

Keynote speaker George Crave, whose company, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, is a model for sustainable farming and manufacturing, echoed those sentiments, noting that saving the earth is possible only if one’s feet remain firmly grounded on it.

“We all know that having a sustainable or green business only works if you have a viable business,” said Crave, whose company installed a digester that converts the methane from cow manure to electricity – yielding enough energy to power his farm and 120 of his neighbors’ homes. “We can’t affect water quality, we can’t affect air quality, we can’t meet payroll and pay our bills [unless the business works]. So running a sustainable business first and foremost is running a successful financial business.”

This is IB’s second annual Business Sustainability Awards program, and it follows the successful inaugural effort that was co-organized last year by Sustain Dane. This year, awards were presented for Eco-Efficiency Initiative of the Year, Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative of the Year, Sustainable Small Business of the Year, Sustainable Large Business of the Year, Sustainable Visionary of the Year, Eco-Product of the Year, and Eco-Service of the Year.

Judging this year’s entries were Andrew Pace and Wyllys Mann. A recognized expert on green and healthy building products, Pace launched his company, now known as The Green Design Center, in 1993 as the Midwest’s first resource for healthy, common-sense building materials. From the company’s new corporate headquarters in Waukesha, he consults with homeowners and professionals about how to create healthier homes. Mann recently became the program manager for the Focus on Energy Multifamily Residential Program. Prior to joining Focus, he was director of the Green Business Development Center at the Delta Institute, which supports green entrepreneurs and provides resources, technical assistance, and hands-on consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Quotes from judges in the following blurbs are not attributed.

Eco-Efficiency Initiative of the Year: Meriter Hospital

Meriter cited the Hippocratic Oath as one reason for its energy-saving and other environmental efforts. The hospital strives to set a good example by reducing air emissions that can worsen health conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and allergies.

Meriter relied on Affiliated Engineers Inc. to do an energy assessment and create a master plan, which identified long- and short-range opportunities for improving energy use. These efforts included implementing a more efficient lighting system and updating equipment in older parts of the hospital. The hospital also took steps to reduce water consumption.

All these efforts have not only led to lower energy use, but have also saved the hospital money – and revolutionized the hospital’s approach to sustainability.

“They even included, if I understand right, recycled, bio-degradable bedpans,” noted one of the judges. “That is an admirable level of thoroughness. The size of the facility and replicable nature of their activities contribute to a significant environmental benefit.”

Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative of the Year: Royle Printing

As the printer for In Business magazine, Royle is already number one in our book, but its continued attention to environmentally sustainable production processes vaulted it to the top of this category.

Through the company’s environmental committee, and with help from Wisconsin Focus on Energy grants, Royle has made significant investments in technology and process improvements that have helped it go greener.

The company replaced the air-cooled chiller for its rollers with a water-cooled chiller, installed a centralized air compressor system, and updated its RTO unit. All these investments have borne fruit. The first two upgrades were paid off within a year, and the third will be paid off within two winters of installation.

“Our role has really been about minimizing the footprint that we create in the environment in which we produce magazines like In Business,” said Royle President and CEO Chris Carpenter. “Being a good steward of the environment in our world, certainly it’s sexy and marketable in today’s economy – everyone’s thinking environmental – but years ago we proved that it’s also a good return on investment for us, so it’s become a necessary part of how we run our business.”

Sustainable Small Business of the Year: The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin

For The Wood Cycle, sustainability isn’t a part-time goal or just another word on a mission statement, it’s truly a way of life.

The business itself resides on a farmette that was once in an advanced state of disrepair. All the buildings the business currently uses were restored, and one – a barn that was once located two miles from the company’s headquarters – was moved to the farm after originally being scheduled for demolition. The barn, which now serves as The Wood Cycle’s flagship building, was renovated and currently exceeds energy standards and commercial building codes.

The Wood Cycle is just as conscientious when it comes to its business model – creating cabinetry, furniture, and other woodworking products from local wood materials.

“I grew up in a Dutch conservative background where if there was something you could use, you used it, and then you reused it, and continued using it until there was no life left in it,” said Paul Morrison, the company’s founder. “So when I came into the idea of woodworking, I also liked the idea of going local, having seen some of those trees growing up, and seeing them sawn into lumber, and I tried to apply that to our business model, where we are [using] essentially nothing but local hardwoods. …

“It’s been a good fit for us, essentially blending that classic Dutch conservative background with Dane County conservation attitudes and coming up with a product that really fits our local market here and could be replicated really in any setting.”

Sustainable Large Business of the Year: Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative

The Willy Street Co-op, as it’s known to just about everyone in the Greater Madison area, has been all about sustainability since it was established in 1974.

The co-op is meticulous in its efforts to build toward a green and sustainable future, and its myriad sustainability efforts could fill seven neatly typed, single-spaced pages.

In fact, they did – in the entry materials the organization submitted to our judges.

Needless to say, those initiatives are far too numerous to mention, but highlights include offering a wide variety of green-friendly products, including many cleaning and paper products; continually looking for local vendors for its products; using low-toxin paints and finishes; participating in the local Bicycle Benefits program; using low-flow water fixtures; reducing energy use through rooftop solar panels, a solar thermal system, occupancy sensors, high-efficiency refrigeration systems, and energy-efficient lighting; and cutting grass with a push mower (now that’s dedication).

“Our sustainability efforts are really driven by our owners,” said Stephanie Ricketts, an executive assistant at the co-op. “It’s a value that’s really clearly dictated by them and by our board of directors. It infuses our entire business model, from our physical structures … to who our vendors are and what kind of products we carry, and really what kind of community partners we have and what kind of role we play in the community.”

Sustainable Visionary of the Year: Brenda Baker

As the Madison Children’s Museum’s director of exhibits, Baker has been at the forefront of sustainability efforts in her industry since the mid-‘90s, long before sustainability was the watchword it is today.

Her own experience with environmental toxins in her home compelled her to take a close look at the materials that were used in the museum’s exhibits, and led her to propose the “First Feats” exhibit, which was built entirely of natural, non-toxic materials.

In 2000, that exhibit won a Promising Practice Award from the MetLife Foundation and the Association of Children’s Museums, and in 2004, Baker was instrumental in creating a sustainability mission for the museum.

“Brenda’s universal commitment to sustainability is impressive,” noted one of the judges. “She has played a leadership role in her business, her hobbies, and throughout her community. … She seems to have had a positive impact on not only the environment, but also the people around her.”

For her part, Baker emphasizes the impact the museum’s environmental decisions have on the children it serves.

“We’ve tried to incorporate best practices in terms of what’s best for kids, so we’ve used sustainable practices in all our exhibits, and our early learning space,” said Baker. “We have used natural and sustainable materials from within 100 miles to create that entire space. And we have a rooftop garden where we’re really trying to teach kids about sustainable living so they learn more about solar and renewable energy and that kind of thing. And we’ve really tried to infuse best practices and sustainability throughout the museum using sustainable materials, and really try to get kids to understand and appreciate that you can have creativity and passion combined hand in hand with lots of fun.”

Eco-Product of the Year: BioIonix

BioIonix’s Advanced Food Safety and Water Reuse Systems may be far too complex to thoroughly explain in an IB Web blurb, but what they lack in simplicity they more than make up for in environmental impact.

To sum up, “the BioIonix system activates catalysts similar to those in automobile catalytic converters to kill bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens in liquids and the food products they contact. The process is particularly effective in turbid liquids containing high organic loads ….”

And if you understood that, chances are you invented the BioIonix Advanced Food Safety and Water Reuse Systems.

But whether or not the BioIonix process is easily graspable by the layperson, the bottom line is it enhances food safety, reduces water use, eliminates hazardous chemicals, contributes to energy efficiency, and eliminates air-quality hazards.

“[The BioIonix process] is a great combination of food safety improvement and energy and water efficiency,” said one of the judges. “The food service sector is a tremendous resource user and waste generator. BioIonix provides a solution to both.”

Eco-Service of the Year: Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership

In 2009, the Next Generation Manufacturing Study, conducted by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) and the Manufacturing Performance Institute, revealed that around one-third of the state’s manufacturers thought sustainability would be critical to their companies’ success over the next five years. Unfortunately, less than 20% of those surveyed said their progress on sustainability could be ranked from good to world-class.

In response, WMEP developed the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative in order to improve on those results. The program aimed to provide a cost/benefit analysis process by which small to mid-sized manufacturers could monitor their sustainability efforts and find ways to improve on them. According to the WMEP, the program has “demonstrated a clear link between sustainable practices and improved profitability, demonstrated superior return on both public and private investment, [and] documented successes to promote profitable sustainability to Wisconsin’s manufacturing community.”

The program has also boosted Badger pride by collecting evidence “to establish Wisconsin as the most sustainable manufacturing state in the U.S.”

“This was a pilot program, and we really threw this together from scratch – we were really reliant on the manufacturers opening up their doors and allowing us to poke our noses into what they do,” said Randy Bertram, senior manufacturing specialist for WMEP. “They cooperated with us and helped us to identify opportunities to both improve the environment and improve their financial performance. We’re up to 70 companies that are participating, and in the near future, we’ll be up to close to 100 firms that will benefit from this endeavor.”

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