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Sustainability at AVL

Feb 29, 2012

Sustainability: this is a topic that has been in my thoughts for several years now.  I view sustainability as practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.   My interest on the topic kicked into gear about two years ago when group of students from Chico State’s Sustainability Engineering program asked if they could perform a sustainability review on AVL as a class project.  This seemed to be a great idea, giving us an opportunity to see what we were doing right and where we could make some improvements. 

The results proved surprising and gratifying.  As it turned out, many decisions we had made for financial reasons, also ended up being highly ‘sustainable’ practices.  I want to share two examples that exemplify this most clearly. 

The first example is a lighting upgrade we had completed a couple of months prior to the student evaluation.  Our local power supplier PG&E offers a program that will upgrade commercial lighting fixtures for free if it can find sufficient savings, and our facility had old fluorescent and halogen lighting that was proving less than optimal.   The contractor analyzed our power consumption and determined an upgrade to better ballasts and more efficient tubes was warranted.  The upgrades were performed in a few hours.  The results exceeded our expectations.  With fewer bulbs, we got much better lighting and also saved about 30% off our electricity bill.  This is even more astounding when you consider that we run CNC and other shop equipment day in/day out making up the bulk of our electricity consumption.

The second example of our waste collection did not contain the same financial impact, but in hindsight showed the same sustainable principles.  When I came to AVL, we were contracting two full size waste dumpsters, one for trash and the other for cardboard.  These were being picked up weekly.  Seeing us fill a bin full of cardboard always bugged me, but even more irksome was that the dumpster was rarely full.  So when an employee came up with the clever idea of shredding it for packing material I jumped at it.  This was actually a winning idea on a couple of levels: eliminating the cost of the dumpster and reducing our amount of purchased packing materials.  The original estimates had payback on the cardboard shredder (HSM Profi Pack 400) within eighteen months, which we easily met.  Over time, the move proved even more prescient.  As we started paying more attention to all this cardboard, we began thinking about how we could address even the small boxes.  Right about this time, we started seeing the pricing of new cardboard shoot up.  In response, we began reusing cardboard boxes wherever possible.  With these two actions we virtually eliminated cardboard waste from AVL’s waste stream.

In the end, the students found a few areas for improvement, some we’ve addressed and some we hope to in the future.  Moreover, we learned a lot about ourselves from the study, and we learned the importance of factoring sustainability into our decision making, including the importance of considering the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic factors.    

I hope you enjoyed hearing about sustainability at AVL, and perhaps were even inspired by it.  I intend to continue writing about it in future blog entries.  Stay tuned for my next installment where I talk about my biggest failure in being green.