By Paal Gisholt, CEO
Happy Earth Day, SmartPakers!
I wanted to take this day, when we should all be thinking about ways we can minimize our environmental footprint, to share some of the things we have been working on to reduce SmartPak’s impact on the environment.
Since our early days, we have been mindful of “treading lightly on the earth.” But when several of us saw Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, we shifted gears from simply being mindful of environmental issues to making it a serious priority where we would spend significant time and investment capital.
To keep the pressure on ourselves to keep making improvements, I am going to need your help. I will be soliciting ideas from each of you to identify ways we can reduce our collective environmental impact. And as part of this effort, I commit to each of you that we will implement every feasible idea as soon as we can.
Some of you may be aware of some of the projects we have been working on this past year, but I wanted to share the full list with each of you so you can feel the same pride in our accomplishments that I do!
- The blister material we use is 100% recycled PET (35% post consumer). So unlike the virgin plastic used in buckets, SmartPaks are already on their second life.
- We chose PET, despite its being more expensive than other plastics, for three reasons: 1) it has the best oxygen and moisture barrier properties (that’s why it’s used for soda), 2) as Category 1 plastic, PET is the most widely and successfully recycled plastic in the US (could be your fleece jacket and the carpeting in your home both contain recycled PET), and 3) other plastics like PVC, while cheaper, utilize Chlorine (PVC stands for Poly Vinyl Chloride).
- We use new high-precision blister forming equipment that has enabled us to form a strong blister while reducing the thickness of the SmartPak blisters from 30 mil to 21 mil plastic, a 30% reduction. This means that we often use less total plastic to put a product in SmartPaks than one packed in those heavy white buckets.
- We replaced the cardboard shipping box (which was prone to tearing) with an ultrathin shrink wrap. This change reduces the amount of packaging by over 85% on average.
- We recently changed the shape of the SmartPaks to make them easier to recycle. We altered the shape ever-so-slightly so that the new SmartPaks stack twice as densely as before. This means that our customers can take half as many trips to the recycling center. Thank you for recycling your SmartPaks!
- We recycled over 150 tons of materials last year including: paper, cardboard, plastic buckets, metal drums, shrinkwrap, aluminum/glass/plastic.
- All our cardboard shipper boxes are made from certified recycled cardboard.
- Most of the product sold in the equine industry (including that sold by tack shops) moves around in cardboard boxes. Rather than breaking those boxes down for recycling or throwing them away, we re-use those boxes to ship product to customers. This does take extra effort. But it’s right for the planet and helps us to keep prices/shipping low.
- We use “master shippers” to place multiple SmartPaks in a single larger shipper box, rather than putting each SmartPak in its own box. This saves cardboard, is more efficient to ship, and is easier on barn managers. We recently expanded the size of the largest shipper box to be even more efficient.
- We have custom-sized shipping boxes made to our specifications that fit the SmartPaks so tightly that we do not need to use void fill (peanuts/air filled bags that can’t be recycled) to protect SmartPaks. This conserves materials, and it also ensures that the package takes up as little space in the UPS truck as possible, conserving fuel. (Buckets, on the other hand, come in so many sizes that it is tough to get a precise fit, and often must be shipped with lots of void fill and/or separately from other items.)
- Because of the difficulty of operating a continuity shipping system for SmartPaks with a traditional catalog, we sometimes split orders that could have been shipped in one box into two or more boxes. We’ve re-engineered our fulfillment system to address this problem, and we’ve eliminated a majority of the times this occurs.
Lighting and Electrical Conservation
- We have replaced older warehouse lighting with modern, efficient lighting (and we got this partially funded by the power company).
- We have installed occupancy sensors in all private offices, bathrooms, and conference rooms.
- We have or are installing windows and skylights to increase the amount of natural light. In some rooms, we don’t even turn the lights on except in evenings in winter.
- We have removed incandescent lighting, which is an energy hog.
- We operate our heavy industrial machines off 480 volt power, which is more efficient than 208.
- We have replaced old fashioned computer monitors with flat panel displays, which use much less power and generates less heat.
- We learned that our main printer (the one named Seattle Slew) is far more energy efficient (and more economical) than desktop printers, so we direct major print jobs that way (and print double sided where possible).
Heating and Cooling
- We’ve purchased energy saving software to turn our AC and heat on/off at exactly the right time of day to get the office to a comfortable temperature (starting earlier on very hot or cold days and just in time on milder days).
- We allow a wider range of acceptable temperatures in the office than we did previously (we operate at +/-2 degrees). This causes the heat or A/C to kick on less often and run longer, which is more efficient. It also prevents the heat system from fighting the cooling system.
- To reduce air conditioning load, we cover our skylights in the summer, and draw the blinds on very hot days.
- We use a hyper-efficient evaporative cooling system to cool the building when the air is dry enough to permit its use.
- We use outside air for cooling needs when the temperature is cold enough.
- To help reduce the cooling load in the summer, we’ve worked to reduce incidental heat generation in our office and facilities. We don’t have any incandescent lights in the whole facility (fluorescent bulbs burn much cooler). We have replaced most of our CRT style computer monitors with cool running, energy efficient flat panels. And we have reduced the number of heat sealing machines (which generate a lot of heat) from 4 down to 1 hyper-fast machine.
- In conjunction with a current facility expansion, we are installing a heat exchanger system to recapture otherwise lost heat/air conditioning as we draw fresh air into the facility.
- The Barn Saver Shipping program contributes to significant fuel savings. When the UPS driver drops off 10 packages in that one stop, that half mile of travel by UPS compares to 20 individual trips to the tack store in 20 vehicles. If the tack store is 10 miles away, on average, that’s 400 miles of round trip driving vs. the half mile traveled by the UPS driver.
- We take delivery of most of our supplements in large, reusable bulk totes. This saves fuel in two ways. The bulk totes often can accommodate up to 2X as much product per pallet, helping to place fewer trucks on the road. We also avoid shipping around a lot of heavy white plastic tubs whenever we buy in bulk (many buckets weigh more than a pound).
- Our supply chain is very efficient compared to most of our competitors. We buy in large quantities—full pallets if not full truckloads shipped point to point. By shipping full pallets, and full trucks, we avoid the inefficiencies, waste, and poorly “cubed” trucks associated with piecemeal supply.
- With over 200 people coming to work at SmartPak each day, the energy used in commuting is significant. We already have quite a number of people from our production team commuting together in vans, and we are looking at ways to encourage and incentivize the rest of our team to do more commuting together.
- We’ve used Quad Graphics as our printer for the past eight years, and we are proud of that association. We chose Quad in part based on their excellent environmental track record. Quad was the first printer to use soy based inks. They have strong energy conservation and environmental policies. They charge a little more, but we feel good about using the same printers used by many of the country’s top environmental groups.
- We use a smaller version of our catalog (about 70 pages) that contains only best sellers that we mail to prospects. This saves a great deal of paper compared to our competitors, most of whom circulate a book with over twice as many pages.
- We work to minimize the number of catalogs that go to homes that are not interested by using sophisticated targeting techniques. We also maintain a “do not mail” file to eliminate catalogs going to homes of people who’ve requested that we not contact them.
- Because we have so many customers who use our website for most of their ordering, we circulate our catalogs on a less frequent cycle than many of our competitors (yes, we track these things).
- We are adding functionality to our shipping system that will allow us to see if we have inserted a catalog in a recent order so that we avoid sending two catalogs in close proximity. This is both annoying to our best customers and it wastes resources and money. This is hard to implement and will likely never be perfect, but we are working to get it as close as we can.
- Our main office printer is set to print double sided as the default.
- We have moved most of our processes to paperless systems. All customer orders other than fax orders and prescriptions are processed with paperless systems. We recently put our purchase order system over to a paperless fax board system.
- We use email for all interoffice correspondence – no memos.
- We have an aggressive recycling program in the office: we separate all recyclables into paper, glass, plastic, and garbage.
So Happy Earth Day, SmartPak customers!