Cynics Need Not Apply

Cynics Need Not Apply

The comment I overheard was, “Okay, so what’s in it for me?” We were filing out of the keynote speaker’s address on sustainability at NA 08; however, the question is something a lot of folks are thinking about the sustainability movement.

When a colleague mentions thousands of dollars his company saves by cleaning light bulbs in the distribution center, do you get green with envy? As you read yet another story about fuel-cell technology, do you get slightly green around the gills?

Take heart, my friend, sustainability is here to stay.

I recently had a rambling and rewarding conversation with Pat Lancaster, chairman of the Lantech Co. He’s the guy credited with inventing the stretch wrapping machine. His comments are elsewhere in this issue. We joked about fads we’ve survived over the years, especially those quality management programs that came and went with whichever book the company CEOs were reading that week.

When we got onto sustainability, I asked if he thought the green movement was just another passing fancy. Pat got slightly more serious and listed several reasons why this one is here to stay—or has always been here.

Green is not a revolution; it’s about evolution. It happens slowly. I looked around for some proof. For more than 15 years, automakers have been talking and doing things about treatment of end-of-life vehicles. GM, for example, has its Recycling Partnership program and is today putting greater emphasis on using recycled plastics. Currently, nearly 80% (by weight) of vehicles at end of life are recycled. By 2015, the proportion of material from end-of-life vehicles that must be reused or recovered will be increased to 95% of vehicle weight.

Clyde Witt
Clyde E. Witt
Editor-in-Chief [email protected]

Most people think the only thing we can do with old auto tires is shred or burn them. Not so. Companies like Reklaim Technologies (www.reklaim.com) have found ways to break down the tires to make oil, carbon black and steel. The steel is recycled to make cars. Carbon black is used by a host of industries. And, the average tire yields almost 1.5 gallons of oil.

Exel, an outsourced logistics company, recently received recognition for its packaging material recycling efforts. Its facilities in Belleville, Mich., use 100% recycled material from Pratt Industries. The company estimates in 2007 it saved 7,222 trees, 2.9 million gallons of water, 1,062 cubic yards of landfill waste and 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity. This facility recycled 2,100 tons of corrugated, 127 tons of plastic and 19,200 wood pallets.

What I clearly remember about the first Earth Day in 1969 (or was it 1970?) is millions of Americans taking to the streets, demonstrating to make the planet a better place for the future—which we doubted would last much beyond 1975. Earth Day, celebrated last month, is now 38 years old, born at a time when we were admonished not to trust anyone over age 30. And, while the planet has gotten warmer, it hasn’t stopped spinning.

The point is that sustainability remains and owes a huge debt of gratitude to material handling. Doubters should note that the purpose of material handling is, and always has been, sustainability. Pallets and lift trucks came into being to enable companies to do more with less—a basic part of sustainability’s definition.

Keep on keepin’ on.

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