Videotaping a corporate sustainability initiative

Some call it “work,” but we call it “education.” We are privileged to produce videos for a wide variety of corporations. Our team members have labels like “producer,” “director of photography” and “editor,” but our real jobs are to ask, learn, record, and convey. And with each new job, our base of knowledge has the opportunity to expand slightly wider.

Occasionally we encounter a project so awe-inspiring that we dive in as if we were producing a full-blown documentary. That is what happened last week when we videotaped at the facilities in Illinois, Michigan, and Utah of zero-waste flooring company Connor Sport Court, a portfolio company of our private equity client The Riverside Company.

The Connor division of CSC produces wooden gym floors – the kind that cover the courts of the NCAAs, college campuses, and even some pro arenas. Sport Court makes those plastic tiles with the little holes through which rain drains; they are used in outdoor yards to create surfaces for all kinds of purposes.

The amount of sawdust emitted in the process of cutting the wood at the Connor factory in Michigan is more numerous than sand on the beach, so a number of years ago Connor came up with a creative idea: Why not use the particle “waste” to heat the factory? It gets cold up there in the Upper Peninsula, but for Connor, the winter heating bills do not pose an issue: the company’s fuel is made internally, and they achieve additional savings by virtually eliminating waste companies (and landfills) from their list of service providers. And there is more to the Connor story: The amount of sawdust produced annually actually exceeds – by a long shot – the amount the corporation needs to heat its facility, so they compress the excess and sell it to other companies that use it –sometimes for the same heating purposes exemplified by Connor and in other instances as particle board fill in furniture production. In other words, they have found an additional and lucrative stream of income from their product’s “waste.” Green, yes, but even for the unconverted, it is hard to argue with increased profitability.

Then there is the Sport Court division. It’s counterintuitive that a corporation in the business of producing plastic tiles would be designated “zero waste,” but that’s a reality for this Salt Lake City-based entity.  Just a few years ago on their back lot, which sits under the shadow of Utah’s snow-covered ski mountains, was a smaller hill composed of plastic. The company called it “Mt. Regrind,” and it consisted of the unused tiles in the production process – the ones with off-colors or mechanical errors or product returned from buyers for one reason or another. Mt. Regrind wasn’t ski-able, but it had enough height to be picked up in a Google aerial map image.

And then the creative idea people stepped in. Once again, they found ways of reusing the waste. They bought a grinding machine and chopped the tiles into fine particles, some of which they utilized in the manufacture of specialty tile products. Other pieces were used to create an element of the subfloor for Connor wooden courts; this new product combining Connor and Sport Court strengths earned the honorable title of “Green Play.”

Moreover, once the company demonstrated that its waste had reusable value, other companies were incentivized to purchase it and make “green” products. So like its sibling corporation, Sport Court saved money by eliminating waste carters and reducing the purchase of raw materials, and it earned additional revenue streams by selling its leftover waste to other manufacturers.

When a corporate sustainability study was conducted of CSC, these measures that the company had already undertaken put it in the 2.5 percent waste category. From there it was relatively easy to go below one percent – officially qualifying it as “zero waste” — and the corporation accomplished that goal by engaging its employees’ ideas regarding recycling and related measures.

At Voices & Visions we are about to begin the final phases of a three-minute video about CSC’s corporate sustainability program. The production is intended to be informational, addressed to a crowd of viewers interested in the topic. We know it will also be inspirational, not only as a reflection of the impact of its story, but also because our “producer,” “editor” and other team members will not be able to avoid infusing the constructive spirit of this company’s endeavors into the post-production process.

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