By Alex Lawton
When it comes to sustainability, our approach at The C.A. Lawton Co. is to aim high – beyond compliance. Whether you’re talking about recycling materials, energy use or hiring practices, our goal to do what’s best for the environment, our employees and our customers, whether government regulations force us to or not.
Why do we go the extra mile to operate a sustainable company? Because I believe it’s good business.
Initially, every sustainability initiative starts out as a feel-good exercise. These are “nice to haves,” not practices that are essential to our operations. But surprisingly, some of them can evolve into factors that our largest customers include as part of their supplier selection process.
Why? Because they’ve figured out that they can use these practices as bellwethers – indicators that a company operates at a higher level than most. Here’s how their thinking typically goes:
“Lawton is doing a well-documented job of being ahead of the curve in these areas of sustainability. That means they probably have their act together in other key areas that we can’t see.”
I expect this trend to grow in the years ahead: More progressive customers want to do business with suppliers who are mindful of where they’re getting their raw materials, how they’re treating the environment, and the processes and training they have in place to ensure that their employees are committed to these values.
Don’t just say it. Do it and document it.
We capture the progress of our sustainability initiatives in an Environmental Management System, or EMS. It gives us something tangible we can show to current and prospective customers and government agencies. Instead of just saying “We’re committed to this,” we can demonstrate what we‘re actually doing, and show our progress in these key areas. That’s quite valuable!
There’s also a more pragmatic reason that it makes sense to be ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability: If government regulations evolve to the point where they mandate certain practices, we can say we’re already there, ahead of the market.
To help us keep our commitments to sustainability, we employ an auditor who reviews our EMS records on a regular basis. Also, because Lawton belongs to Wisconsin’s Green Tier program, we’re also expected to report our progress to this organization on the ideas we’re pursuing. That forces us to keep the focus on doing, not just pontificating about sustainability.
What are we doing at C.A. Lawton to become more sustainable? Here’s a summary of our recent efforts:
Beneficial re-use of pattern remnants: Instead of sending foam pattern remnants to a landfill, we’re exploring other uses for them.
Re-use of foundry sand: Spent foundry sand can be recycled for road building and other uses. We’re exploring alternatives to disposal, and seeking ways in which we can increase our sand reclamation from 90% to 99%. We want to make it as much of a closed-loop system as possible, so we can minimize the amount of new sand we must buy. That creates a virtuous ripple effect: less sand is mined and fewer chemicals are used to convert it into foundry sand.
Foundry energy use: We’re now working our way through the foundry, one work station at a time, replacing older light fixtures with new high-efficiency units.
Furnace energy use: We recently replaced our furnace doors with models that rise and close faster. That’s helped us to reduce our natural gas use. In addition, we’re exploring ways in which we can re-use the tremendous heat generated by the foundry furnace. Possibilities include using this waste heat to keep our buildings warm and generating electric power from it.
Disposal Day: Our commitment to sustainability extends to our employees and their lives outside of work. We recognize that it’s getting harder for them to recycle electronics, paint and other restricted items. Municipalities don’t want them in landfills any more. So we now hold an annual Disposal Day, where employees can bring these restricted items into work, and we’ll handle the rest. Disposal Day also includes document shredding services.
The next area I want to focus on is diversity and inclusion. Of course, Lawton is compliant with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates. But I want to go beyond what the government requires. I’m now looking for a certification, auditor or government body that can point us in the direction of best practices and more rigorous approaches for hiring people, regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation or background.
Why? Because I’m convinced that greater diversity is good for The C.A. Lawton Co. I’m a big believer in the wisdom of crowds: A greater diversity of people means a greater variety of brains.
The history of The C.A. Lawton Co. is focused on innovation and community. The more inclusive we can make our thinking, the better it will be for the future of the company.