Green Solutions: Wind Energy Helps One Business Stay True To Its Mission

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By Anne Vazquez Published in the April 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Mark Dobrovolny, director of product supply, Tom's of Maine

Mark Dobrovolny, director of product supply, Tom’s of Maine

Switching to wind energy as the sole source of electricity has been a smooth transition so far for Tom’s of Maine in Sanford, ME. Mark Dobrovolny, director of product supply at the natural personal care products company, took the lead to find an alternative energy choice. What is your position? How many years have you been in facility management? I am the director of product supply in the Tom’s of Maine facility in Sanford, ME. I’ve been in the manufacturing industry for more than 15 years, having held a variety of positions in engineering, plant management, and production management. I have been with Tom’s of Maine for five years. Please give a brief description of the facilities you oversee. Activities here consist of manufacturing, engineering, quality, safety, distribution, warehousing, logistics—the whole supply chain. Our warehousing space is 65,000 square feet; manufacturing occupies 40,000 square feet; and the offices and the quality assurance labs are about 10,000 square feet. When and how did you become interested in environmental issues? It goes back to my childhood. I was raised in Central Europe, and we did things that I didn’t realize were all about sustainability. For example, we collected rainwater to wash clothes and to water the garden. That stayed with me. Also, my background is in chemical engineering. In designing plants and equipment, energy conservation was part of my training. What defines the green philosophy your organization would like to convey? One of the company’s statements of beliefs is to be financially successful while behaving in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. At Tom’s of Maine, we are encouraged to pioneer sustainability and environmental issues in accordance with our stewardship model. We get a lot of support from the executive team. It all goes to Tom Chappell’s [CEO and co-founder] beliefs on the values of sustainability and doing the right things for the environment. We take a holistic approach. Why was the decision made to pursue this project? Our site consumes a lot of energy. Each fiscal year, we create a strategic plan, which maps out three to five years, as well as an operational plan. The decision to switch energy sources was part of the longer term strategy, and in 2005, we made it part of our operational plan. What was the research and decision making process like? We looked at solar energy first, but it became obvious it was not economically feasible at this time. Though there are solar rebates in Maine, they are nowhere near what is given in New Jersey, California, or Massachusetts. So we looked for another option. We have a relationship with Clean Air-Cool Planet, a group that works to combat global warming in the northeastern U.S. The deputy director there, Bob Sheppard, gave me some contacts in the wind energy industry. I contacted a few companies and asked questions on how the energy credits work, the economics and terms of wind energy supply, the services providers can offer, and how to go about choosing a wind farm. What was the vendor selection process like? During this time, the State of Maine had approved a project to construct wind energy mills. However, it wouldn’t be complete for several years. So, while we would have preferred to source the wind energy from a local wind farm, we wanted to see what we could do to source green energy immediately. We partnered with Constellation New Energy, a company located in Boston. We signed up to use 100% wind energy in our facility. Under the deal, we are purchasing renewable energy credits from Constellation. The credits are certified by the Green-e certification program, administered by the Center for Resource Solutions in San Francisco. We are supporting a wind farm in Nebraska. We did a lot of research during the negotiation process, because we wanted to ensure its location had minimal impact on the local environment and community. Using wind energy, we will offset about 1.5 million pounds per year of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of planting 214 acres of trees each year. What was the reaction of upper management? When it got to the point where I felt this was something that made sense for us, I spoke to my boss, Tom O’Brien, chief operating officer. He reviewed the information and then talked to Tom Chappell. They were thrilled. What economic benefits do you expect to reap as a result of this project? The deal was structured with a fixed three-year contract. Right now, our cost is neutral. In other words, we’re paying the same for a kWh when compared to the traditional energy source we were getting (i.e. fossil fuel and/or gas powered plant generators). We believe in the long-term we’ll save money, because traditional contracts for fossil fuel energy and gas energy keep going up. Our electricity pricing has been going up by 20% to 25% almost each quarter for the past year and a half. What were some of the non-economic challenges and highlights of this project? It’s a matter of choosing what you want to do. That’s the challenge. How has the community responded? The Sanford, Maine Chamber of Commerce organizes quarterly meetings with the residents of the industrial park in which we are located. When we got together last fall, I brought up the topic. There was a very warm reception. What did you learn from this project? I thought this would be a difficult thing to do. I was pleasantly surprised to find there are a lot of companies offering many good services. What advice would you offer facility professionals considering green solutions? It is quite simple: Get involved and get into the right network. Establish the contacts. Do your homework. Go visit sites. Then just do it. Questions about this project can be sent to Mark Dobrovolny at [email protected].  

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