The Colgate-Palmolive Manufacturing Facility in New Jersey achieves LEED Zero Waste

The Colgate-Palmolive Manufacturing Facility in New Jersey achieves LEED Zero Waste

Global sustainability goals are achieved in the Garden State

Spring 2020 | Written by Heather Benjamin

One of the most recognizable names in consumer health and personal care products, the Colgate-Palmolive Company, is also one of the most committed to reducing its global environmental footprint.

As part of its global corporate sustainability goals, Colgate strives to design and construct environmentally friendly manufacturing sites, technology centers, warehouses and offices. In fact, the company received a Leadership Award from USGBC at the 2019 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, recognizing its exemplary work in the green building industry.

Large-scale manufacturing operations have a great deal of potential for waste; however, when a company prioritizes saving resources, the achievement of one plant can be replicated across a portfolio.

As the world’s first project to achieve LEED Zero certification in all four categories—carbon, energy, water and waste—the Colgate-Palmolive flavor manufacturing facility in Burlington, New Jersey, shows just how green industry can be.

Left to right: Daniel Fitzpatrick, engineering leader for Colgate; D.J. D’Agostino, LEED AP O+M and TRUE advisor, and Colgate’s environment, health and safety coordinator; Megan Cox, Burlington plant manager.

Partnering to reduce environmental impact

Since 2007, Colgate-Palmolive has been an active USGBC member and is committed to its LEED green building rating system, as well as its TRUE Zero Waste program, to demonstrate its green building goals. Currently a Platinum-level member, the company has achieved LEED certification for 19 of its sites around the world.

The release of USGBC’s LEED Zero certifications aligned with Colgate’s search for ways to demonstrate its net zero sustainability goals and encompass “all four of the major environmental impact pillars,” explains D.J. D’Agostino, LEED AP O+M and TRUE advisor, and Colgate’s environment, health and safety coordinator for the Burlington facility for the past two years.

“The team struggled to find one entity that had a credible process to both validate and certify our internal net zero aspirations in each category,” says D’Agostino. “The search came to an end once we heard of the LEED Zero program being announced at the 2018 Greenbuild in Chicago. LEED Zero certification was a no-brainer for the team, in that we found a trusted, well-established third party with a net zero certification.”

Achieving employee buy-in to meet zero waste standards

A major part of this achievement was related to the facility’s work to minimize waste. LEED Zero Waste is earned by meeting the requirements of Platinum-level TRUE Zero Waste certification. TRUE is GBCI’s certification program for projects with the goal to divert all solid waste from landfills, incineration (waste-to-energy) and the environment. Currently, 30% of Colgate-Palmolive’s manufacturing facilities are certified with TRUE Zero Waste: 16 sites across eight countries.

“Achieving net zero waste at the Burlington site meant implementing many new practices that required employees to change their current mindset about waste,” says D’Agostino.

Over a two-year period, starting in 2017, he says, the facility ramped up processes for the “Five Rs” (redesign, reduce, reuse, re-earth, and recycle), and they found that some staff were quicker to adopt new practices than others. To improve engagement, a committee was formed, including team members from all levels of the organization.

“Within weeks of forming, the impact of the committee became obvious,” recalls D’Agostino. “Through small ‘wins’ such as new recycling bin locations and reduced collection points, the team was able to implement novel ideas, like use of reusable industrial rubber bands for shipping instead of conventional (disposable) plastic straps.” This helped take the program further.

More and more examples of these small wins helped the site team to envision bigger process changes with bigger impact. Thanks to this momentum, a vendor was identified who was able to reuse and recycle scrap or otherwise unusable mint oils, which would otherwise need to go for special waste processing. Additionally, the team relaunched the best practice of reusing certain empty raw material drums for use with compatible finished flavor products. Combined, both initiatives diverted an additional 100,000 pounds of material and generated close to the same amount in savings for the facility in just the fourth quarter of 2019 alone.

During this period, the facility continued to improve its waste-to-landfill diversion rate. Engaging the whole team, the plant focused efforts on a trash-to-treasure dumpster dive and converted Earth Day 2019 into a weeklong series of events centered around TRUE Zero Waste. Other strategies included on-site food waste composting, e-waste recycling drives, and reusable water bottles and coffee mugs.

The TRUE Platinum certification, along with other waste data, was submitted to USGBC, allowing the facility to then achieve LEED Zero Waste certification.

With more than 34,000 employees and over 40 manufacturing locations worldwide, implementing companywide goals is always a challenge. However, D’Agostino finds that the company’s will to achieve these goals consistently helps each individual location learn from the strategies and successes of the last.

“By committing as a corporation to reducing our overall waste and adopting those same guidelines, we have created a global community to share best practices and ideas that work for our unique waste challenges,” he says.

Left: Recycling bins. Right: Colgate-Palmolive’s Burlington, New Jersey team boasts the first site in the world to achieve LEED Zero certification in these four categories: carbon, energy, water and waste.

Starting from anywhere to get to zero

D’Agostino encourages manufacturers looking to explore LEED Zero Waste to just jump into the process.

“The best time to start is today,” he says. “Get the ball rolling by starting a ‘green team,’ and be prepared to get employees engaged. It may surprise you how much excitement you can generate and how many employees you get to volunteer, even if your site’s zero waste journey is just beginning.”

Far from being a pie-in-the-sky goal, he says, “LEED Zero for waste, as well as water, energy and carbon, is truly doable and can really help to accelerate your team to achieve sustainability goals you may have once thought impossible.”

Continually raising the standard for sustainability

LEED Zero certification is one manifestation of Colgate’s 2020 Sustainability Strategy, which mandates cutting in half the amount of manufacturing waste sent to landfill per ton of product, compared to 2010. As of the end of 2019, the company has already surpassed this goal, reducing waste-to-landfill by an estimated 53%.

In other commitments, the company will convert to 100% recyclable packaging by 2025, to fulfill a pledge made in support of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Also, the first recyclable toothpaste tube recently debuted in the marketplace under the Colgate Smile for Good brand in Europe and the Tom’s of Maine brand in the U.S. To further its efforts, Colgate is sharing its technology with the industry, including competitors, to encourage the widespread adoption of recyclable tubes.

In 2019, Colgate appeared on several publications’ lists of the most sustainable U.S. companies, and it was honored as a 2020 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year—Sustained Excellence.

By reducing waste at every level and gaining employee buy-in, the Burlington facility is just one representation of Colgate’s companywide commitment to a future of zero waste—one in which the items we all need for our daily lives can be made without widening our environmental footprint.

“I am very proud to achieve the certification,” says Megan Cox, the Burlington Plant Manager, “but I was even more impressed by the team’s commitment to continuous improvement, a key Colgate value.”

The site reached the 90% diversion mark, meeting the certification’s minimum requirements, and didn’t stop there. “By the end of 2019, we nearly hit our aggressive goal of 98% waste to landfill diversion, a 3% improvement from the year prior,” says Cox. “Certification has not stopped our efforts either—now that we have built this culture of sustainability, we continue to do what we can as a site to limit our impact on the environment.”

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