25 Jun, Saturday
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Environmental Concerns Driving Manufacturers to Make Changes

Salt Lake City—When considering the dismal state of our state’s air quality, many people are quick to point fingers. Some blame the refineries, some blame traffic, some blame our geography, but the truth is that all of these factors shoulder the blame. The pie is cut thusly: 39 percent of Wasatch Front pollution comes from area pollutants, 48 percent from mobile and 13 percent from point pollutants (like refineries.) For some in the manufacturing community, this can be a sore spot.

On Wednesday morning in the downtown Salt Lake City Holland & Hart offices, a group of eleven manufacturing professionals gathered at the annual Utah Business Manufacturing roundtable to talk about the state of their industry, and what growth areas, opportunities and challenges make up the manufacturing landscape. Environmental concerns, said Joe Wizom, president and CEO of Fetzer, Inc., are at the front of mind for smaller companies.

“One of the challenges as a small business that we run into is that there’s a heightened sensitivity to the environment in the state of Utah. I believe everyone lumps all of manufacturing into the negative end of the spectrum on our effects on the environment,” said Wixom. “It is creating, for us, in the company, a substantial overhead cost to manage and report on something that is so minimal on the grand spectrum of what is effecting the environment in the state of Utah, that it’s a challenge for us.”

While Wixom stressed that nobody in manufacturing is trying to “hide anything behind the curtain,” he said that the current state of environmental sensitivity is difficult when other states are trying to compete with Utah by luring manufacturers away from the state. “It’s hard when you see states that are out there, that are offering a lower tax structure and incentives because they want to diversify their economy. They want to be the next Utah,” he continued. “So they’re going and they’re offering these attractive opportunities in an environment that—I don’t want to say is less sensitive to the environment, per se … We show what we are. The staff and the effort that we have to do to stay in the good graces of the state of Utah and the general public is a challenge. It’s a cost that drives the expense and the cost of the product that we offer to the point where it’s not palatable to the customer.”

The current environmentally conscious climate is driving companies to take a look at their waste and recycling programs, although Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturer’s Association, says that sometimes figuring those programs out is also a difficulty for manufacturers when recycling resources become scarcer, or when recycling facilities close or cannot handle the load. “One of the things that we’re seeing right now is we know all of our companies are doing everything they can to reduce their footprint. I’ll give you one example: many of our facilities are zero-waste facilities. Right now, a lot of our companies are sending recycled material to certain facilities that are along the Wasatch Front—but one of those facilities is about to close down … It’s interesting to see how, as an industry, we’ll deal with that and not have to dump all of that in a landfill,” he said.

Still, for those companies who manage to find a way to become more environmentally friendly, the opportunities to recruit based on that platform are ripe for the taking, said Mark Jenkins, CEO of Petersen, Inc.

“About the workforce side, often we don’t say enough about what our companies are doing environmentally. We don’t say what you’re doing beyond to control your footprint,” he said.

“From a recruiting standpoint, that’s a necessity these days,” continued Dave Frick, VP of Operations for Varex Imaging, who added that, when Varex expanded, they became 100 percent LEED Gold certified, and reduced the amount of power the building was drawing, even down to individual cubicles. “The students coming out of college, use that as a factor in deciding what company they want to work for. Because they do have choices now, and if we’re not doing our part environmentally, that will count against us.”

For Mitch Lord, EVP at Orbit Irrigation, that mentality should become part of a company’s purpose—and having purpose is what makes younger workers want to work for you. While most people think they only spend about 100 gallons of water each time they turn on their sprinklers, Lord says that the real number is more like 2,500 gallons. A new Orbit product helps conserve water instead.

“We have products that leverage technology that allow us to actually become a water conservation company. So it’s not just what we’re doing internally, but also what we’re doing externally with the products we bring to market that can actually make the world a better place,” said Lord. “That’s not only a fun thing to do, but it’s exciting for our team in total, to go from widgets to making great stuff and making the world a better place along the way. The extent to which we can make that happen in our products is a tremendous opportunity and advantage … It strikes me that part of the opportunity for us is to make sure we have purpose. Any generational cohort, especially Millennials, want to be part of something that is good and that has purpose that is bigger than them.”

Bingham moderated the roundtable. Read the entire conversation in the July issue of Utah Business.