By Alex Gary
Rockford Register Star
April 21. 2014 8:08PM
Going green for Rockford-area businesses means more green in profits
Jody Seyler places Sucrets lids into a machine that attaches them with the container body Monday, April 21, 2014, at J.L. Clark in Rockford.
ROCKFORD — For environmentalists, being “green” is a cause.
For business executives, it may be a cause as well, but making your operation more efficient leads to larger profits.
“I’m an engineer by training, so I’m always looking at design efficiencies and reduction of waste,” said Phil Baerenwald, president of Rockford’s J.L. Clark, a packaging company that also makes decorative tins. “It just makes good business sense. We’ve seen a direct impact on our bottom line.”
J.L. Clark, a division of Tennessee-based CLARCOR, won Governor’s Sustainability Awards from Illinois in both 2011 and 2013 for a variety of efficiency efforts. Among those:
— The company brought in a supplier to audit how it was using air compressors to move its parts down the assembly line. J.L. Clark was able to reconfigure its process to use a single air compressor with a 100-horsepower motor versus two 125-horsepower motors.
— Officials installed a new water-treatment system to recycle the water it uses to cool its molds in its injection-molding area.
— J.L. Clark spent $1 million on a new oxidizer that has cut its natural gas consumption by 30 percent.
Baerenwald said J.L. Clark also stresses recycling to its 270 employees and is very close to having zero waste going to the landfill.
“We’re trying to get people to think about Styrofoam,” Baerenwald said of the company’s efforts to raise environmental awareness. “We don’t like seeing people bring in Styrofoam containers with their leftovers.”
Rockford’s Chem Processing is a metal finishing company for companies in industries ranging from aerospace, agriculture and automotive to food processing and pharmaceutical.
Water is a main component in every process.
“We did a very comprehensive cost analysis on what we were spending to process our water,” said Matthew Smazik, director of manufacturing. “We looked at every single angle four to six times to determine the payback if we put in a new system.”
Chem Processing, which employs about 80 people, determined the payback would be less than two years.
“Now, we recover and reuse 50 percent of our water, and it also increased our (manufacturing) capacity,” Smazik said.
That project helped Chem Processing also receive a Governor’s Sustainability Award in 2013.
Indeed, Specialty Screw won an award from the state back in 1998 when it was still called the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Award. For more than 20 years, the company has looked at its operations and grounds for better practices.
Faced with a parking lot flooding problem in 1996, the company planted a prairie on its property and funneled water into dry wells both to feed the prairie and to recharge an underground aquifer instead of hooking up with a storm sewer.
In 2013, the company installed a bioswale, which helps drain water to a depressed area on the property with plants to absorb the moisture.
Even as the company increased its employment from 45 to 85 in the past couple of years, it has been able to cut its garbage collection by two-thirds by focusing on recycling.
“We do what we call dumpster dives occasionally,” Specialty Screw President Russ Johansson said. “We get everyone together and then dump the garbage out and go through it to show what we continue to throw away that we can recycle. When they saw the visualization, it made a real impact.”
In terms of equipment, the company switched to higher-efficiency lighting. It changed to more efficient motors in some of its large air handlers. The company is bringing in a new air compressor for running its machines that will have a more efficient variable drive.
Johansson looks everywhere to save money. He was alarmed at the number of paper towels his workers were using in the restrooms. He found out Specialty Screw was spending $5,000 on the paper towels, so he made a “command decision” and put in hand dryers.
Because of grants from the state and utility companies such as ComEd, the payback time for each of these projects was four years or fewer. That’s a serious consideration. But in January 2012, the company installed a 17-kilowatt photo voltaic solar system that cost $105,000. Johansson said he estimates it will take 11 1/2 years in savings to pay for the system.
“Once it is paid off, then the savings will just compound over the years,” he said. “But really, I’m a big believer in protecting our resources for our children’s children.”