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KAI RYSSDAL: It's tough to tell at any given point in time what motivates a company to follow one strategy or another. Over the past couple of years, though, there's been a fairly strong trend toward the environmental. Companies have been under a lot of pressure to polish up their green credentials. And of course all of them want to save some money. For a furniture company in Ohio, sending less to the landfill means doing both.
From WCPN in Cleveland, Dan Bobkoff reports.
DAN BOBKOFF: The Taylor Companies makes the kind of office furniture you might find in a law firm or corporate headquarters. And when prospective customers come to its factory to see the product line, CEO Jeff Baldassari gives them an unusual tour.
JEFF BALDASSARI: Garbage tours as I call them. I go through the factory with the customers and I show them how we manufacture the furniture and how the waste is diverted at each stage of the process.
It would be more accurate to call these "no-garbage tours." Nearly every by-product of the manufacturing process is recycled or finds some home other than the trash can. Baldassari points toward the ceiling.
BALDASSARI: See all these tubes going to all the equipment here in the woodshop? That's part of our dust collection system. And it comes in, it goes through here, and there's a silo outside the building. It collects into a 40-cubic-yard dumpster which all that sawdust is taken to a horse farm.
Taylor produces 38 tons of sawdust a year. The horse farms mix it with manure to create compost.
Next we meet Jeff, who staples leather upholstery onto chairs.
BALDASSARI: He'll put his leather scraps, just like in cutting. We divert all this leather to Montreal, about three tons a year, and it gets made into purses and wallets.
Baldassari says the company makes about $900 a year by selling their leather scraps. That may not sound like much, but they used to have to pay to have it hauled away. Same goes with wood scraps. Most are now sent away to be burned for thermal energy or turned into plywood.
Paper, plastic and cardboard that can't be used for another purpose gets recycled. All this has cut Taylor's trash bill from $20,000 a year to just under a grand.
BALDASSARI: We do not get a Thank-you-for-your-business card each holiday season from our waste hauler. We're probably their worst customer.
Baldassari says 90 percent of Taylor's trash is reused or recycled.
BALDASSARI: I am not a treehugger by any means. But by the same token, I'm a huge, huge fan of sustainability.
And here's why: With all the savings on trash, plus energy efficient machinery, Taylor saves about $100,000 a year.
BALDASSARI: The guys in the factory, if I tell them, Hey, we save $100,000 a year by diverting this waste and saving on energy, they'll think that's three jobs that have been saved. If I talk to people in marketing, they'll say that's $2 million of sales. That's the net profit from $2 million in sales. If I talk to people in accounting, they'll think "Our overhead is less."
That's the direct benefit to the balance sheet. But companies of all sizes find it also makes for good marketing.
SUBARU TV ADVERTISEMENT: There's a place in this country where the air is fresh. Where there's zero landfill. Where nearly everything is recycled.
When a Subaru plant stopped sending trash to a landfill, it ran this TV ad to make sure customers were aware.
SUBARU TV ADVERTISEMENT: Some people call it a little piece of heaven. We call it the Subaru plant here in Indiana.
Roger Saillant heads the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western Reserve University. He says the world's companies can be divided into three categories.
ROGER SAILLANT: Those in absolute denial, and that number is getting smaller. Those that are looking at speaking green and speaking sustainable because they can greenwash and get some benefits from it, but even they are being seduced into taking real action. And, then the people that are courageous enough to be out there, really leading the way.
Saillant says he's never heard of a company not improving the bottom line by reducing its trash.
Jeff Baldassari wants his company to go completely zero waste by 2019. The final frontier? The lunchroom. He wants to compost, but . . .
BALDASSARI: The problem is, if we start composting outside, the critters are going to come around, and the thing about those critters is they all have fleas, and fleas like sawdust, and we don't want to get the fleas into the factory.
Well, he's got nine more years to figure that one out.
In Cleveland, I'm Dan Bobkoff for Marketplace.