Sustainability: Working to keep business in balance
It's being embraced by businesses, utilities and educators
Sustainability — the of balancing human needs with environmental and social responsibility — is being more seriously embraced by Iowa businesses, educational institutions, government agencies and utilities.
Norway, Iowa-based Frontier Natural Products Cooperative, for example, strives to be environmentally and socially responsible in a variety of ways — through its sourcing, products and packaging, customers, operations, employees and community.
The cooperative buys certified organic herbs, spices and other botanicals directly from small farmers in some of the most remote regions in the world.
In the area of packaging, Frontier switched from using recycled polystyrene peanuts to a 100 percent biodegradable starch-based packing material in 2010. In 2011, the co-op bought the equipment to make the peanuts, reducing the cost of packing material and keeping 56 semi-trucks a year off the road, saving fuel and decreasing emissions.
Kathy Larson, vice president of sustainability at Frontier, said the cooperative, which eschews the use of genetically modified products, wants to take it a step farther.
"We would like to use a different starch," Larson said. "The starch that we use to make the peanuts is about 20 percent potato starch and the remainder is corn. We're looking for a non-genetically engineered corn starch, but we need to find a lot more people who are interested in that type of product."
Larson said Frontier is constantly seeking ways to eliminate waste going to the landfill.
"One of the ways we have reduced our waste significantly is through our recycling program," she said. "We are recapturing our botanical waste that had been going to a landfill. We're sending part of it to a farmer in Kalona who is doing some composting, and we're also doing sheet composting here on our (Norway) property to build soil fertility for community gardens."
At Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, sustainability initiatives play an integral role in the institution's strategic vision. Those ongoing efforts include:
- Swapping out 50 percent of university-owned cars for hybrid vehicles in the spring of 2007.
- Adopting trayless dining in the fall of 2008, reducing food waste by 67 percent.
- Residence hall washers and dryers were replaced with energy-efficient appliances in the fall of 2008.
- Forming a partnership with Alliant Energy in 2009 to make energy efficient upgrades, reducing electricity usage by 25 percent.
- Implementing tracking software for copiers and printers, also in 2009, thereby reducing paper use by 40 percent.
"Mount Mercy's sustainability initiatives continue to thrive on campus," said Colette Atkins, chairwoman of the university's sustainability committee and assistant dean of adult accelerated programs.
THE ENERGY COMPANY
Streetlights in the Maplewood neighborhood near Mount Mercy are brighter and consume less energy due to a sustainability initiative from Alliant Energy.
"If you look up in the area of St. Matthew's Catholic Church off First Avenue NE, you will see LED streetlights," said Justin Foss, an Alliant Energy spokesman. "We are installing LED streetlights throughout the Cedar Rapids area, replacing all of the 100-watt high pressure sodium lights.
"The LEDs that we're installing use about 80 watts, which is a 20 percent reduction, and they're actually brighter. They also will last three times longer, which will reduce the life cycle cost for streetlights."
Steve Gladson, Alliant Energy manager of planning, design and facility construction, said the company has reduced energy use by more than 30 percent at the Alliant Tower in downtown Cedar Rapids through a variety of initiatives.
"In the last few years, we have reduced energy use by upgrading the windows, changing out the lighting, and adding insulation," Gladson said. "That's three things that we preach to homeowners and businesses. We want them to know that we're also doing it here and it's having a huge impact."
Foss said Alliant Energy also makes use of video conferencing, saving the fuel required for employees to drive or fly to meetings. That has lowered the company's carbon footprint and increased employee productivity by eliminating lost time required for traveling.
THE LOTION MAKER
An employee committee helps drive sustainability efforts at Raining Rose, a Cedar Rapids-based organic lip balm and lotion manufacturer.
"We use soybean oil to flush our machines as part of the cleaning process," said Chuck Hammond, president and owner of Raining Rose. "We used to have to dispose of it, but our employees found someone who picks that up to produce biodiesel.
"We received a grant to produce a cardboard baler. We've had it about six months and we've already gone through about a thousand tons that we've baled.
"We used to pay to have it hauled off and recycled, but now we receive a payment for each thousand-pound bale," he added.
Hammond said Raining Rose also is seeking Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its new 125,000-square-foot office and manufacturing plant at 3015 First Ave. SE.
"Instead of the traditional turf landscaping, which we must have near the building, the hill along First Avenue will be planted with prairie grass," he said. "It will require much less watering and mowing."
A variety of sustainability initiatives have reduced administrative, construction and energy costs at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.
In the past, members of the Cedar Rapids Airport Commission received thick paper document packets each month by mail as well as having an additional packet in a notebook when they met. The packets, which required an administrative assistant to spent part of a day copying and preparing for shipping, could be more than 100 pages.
When the commission met on Aug. 25, 2009, they started using netbook computers to access documentation for the meeting agenda. The seven computers — including one each for the airport director and city attorney, who provides legal services to the airport — were purchased for $1,946.
Donald Swanson, director of finance and administration, said they paid for themselves in seven months when considering the cost of materials, postage and staff time involved with the paper books.
The airport also reduced the cost of reconstructing its 8,600-foot primary runway by grinding up the existing concrete, removing any metal and using the chunks of recycled concrete as base material. The recycling saved the expense of purchasing new rock for base material and kept the old concrete out of the landfill.
More recently, the commission used an $84,615 grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and matched it with $123,885 in airport revenue to pay for a passenger terminal lighting upgrade in 2010.
The project involved replacing metal halide lights installed in 1985 on the outside of the terminal with energy efficient LED lighting. Older T12 fluorescent lights inside the terminal were replaced with energy efficient T8 lighting.
Airport Operations Director Sara Mau said the upgrades are expected to slash energy use by as much as 80 percent and reduce ongoing maintenance costs. Using more energy efficient T8 lighting inside the terminal also is expected to significantly reduce electricity consumption.
Retailers also are looking at more environmentally friendly ways of operating their business.
Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's, which will open a new 55,000-square-foot store in southwest Cedar Rapids next summer, has been recognized with a 2012 Sustained Excellence in Green Power Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Kohl’s purchased 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours of green power in 2012 and generates more than 28 million kilowatt-hours through its solar program, offsetting more than 100 percent of its electricity use for the third consecutive year. The company's stores recycle 75 percent of their garbage and cardboard also is recycled, with no outside storage or refuse containers.
All Kohl's stores constructed since fall 2008 are designed to achieve LEED certification. The company uses energy-efficient LED lights to illuminate general parking areas and provide pedestrian safety, but not send light into the night sky or onto adjacent property.
Kohl's and Walmart are erecting solar arrays on the roofs of many of their new stores. At Kohl's, the solar arrays provide up to 40 percent of a store's electricity.