Editor's Note: The following is excerpted from Denise Coogan's presentation at the Green Manufacturer Network's Take on the Zero-waste-to-landfill Challenge, held at Subaru of Indiana Automotove on May 18. Denise Coogan is the manager, safety & environmental compliance, for Subaru of Indiana Automotive, which achieved zero landfill in 2004:
"The famous quote by Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism, really sums up what were ultimately trying to do. 'The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous, and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive.'
"And I think it’s that last word, competitive … at one time that people would say, ‘Oh it costs too much to be environmentally friendly. Those tree huggers cost us too much money. We can’t do that.’ I think now, people are finally realizing that it really costs too much money for people to not be environmentally friendly. That waste is money. That whenever you’re throwing something out, you’re spending money. You’re paying for it at the front end. You’re paying for it while it’s there. You’re paying for its disposal. And so when you reduce the material you’re bringing in, you reduce that waste; you’re saving money.
"We really focus on the three Rs. Reduce, reuse, recycle. And it really is that simple.
"Getting started, we went dumpster diving. And we actually just went in turned over the green containers and dumped their contents, separated all the waste out, and examined them.
"Then we made our lists. Steel was always our largest waste, and we’ve been recycling that since day one. And it was cardboard, pallets, plastic. And we kept ticking down that list until we found them homes and ways to recycle things like that. It also makes you focus on what you’re using. OK I’m using this much plastic in this area. Do I really need that much plastic in my packaging? Is that something that maybe we can reduce? And so it makes you look very closely at your process. It’s really very helpful to do. And it’s a lot of fun to dumpster dive. I find myself dumping diving at airports. Wow. Look what they’re throwing away there.
"And some items you’ll need to get started. Of course, support from the upper management. We have unwavering support from our parent company. They are the ones who challenged us to become zero landfill; and from our management here, Tom Easterday. Support from your employees is a must-have. All the best ideas have come to us from our associates. So tap into that energy. Everyone wants to be listened to. They have volumes to tell you.
"It takes patience to do this. And a commitment to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Some of these projects will cost more money than you will get out of them. Sometimes you have to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And a sense of humor is always helpful.