Environmental Factor

April 2011

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Environmental stewards hold annual meeting at NIEHS

By Eddy Ball
April 2011

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

"Our mission here shares a lot of common ground with the goals of the ESI program," Birnbaum told attendees. "Preserving and protecting the public health is a basic pillar of environmental stewardship and sustainability." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Health and Safety Branch (HSB) Chief Scott Merkle and Trish Castranio

Merkle, center, listened as Birnbaum enumerated the progress NIEHS has made in the area of environmental sustainability. Sitting with him was Trish Castranio, HSB physical scientist and sustainability coordinator. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

N.C. DEAO Director Edythe McKinney and Michael Young

McKinney, left, presented Michael Young with an award for new partner Bridgestone Bandag. Young said he is especially interested in starting a monarch butterfly habitat on land adjacent to the company's facility in Oxford. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Danny Miller

Several rising steward representatives, such as Danny Miller of Fleet Readiness Center East in Cherry Point, discussed the ways reducing waste impacted the bottom line while helping the environment. Retraining painters at the facility, he said, reduced paint usage by 40 percent, saving $80,000 annually. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Continuing a five-year tradition, NIEHS hosted the North Carolina Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) annual meeting March 11 in Robell Auditorium.

Gathered to review the year's accomplishments were companies and organizations from across North Carolina who are committed to improving their environmental performance beyond traditional levels of compliance, while at the same time improving performance, quality, safety, and, ultimately, the financial bottom line. NIEHS has been a member of ESI(http://www.p2pays.org/esi/) Exit NIEHS, which is part of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), since 2005.

The day was filled with inspiring stories from representatives of businesses, governmental agencies, and organizations. But for NIEHS employees, the best came first, with remarks by NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who was the first director to personally welcome attendees at the group's annual meeting. Birnbaum pointed to the Institute's long list of accomplishments in the area of environmental sustainability (see text box) and told her audience, "Public health and environmental health can't be separated."

Birnbaum spoke proudly of the united efforts of NIEHS/NTP employees, as the Institute prepares to apply for the more rigorous status as a Rising Steward, the second highest tier of membership in ESI. She also reinforced a central theme of the N.C. Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach (DEAO) program - that sustaining the environment increases revenue for businesses and resources for governments and nonprofits, while helping create jobs.

Honoring outstanding stewardship efforts

The program began with awards presented by N.C. DEAO Director Edythe McKinney, who facilitated the meeting, standing in for the secretary and assistant secretary of DENR. McKinney thanked NIEHS for its hospitality and said she hoped, "Next year's meeting will be held in our new "green" building [currently under construction in downtown Raleigh]."

As she handed out awards to new and renewing ESI Partners and Rising Stewards, McKinney, a DENR veteran, joked about being "the new kid on this side of the block" in her role as meeting facilitator, and asked winners to briefly describe their environmental management activities. She recognized the following N.C. companies and organizations:

  • Partners - Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions in Oxford, Domtar Paper in Plymouth, Freightliner in Cleveland, the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, and Siemens Healthcare in Cary
  • New Rising Stars - AW North Carolina in Durham, GKN Sinter Metals in Conover, John Deer Turf Care in Fuquay-Varina, and Smithfield Packing in Tarboro

Sharing best practices for going green and lean

As McKinney explained, an equally important part of the annual meetings is the opportunity to share, learn, and network. Attendees heard presentations by representatives of Fleet Readiness Center East, the N.C. Wildlife Federation's Wildlife and Industry Together (WAIT) program, the Corning Optical Fiber Wilmington facility, and Corning Cable Systems Hickory Cable Facility. Stewards, who occupy the highest and most demanding tier of ESI membership, came together for a panel discussion in the afternoon that explored the parallels between more efficient "lean" and more sustainable "green" manufacturing practices.

Presenters shared strategies for reducing water use, waste, and energy that collectively increased profits and resources many millions of dollars by reducing costs of production and operations as they improved their stewardship of the environment. In several cases, integrating environmental, safety, production, and quality concerns in audits required for ISO certifications led to even greater savings as management improved its procedures.

Sustainability programs typically engage employees, encouraging them to become partners in the effort as they are forced to re-examine how to perform their duties more sustainably. Changes in procedure, such as reducing the use of a solvent by half, can result in significant reductions in material and waste disposal expenses, bring environmental benefits, improve quality, and make the workplace a safer place.

Environmental stewardship at NIEHS

Following her introduction by NIEHS Health and Safety Branch (HSB) Chief Scott Merkle who said, "We've never had a director who provided more support and commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability," Birnbaum welcomed ESI members to the Institute. She discussed NIEHS accomplishments and its ambitious plans for the future, as NIEHS strives to become a Rising Steward in the program:

  • Instituting mandatory Environmental Management System training for all employees
  • Diverting nearly 16,000 pounds of waste through composting or recycling nearly 95 percent of cafeteria waste
  • Decreasing water use by some 40 percent since 2007 and increasing use of native plants
  • Upgrading campus lighting fixtures and installing a solar collector, helping to reduce power usage in the Rall building by 25 percent since the late 1990s
  • Becoming the first facility in Research Triangle Park to achieve WAIT certification and continuing efforts to preserve wildlife habitat
  • Winning Green Champion Awards in 2010 for publishing the Institute's first sustainability report and in 2009 for energy and water conservation initiatives at NIEHS facilities

And for future consideration:

  • Installation of charging stations for electric vehicles and increasing the number of electric vehicles in the government fleet
  • Upgrades for outside lighting to reduce power usage even more

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