Some U.S. manufacturers see benefit to going green

WHITEMARSH, Pennsylvania Thu Jun 25, 2009 1:54pm EDT

WHITEMARSH, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Some small and medium-sized U.S. manufacturers, once skeptical about conservation efforts, say they're seeing benefits to installing equipment and implementing practices that curb energy use and save money.

Executives from more than 200 Philadelphia-area companies exchanged ideas on Wednesday about how to increase profits by enacting environmentally friendly practices such as reducing waste and carbon emissions.

"Sustainability is no longer a tree-hugging program," said Barry Miller, president of the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, a nonprofit development corporation that organized the event. "It's very good for business. It helps you grow. It helps you compete."

Jim Keba, vice president of operations at Sandmeyer Steel Company, a Philadelphia maker of stainless steel and nickel alloy plate, said he was initially skeptical of the need to "go green."

But the resource center helped his company save $160,000 over three years by installing equipment like high-efficiency motors, low-energy lighting and modern furnaces.

An assessment team said the company could cut down on waste by recycling garnet, an abrasive material used in the plate-making process, rather than sending it to a landfill. The company has implemented that change, Keba said.

"My mindset was, there was a cost to going green," Keba said. "Now I understand there's a benefit."

Although the company, which employs about 100 people, would have to make an investment of about $100,000 to fully implement the recommended green practices, it can expect the changes to pay off within a few years, Keba said.

Advocates acknowledge the difficulty in promoting a cultural change in the United States, where companies are slow to take steps such as installing solar panels on the roof or replacing incandescent light bulbs.

"Some companies are CAVE people, which stands for Citizens Against Virtually Everything," said Mark Robertson of Mantec, a business-development nonprofit in York, Pennsylvania. "We are making a cultural change to the company and that's the hardest part."

GRIDIRON GREEN

They have found one ally in the most American of enterprises: a professional football team.

The Philadelphia Eagles have conducted green business practices since 2003, saving millions of dollars in energy bills while reducing landfill waste generated by fans on game days, said Leonard Bonacci, the club's director of event operations.

By instructing staff at Lincoln Financial Field, the team's home field, to switch off lights not being used, it has saved $1.7 million in electricity costs since 2003, Bonacci said.

"Being green is certainly more profitable," Bonacci said.

Fans drink beer in mugs made from corn-based material, which degrade in a landfill, rather than petroleum-based plastic, and the Eagles recycle waste oil from its restaurant fryers into biodiesel, which is used to fuel tractors.

In Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Aerzen USA Corp., a maker of blowers, compressors and vacuum pumps, spent $5 million on a new "green" headquarters for its 50 employees and has halved its energy bills as a result, president Pierre Noack said.

Although the new building cost about 15 percent more than a non-green equivalent, it has better natural light and ventilation and the open plan has improved communication among employees, he said.

It also made an impression on clients, Noack said. "When they see our building, they see what kind of company we are."

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)