In a business and industry Sustainability Panel Discussion held by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership at Cross Creek Country Club Wednesday, four experts in the fields of green business and sustainability talked to area business leaders about how they can save money and protect the environment at the same time.
The panel included David Petri, who is the director of sustainability at Nester Hosiery; Anna Mangum, an improvement specialist at North Carolina State University’s Industrial Extension Service; Terry Albrecht, the state director of the Waste Reduction Partners, a technical consulting group of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council; and Katie Kross, who served as the moderator during Wednesday’s panel discussion. Kross is a sustainability practitioner, educator and social entrepreneur who is committed to advancing North Carolina’s national leadership in sustainable economic and community development.
Upon joining Nester Hosiery three years ago, Petri said he has accelerated the company’s ongoing sustainability efforts by implementing an Environmental Management System (EMS). In addition, he is actively engaged in the outdoor industry’s efforts to implement standardize tools for environmental and social responsibility.
Through his engagement, Nester Hosiery, he said, has actively supported the development and testing of both the Outdoor Industry’s Eco Index and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index. Petri is also a member of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Advisory Council in which he works alongside other business leaders to help guide the industry’s ongoing sustainability initiatives.
Petri said since the company produces outdoor socks, its customers want to make sure the way in which the socks are being produced is being done with clean energy practices that are sustainable for the environment. He said one of the ways the company does that is by reducing the amount of trash that goes into the local landfill.
He said in 2009 the company sent 47 tons to the to the landfill out of 239 tons total waste generated.
“Since then – with focused effort we have reduced our total waste generated each year as well as reducing our volume sent to the landfill. This has resulted in improving our diversion rate to 81.5 percent in 2011 and 87 percent year-to-date in 2012,” said Petri.
In addition, he said the company had Duke University do an energy audit at no cost. He said the results were surprising. He said he would have thought that knitting machines would have been the energy zappers, but it turned out that the boarding machines used more energy. He said the air condition and lighting were also big energy users. He said the company has been applying lower-cost measures first, like installing automatic light sensors in rooms that aren’t used very much, to cut down on energy costs.
He said another key to the success of reducing waste is to get employees involved and excited about making changes.
Mangum provides leadership to North Carolina’s statewide sustainable manufacturing initiative, E3. She said she works closely with federal, state and local leaders, gaining their support of manufacturers to be sustainable in economy, energy and environment.
“E3 has deployed statewide, engaging over 35 manufactures, 200 partners and impacting 18 North Carolina communities,” said Mangum.
She said in working with those manufacturers, E3 has saved them $1.7 million and created 63 jobs in North Carolina. Unfortunately, Surry County is not yet an E3 county, yet. But, she is working on that.
She said when companies become more energy efficient, it helps increase their sales because more and more consumers are looking to do business with companies who use green practices.
Albrecht said WRP’s team of 65 volunteers, staff engineers and scientists provides environmental sustainability and utility cost-saving strategies to businesses and public institutions throughout North Carolina.
“In partnership with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Waste Reduction Partners has provided over 199,000 hours of technical assistance, helping businesses and municipal clients save over $50.1 million in utility costs — while improving their environmental performance,” said Albrecht.
He told business leaders that energy is one of the costliest processes in business. He said one good place to start is to have an energy audit to see where companies can implement low- and no-cost efforts to reduce energy costs.
Albrecht mirrored Mangum’s comments about consumers wanting to do business with green companies. He said that principle also works in the tourism sector because business and leisure travelers are now looking for green companies such as hotels and restaurants where they want to spend their money.
Mangum said Asheville has started a green restaurant association and are trying to be the largest area for green restaurants.
“Maybe Mount Airy can give them a run for their money,” said Mangum.
Reach Mondee Tilley at email@example.com or at 719-1930.