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UTC Aerospace Systems in Colorado Springs is partnering with the local food bank to turn manufacturing waste into meals for those in need.
The purpose of our visit to UTC Aerospace Systems’ location in Colorado Springs was to learn about how this site, one of over 140 locations within UTC Aerospace Systems, was able to turn their recyclables into food for the local community, all while reducing the cost of disposal, which is a triple win for the company, the food bank, and those in need of a meal within the community.
It was a true pleasure to be able to listen to Theresa speak about both the project and the project’s impact on providing over 4,000 meals per month to those within our community in need. Theresa also outlined that the core mission of the Care and Share Food Bank is to provide food, partnering opportunities, and education to combat hunger and food insecurity in Southern Colorado communities. Their long-term goal is to put an end to hunger in Southern Colorado. And the fact that the Care and Share organization has been pursuing their mission for close to fifty years means they are a very credible partner. To supplement the support that Care and Share receives from corporate sponsors, individual donors, and foundations, Care and Share saw an opportunity to incorporate recyclable donations that could then be used to generate funds for the food bank. This program is titled Goal Zero Recycling, which helps Care and Share achieve their triple bottom line of People, Planet, Profit.
Our site visit started with a factory tour. UTC Aerospace Systems is one of the world’s largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products. They design, manufacture and service systems and components and provide integrated solutions for commercial, regional, business and military aircraft, helicopters and other platforms. The Colorado Springs site manufactures pilot, copilot and cabin attendant seats for commercial aircraft, as well as ejection seats for the fighter jets. Annual revenue of ~$200M is achieved through a workforce of 400+ employees. Eric works at the facility, but Mitch and Andy were pretty astonished by the size of the UTC operation in Colorado Springs. In their current partnership with Goal Zero (who works under the auspice of Care and Share), UTC separates their recycling material that includes plastic, wood pallets, and cardboard and places these products in collection bins provided by Goal Zero. Goal Zero then collects and sorts these materials before finding a buyer for these recyclables. The following picture shows the bins in which materials are collected by Goal Zero for recycling.
All waste going to Goal Zero is placed in these and one other container not pictured. It was apparent to us that for such a large facility like UTC, the operation could expand from its current size. Once the recyclables are sold, all profits are transferred to the Care and Share Food Bank which then turns these recycling profits into meals for needy families within our Southern Colorado community.
UTC Aerospace Systems is passionate about sound environmental and sustainability practices, which is evident not just here at the Colorado Springs site, but all the way up through United Technologies Corporation, UTC Aerospace Systems’ parent corporation. One of the key commitments that UTC flow down to all of its sites is “Responsibility: Successful businesses improve the human condition. We maintain the highest ethical, environmental and safety standards everywhere and we encourage and celebrate our employees’ active roles in their communities.” Theresa emphasized that even though the company is a global operation, “UTC wants to invest in programs for the community at a local level, not just a corporate one”. That is, UTC believes it should have a strong relationship with and contribute to the well-being of the cities in which it operates. To constantly improve upon these practices, UTC adopts sustainability goals in 5 year increments. Right now, the company is in the middle of its current goal cycle, which spans from 2015 to 2020. While the company has several different goals for the reduction of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and more, the current recycling goal is to increase production line recycling to 90% by 2020. As a result of this corporation-wide initiative, Theresa was looking for a way to increase the effectiveness of the recycling program at the Colorado Springs location in order to achieve the site level goals.
The idea to use Goal Zero first came up when Theresa was working at the local food bank. The supervisor there mentioned a new program to begin collecting recyclables to further their mission of feeding those in need. This seemed like a perfect fit for something that UTC Aerospace Systems could get involved with as it could demonstrate how local UTC employees are tuned in to efforts within the local community. Partnering with Goal Zero was an easy move; there was a clear benefit to all stakeholders involved with UTC first implementing the Goal Zero initiative in April of 2017. Even though this means that Goal Zero has been in operation for only a short period of time, many positive outcomes are already being realized.
By switching to Goal Zero, UTC Aerospace has experienced a significant cost reduction in its waste management practices. Theresa provided us with a cost saving spreadsheet that compared the costs of waste management from before and after switching to the Goal Zero program. By emphasizing more on recycling and diverting more waste from the trash service, the company has saved approximately $9,344 per month through this program. Clearly, the innovation in recycling has benefited the bottom line of the company. Furthermore, these cost savings illustrate that the company has significantly improved its waste streams to keep materials from ending up in a landfill. Therefore, the company is saving money and also working towards achieving its sustainability goals.
The UTC-Goal Zero partnership also has a clear impact on society. Arguably, the impact is twofold. First of all, Goal Zero has everyone at UTC Aerospace Systems thinking more sustainably. Many waste bins throughout the facility have displays that encourage employees to recycle, and educate them on what can be recycled. The main bulletin board in the facility also contains a panel on recycling and helps to inform the workers of what should and should not be recycled. While we do not have any specific data for this concept, the employees at UTC are learning recycling techniques that they can then apply outside of the company. Second, and more importantly, Goal Zero provides meals for the hungry in southern Colorado. Since the program’s inception at UTC Aerospace, 12,762 meals have been provided in just a few short months through the materials recycled there. The following chart depicts how much material has been recycled and how many meals have been provided in the months since the program began.
While great progress has already been made by the UTC Aerospace Systems suite in Colorado Springs in implementing Goal Zero, the scalability potential is huge. As we took a tour of the facility, Theresa showed us multiple waste streams that could be part of the recycling process but are not currently included. “At the moment, the employees of Goal Zero number only two and cannot yet fully handle the large amount of waste produced by our company.” said Theresa. Goal Zero is beginning to accept some new materials including paper, aluminum cans, and PET 1&2 plastics. The more recycling it can handle, the more meals Goal Zero can provide for the hungry. It is evident that this initiative is only in its infancy, and in the long term it could have some impressive impacts on the environment and ending hunger.
The business benefit of the Goal Zero recycling program at UTC Aerospace Systems is one of cost avoidance. On a monthly basis, UTC Aerospace Systems spends ~$1,800 less on their plastics recycling services, and ~$7,500 less on pallet recycling. Year-to-date, cost savings with Goal Zero has reach over $46, 000, and has the potential to be closer to $112,000 over a full calendar year.
The environmental benefit of the Goal Zero recycling program at UTC Aerospace Systems is obvious as it diverts items that may be destined for a landfill to a recycling program resulting in lower carbon emissions. On a societal level, these recyclables are converted into meal donations and distributed locally to Southern Colorado families.
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Theresa Rigney, EH&S Generalist