by Melissa DeDondar
Issues concerning worker health and safety have been thrust into the national spotlight recently, following the audit of one of Apple’s key suppliers, the Foxconn manufacturing facility in China. “Because Apple is a leader in the marketplace, many other manufacturers are taking note,” said Philip Katen, president and general manager of Plastikos, Inc. “We’ve seen an increase in surveys from our current customers and prospective customers who want to assess how their overall supply chain is performing in those same areas.”
Plastikos, Inc., an injection molding company in Erie, PA, has no problems meeting and exceeding demands for employee health and safety and environmental stewardship. The company recently announced its fulfillment of the of the ISO 14001:2004 Environmental Management System (EMS) certification requirements. “ISO 14001 certification is a differentiator for us. It solidifies that we are a leader in regard to health and safety, regulatory/legal compliance and environmental stewardship. Both existing and prospective customers can clearly see that they are not at risk when they partner with Plastikos,” Katen said.
In 2009, shortly after the company was named the local Green Company of the Year, Plastikos began its formal efforts to apply for the ISO 14001 certification. The company assessed the certification requirements in each of the three categories. “We were fulfilling the majority of the certification requirements before we formally committed ourselves to the process,” Katen said. “Our gaps were in the formality of the process – the documentation that is required for certification.”
To build the initial groundwork for the formal documentation, an intern pursuing a degree in an environmental science field spent his summer working with an external consultant who specializes in the ISO certification process. This team joined Manufacturing Manager Rob Cooney and other employees who represented various departments across the organization to ensure that all of the company’s bases were covered.
Plastikos took a hard look at its material consumption and its opportunities to reduce internal scrap and waste. Engineering Manager Ryan Katen championed these efforts, and the engineering team developed a proprietary method to reduce material consumption, which was a combination of ideas – many of them small changes – that would reduce raw material consumption, waste and scrap.
“On one order these changes may not add up to a lot, but when you look at them in terms of thousands of orders and hundreds of millions of parts shipped each year, these changes translate into sizeable savings to Plastikos’ bottom line. And, they have a significant impact on the environment in terms of the reduction of raw materials and resources that otherwise would have been consumed,” Philip Katen said.
The company’s other environmental initiatives included converting from hydraulic to electric presses; installing a high-efficiency central compressed air dryer system; replacing inefficient lighting fixtures with high-efficiency T8 ballasts; installing occupancy sensors throughout the building; transitioning from paper to electronic documentation; and initiating a comprehensive paper, plastic, cardboard and aluminum recycling program.
As a result of these efforts, Plastikos saves more than 275,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, which equates to preventing nearly 200 metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. Katen added that being green means more than just reducing a company’s footprint. “More often than not, a well-developed environmental strategy will prove to be beneficial from a manufacturing stand-point, as well as from a company’s cost structure, which in turn, yields many down-stream benefits such as increased quality, efficiency and, ultimately, profitability. This improves the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the organization, which improves the profitability flow to the bottom line,” Katen said.
Both Katen and Cooney caution not to push green efforts too far though. “As a manager, you have to look at each effort and ask yourself whether or not it will make sense for your company. If it does, then you need to carefully assess how far you can take the effort before it no longer yields a positive return,” Katen said.
Although it may seem like a “simple” solution, Cooney cautions against eliminating paper and printing completely. “Paper can help keep people focused throughout a certain process, as opposed to going on electronic autopilot – simply clicking a few buttons and forgetting about what they’re actually doing,” Cooney said.
“It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – you want to find those efficiencies that are just right for your company, while being mindful of what your employees need to do their jobs effectively,” Katen said. Another requirement of ISO 14001 certification is to show evidence of continual improvement. “Once you’ve found your sweet spot, you can focus on maintaining it while looking for new opportunities to further reduce the environmental impact,” Katen said. Plastikos found its sweet spot and has experienced a significant reduction in paper, toner and ink consumption.
ISO 14001 certification is no small feat, which can make it an elusive deterrent for some manufacturers to pursue. Katen and Cooney shared what they believe are three secrets for success: Having leadership who are on board with certification; Having an internal culture with a strong desire for continuous improvement; and Having a facility that has been designed with sustainability in mind.
Katen said that Plastikos is constantly reminded of the importance of ISO 14001 certification through audits from existing customers and sustainability surveys from potential customers on a regular basis. “We’re one step ahead of the game when we can say, ‘Not only can we check off all these boxes that you’re looking for, but we already have our ISO 14001 certification.'” It quickly eliminates most, if not all, of their questions or uncertainty, and has proven to be a differentiator for Plastikos’ Katen concluded.