How Sustainability Leads to Profitable Business Practices

Lift truck manufacturer Crown Equipment Corp. explains how to become a valued corporate citizen by mixing environmental sustainability into the profit motive.

In the fall of 2009, Crown Equipment Corp. achieved zero landfill status at its New Knoxville, Ohio facility. This accomplishment was instrumental in Crown earning the Ohio EPA award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Stewardship. As a result of our sustainability initiatives, Crown has learned valuable lessons that can help manufacturing and material handling companies embark on an environmental sustainability path that provides benefits for them as well as their communities, employees and customers.

Here are a few considerations for companies evaluating sustainability initiatives.

1. Analyze and understand your facility.
Before embarking on a path toward sustainability, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your facility’s workflow and equipment to ensure that sustainability-motivated changes would have little to no negative impact on operations. Analyzing and evaluating the waste generated by the facility will help you target areas for improvement and identify what can be eliminated, reused or recycled.

It’s also important to learn about the materials being used at the facility. For instance, Crown employees noticed the trash contained numerous small polyurethane bags that once contained parts. The company decided to send the bags to another plant for reuse instead of throwing them away.

2. Develop a plan.
The next step is to develop a plan that identifies long-term goals and outlines the small steps a company will take to reach those goals. For example, when Crown embarked on an ISO 14001 journey for one of its facilities, company employees identified key objectives and targets, such as reducing energy usage, reusing more materials and reducing noise levels. Starting with small objectives and targets often leads to bigger results and the ultimate, final goal, which in this case was the facility achieving zero landfill status.

3. Establish internal communication and involvement.
One of the most vital steps in the process is creating an open channel for internal communication. The success of any sustainability initiative depends on the level of employee buy-in and involvement. Talk to employees and ask for suggestions on how to reduce waste in specific areas. Encourage product design engineers to design products that result in less waste. Be open to new ideas and communicate with key stakeholders on a regular basis.

For example, Crown employees are encouraged to submit suggestions to management through its Continuous Improvement Program. Through this process, a Crown group leader alerted management that a large number of metal caps from lift truck mast manifolds were being thrown away. Crown now sends the caps back to the vendor for reuse, which saves the company thousands of dollars a year.

4. Evaluate results and share successes.
All along the process, it’s important to track metrics of sustainable manufacturing closely and communicate successes with employees, customers and the community. This can be done through company newsletters, memos, websites, plant tours and news releases. You can even submit successful initiatives for government and industry-sponsored awards.

Crown established a cross-functional team consisting of plant employees, plant management and members from the environmental and safety department. The team meets monthly to discuss progress, solicit new ideas and determine the status of implementing the original objectives and targets. Plant employees are updated on the facility’s progress. The company also has an executive-level sustainability committee whose members discuss direction and evaluate progress.

5. Extend benefits beyond the company bottom line.
Sustainability can be a profitable business practice. For instance, using soap and water, instead of a solvent cleaner for degreasing, is better for the environment and saves money. Additional savings can be realized by simply recycling cardboard instead of transporting the bulky waste to a landfill.

When a company operates a sustainable manufacturing facility it establishes a solid reputation for its commitment to the community and the people that live there. Employee morale can be positively impacted by working for a company known as environmentally conscious. Further, the community itself may seek to leverage the expertise of the corporation to help implement its own sustainability initiatives.

For example, Crown executives work closely with local organizations, leaders and government officials to share best practices, and identify and advance sustainability initiatives within the community. These have included preservation of historical sites, donation of used equipment, renovation of Brownfield sites and tree planting programs.

In summary, embarking on a path toward a more sustainable business requires an understanding of your facility, a clear roadmap for reaching goals and objectives, and a heightened level of focus and dedication to realize success. By minimizing waste, managing energy and maximizing lifespan through conserving and renewing resources whenever possible, customers, communities, the environment, and your business all stand to benefit.


Brian Duffy is the Director of Corporate Environmental and Manufacturing Safety at Crown Corporation. He can be contacted at 419-629-2220 or [email protected].

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