Dordan’s Story to Sustainability…any takers?

July 8, 2010

Greetings!

I know I said I was going to have a juicy email for you today about all things composting BUT I just got done with Dodan’s “Story to Sustainability,” which I wish to share with you. I intend on submitting it to some of my colleagues in the publishing world to see if it would resonate with their readers/subscribers; if so, perhaps we could get some coverage. Let’s say HURRAY for free press!

Granted it is a little cheesy and I definitely tout my own horn a bit, I think it still helps to convey our understanding of sustainability, which sets us aside from our competition.

The part that gets good is after the “this brings us up to present day” section because it discusses how “sustainability” for us is an ever-evolving concept that draws on much more than marketing claims but an integrated approach to a constructed ethos. Sounds heady, huh?

Enjoy!

Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc.

Our Story to Sustainability

Dordan Bio:

Dordan Mfg. is a Midwestern based, National supplier of custom thermoformed packaging solutions such as clamshells, blisters, trays and components. Family owned and operated since 1962, Dordan Mfg. prides itself on being “the total package:” From our extremely sophisticated engineering and tooling capabilities to our punctual production and superb customer service, Dordan Mfg. is a one-stop-shop for high-quality custom thermoformed packaging.

Description of Dordan’s approach to sustainability, prior to 2009:

 Dordan has always been economically—and therefore conveniently environmentally—“sustainable” by recycling our industrial scrap and implementing energy-saving techniques. Below is a list of our internal sustainability efforts prior to 2009:

  • We have replaced the 88 Metal Halide light fixtures in our factory that each used 455 watts of electricity, with 88 Fluorescent fixtures that each use 176 watts, for a total electrical savings of 150,250 kilowatt-hours per year. This represents a reduction of approximately 150 tons of CO2 per year being released into the atmosphere.
  •  All of our internal scrap plastic is returned to the manufacturers of plastic sheet and rolls to be recycled and remanufactured as usable plastic sheets or rolls. Our PVC scrap is currently sold to a manufacturer that reuses it to make RPVC, which often times is remanufactured into PVC piping, siding, and deck products.
  •  All of our scrap aluminum is collected internally and sold to a metal scrap buyer; this material often times is remanufactured into new products.
  •  We use pressed wood pallets in addition to traditional wood pallets. Our pressed wood pallets are made in the USA of pre- and post- consumer wood waste; they are cradle to cradle certified as sustainable; and, considered source reducing insofar as pressed wood pallets weigh 50% less than traditional wood pallets and because they nest during shipment and storage they also require 50% less space. This translates into roughly a 50% reduction in the number of trucks needed to transport our skids to us. A 50% reduction in trucks results in a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions.

 Dordan also performed an analysis of the materials we use to help quantify the above statements. While this analysis was performed several years ago during the height of the economic boom and therefore production, we believe they help contextualize our internal materials management for sustainability. Consider the following:

  • Dordan has purchased 3 million lbs. of reprocessed plastic from our suppliers within the last 12 months; that is nearly 75 full truck loads.
  • Dordan sends out 1.3 million lbs. of plastic scrap annually to be recycled, which equates to 25,000 lbs. per week.
  • Dordan has purchased nearly 2 million lbs. of cartons with 30%-50% recycled content; that’s almost 1,000,000 lbs. of purely recycled corrugated.
  • Dordan has purchased nearly 70,000 lbs. of 100% recycled pressed wood pallets and has sent out almost 100,000 lbs. of scrap pallets to be recycled. Combined, that is more than 4 truck loads of 100% recycled wood.
  • Dordan has purchased over 11 tons of aluminum that has a recycled content of 70%-90%. In addition, we have recycled almost 10,000 lbs. of scrap aluminum.
  • Dordan has recycled 250 gallons of petroleum products.

Dordan’s Story to Sustainability:

While Dordan has always been economically and therefore environmentally sustainable with its post-industrial materials and energy use, it wasn’t until about a year ago when Dordan’s understanding of the “sustainability movement” transformed, resulting in a much more aggressive sustainability platform. For the first time since its incorporation in 1962, Dordan was being asked questions that it didn’t know the answers to; questions not about thermoforming, engineering or polymers, but questions about the environment, greenhouse gases, and fossil fuel consumption. Because Dordan had always been very successful at doing what it does best—thermoforming—it never honestly accessed the sustainability movement and its place therein…until now.

This time coincided with the CEO’s youngest daughter, Chandler Slavin, graduating from DePaul University with a degree in Ethics and Social Justice. Beginning as a consultant for Dordan, Chandler utilized her research skills to put together a plastics and the environment 101, per se, to orient Dordan employees about the environmental benefits and drawbacks of plastic packaging. Little did she or Dordan know, however, that this research compilation would be just the tip of the iceberg on all things sustainable.

Chandler’s consultancy quickly turned into a full-time job when Dordan’s CEO realized that this “green movement” wasn’t a fad; it was here to stay. While CEO Daniel Slavin should never be considered a cynic of the green movement, his reluctance to jump on the green bandwagon was a result of his history: it wasn’t the first time that packaging—specifically plastic packaging—had been targeted by environmentalists for its perceived environmental inadequacies. Therefore, Daniel assumed he would continue to do what he does best—good business—and let the green movement nestle within its specific niches.  To his surprise, however, the green movement began to have a much more active role in business decisions—even his business decisions—and Daniel decided it was in his and his company’s interest to honestly access this new phenomenon.

Chandler was appointed Dordan’s Sustainability Coordinator in September of 2009 with the task of trying to uncover the truth about plastic and sustainability. While Daniel was aware that he ran a plastics manufacturing company, he never let that trump the direction of Chandler’s research; he encouraged honestly, transparency, and attention to detail. Luckily, his ethics of good business paralleled his approach to sustainability: honesty and integrity before all else.

While trying to uncover the truth about plastic and sustainability, Chandler went to her first business conference in Atlanta: the Sustainable Packaging Coalition was hosting their fall, members-only meeting. While there, Chandler had a crash course with packaging and sustainability: though most of the member companies had been in the world of sustainability for a while, Dordan was very new and therefore had a lot of catching up to do. Suddenly Chandler was bombarded with terms like life cycle analysis, waste management, biodegradability, cradle to gate, and many others. In this new and very focused world, Chandler knew Dordan had to rise to the challenge; otherwise, it may compromise the reputation that it took almost 50 years to cultivate; that is, one of excellence, expertise, and good works. 

While at the SPC conference, Chandler learned that thermoformed packaging, along with most packaging materials, usually ends up in landfill. Outraged that her family’s pride and joy wasn’t being recycled, Chandler, with the support of Dordan, took it upon herself to discover: (1) why thermoformed packaging was not accepted for recycling in most American communities; (2) how thermoformed packaging can be integrated into the existing recycling infrastructure. Armed with nothing more than a recent graduate’s altruism and idealism, Chandler took to the books, to uncover the complexities of recycling in America.

These efforts and others are discussed in our blog, recyclablepackaging.org, which narrates our day-by-day attempts to recycle thermoformed packaging. The most notable discovery prior to 2010 was that our RPET packages, which are certified as having a minimum 70% post industrial/consumer content, moved through the optical sorting device at a recycling plant just like PET bottles. In other words, there was no “optical” difference between our RPET packages and the bottle-grade PET; therefore, the reason why thermoformed packaging is not recycled has nothing to do with the inability or ability to sort the resins; it is because of good old economics of supply and demand, sprinkled with the need for technology and investment.

After this discovery, our clamshell recycling initiative came to a stand still. Most municipal contacts articulated that our approach to recycling thermoformed packaging, that is, incorporating RPET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, was technically impossible due to different IVs between bottle-grade PET and thermo-grade, different melting temps, densities, etc. Receiving contradicting information from different contacts, Chandler had no idea if Dordan’s approach to recycling thermoforms was valid or not.

It was not until the early spring of 2010 that Dordan’s clamshell recycling initiative finally got some attention. Recyclablepackaging.org caught the eye of Walmart-Canada’s Sustainable Packaging Coordinator, who was coincidently in the process of managing a Committee looking to achieve zero-waste for several hard to place materials, thermoform-grade PET being one of them. Because of my assumed expertise on recycling PET, I was invited to participate in the second meeting of Walmart-Canada’s Material Optimization Committee.

Unlike in the States, Canada has some product stewardship legislation on the books, which requires producers/brand owners/first importers to finance the management of their products’ waste/packaging waste post-consumer. This, consequentially, facilitates collaboration between industry and municipality, thereby resulting in constantly improving diversion rates. Because Canada has a much more sophisticated waste management system than in the States, Dordan was really excited to be able to work with a Committee that very well may be able to find a way to economically recover thermoformed packaging post-consumer.

A month after returning from the MOC meeting, Chandler was invited to be the co-lead of the PET Subcommittee. By working with stakeholders throughout the supply chain, this Committee looks to incorporate RPET/PET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure. By focusing on the development of local markets and possibly, limiting the amount of PET recyclate that leaves the country, zero-waste for PET packaging post-consumer, bottle grade and thermo-grade, may actually become a reality.

After spending a considerable amount of time and money researching issues pertaining to packaging and sustainability, Dordan decided to switch its focus. While previously all the work on sustainability had been from a macro-level, Dordan now wished to address sustainability issues from a micro-level. What this means is that the first 6 months of Chandler’s employment was dedicated mostly to trying to understand “sustainability.” The next 6 months, therefore, would now be focused on Dordan and its place within this ambiguous concept.

And this brings us up to present day: just last week Dordan’s CEO announced his new sustainability project; that is, zero-waste. With the hopes of diverting all Dordans’ waste from landfill, this initiative is multi-faceted and draws upon contemporary constructions of sustainability—the economic, social, and environmental.

The economic dimension of our approach to sustainability is quiet self-explanatory: Stay in business and continue to provide jobs and benefits to our employees.

The environmental dimension of our approach to sustainability, while introduced above, now becomes more focused. While recycling thermoforms will always be a goal at Dordan as will staying well-versed in issues pertaining to sustainability and packaging, we now wish to improve our facilities “carbon footprint.” While our action plan to achieve zero-waste has yet to be finalized, we intend on doing the following:

  • Purchasing a composter for Dordan’s food and yard waste. By being able to compost Dordan’s organic waste, we will be one step closer to achieving our goal of zero waste;
  • Working with Dordan suppliers and third-parties to find a home for all our post-industrial material;
  • Working with third-parties to find a home for all our office waste.

And lastly, the social dimension of our approach to sustainability, which is unique in its conception, can be described as follows:

Dordan is donating the use of a portion of the land that its plant sits upon to a local woman who specializes in horticulture and provides fresh organics to local restaurants and farm markets. While previously she was able to grow her produce on a farm provided to her, said opportunity may not be available for the summer of 2011. Without having a piece of land to grow her crops upon, she would be unable to provide for herself and her family, and the local restaurants and markets she provides her food to would have to look to another, non-local supplier. Because Woodstock is a very environmentally-conscious community, the idea of shipping in fresh produce from an unknown location would not resonate with the demographic. “Locavores” is the term ascribed to those conscientious consumers who try to buy produce grown within 100 miles of their residence; in doing so, they work to counter the contemporary globalization of the food supply, which has serious consequences for the environment, our health and our community. By providing this woman with land upon which to grow organics for the community, Dordan feels as though it has a place within the social sustainability component of our understanding of “sustainability.”

Lastly, Dordan’s Sustainability Coordinator is working with the Superintendent of the Woodstock School District in the organization of a presentation about recycling. While previously such education was the responsibility of an outside party, funding for such education has been cut; consequentially, Woodstock students are not learning about recycling. Because Dordan believes that the best way to increase recovery rates for materials post-consumer is education, we are excited about our grassroots approach to waste management.

Dordan looks forward to reaching its goal of zero waste and working with and in our community. By doing our part, we believe that “sustainability” is not so much about one material versus another or one approach versus another but about cultivating an ethos; one that takes into account the role that sustainability plays in society and our role therein.

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