Green Solutions: Tragedy Results In Success

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By Heidi Schwartz

Published in the March 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Buddy Harmon, vice president of engineering for LaGrange, GA-based Milliken Carpet has lived through many fascinating experiences during his 44 years in the facility management profession. But when the company’s Live Oak plant burned in 1995, Harmon learned even more about the connection between life safety and environmental sensitivity.

How did the Live Oak project define the green philosophy your company would like to convey?
Our Live Oak plant in LaGrange, GA burned approximately 10 years ago. [For more on this story, contact[email protected] and request a copy of “Rising From Ashes,” October 1995, page 1.] This fire brought out the best in Milliken in many ways. Our safety program was excellent, and on that winter day, the training and attention to detail paid off. All personnel were evacuated from the building and accounted for in less than 15 minutes. There were no injuries even during the firefighting and control.

During those first minutes, there were obvious environmental concerns since there was a lot of smoke over which we had little or no control. There was also a great deal of runoff water from the firefighting effort and from the sprinkler system inside the plant.

Water was flowing from the plant site to two streams that bordered the property. Our environmental experts immediately started contacting all available engineering personnel to get local contractors to start building retention ponds for the runoff water. The teams worked through the night to control the runoff, and there was no spill reported. Furthermore, all the water that was retained was tested to be sure there was no contamination.

From the first moments of the fire to the completed construction, the equipment installation, and start up, many other best practices were adopted. For instance, as part of the rebuild, there was a push to reduce cardboard waste. By moving from boxes to pallets, we have saved over 17,000 tons of cardboard since the implementation.

Key considerations were also given to energy and water use along with effluent and emission monitoring. All processes at Live Oak have state-of-the-art monitoring capabilities, so we can understand energy and water usage at any point.

Live Oak now maintains an excellent record for safety as well as sustainable manufacturing practices. We are certified “Cleaner and Greener” [a pollution reduction program from the Leonardo Academy Inc.], and Milliken Carpet met Zero Waste to landfill from manufacturing in 1999. We also lead the carpet and textile industry in OSHA VPP STAR sites, because the health and safety of our associates are of paramount concern.

What were some of the sustainable highlights of this project?
All the steel was sold to be recycled, the bricks were crushed and used for structural fill, and the concrete floor was left in place and cleaned. The new floor was poured over it.

The small amount of materials that could not be recycled was sent to a lined landfill that accepted hazardous waste. Milliken elected to send the waste to a lined landfill to ensure that there were no problems then, or in the future.

Have you applied for-or achieved-LEED certification from the USGBC for this project? If so, for what level and type and when?
During the rebuild, LEED was not in place, but we implemented the highest standard of green building practices available at the time. We are looking at the LEED process for an existing building.

What were some of the biggest challenges of this project?
Our challenge from the start was getting back into production. The goal was to have the first piece of carpet roll off the first machine six months from the date of the fire. We needed to assure our customers that we were going to be back and that we could meet their needs.

What was it like to redesign the major systems in the facility?
As we looked at the design of the new facility, we considered the wall design, the roof design, flooring, lighting, the steam system, fire protection, and the heating/ventilation system. We decided to go with a 12KV distribution system with six substations, so that the secondary runs would be as short as possible. This reduced the installation cost as well as the voltage drop on the lighting system.

When looking at the ventilation system, we knew we were going to have a lot of make-up air, since the large ranges had many vent fans. To minimize the heat for the make-up air, we selected a unit that recycled part of the hot air in the roof to mix with the outside air. This process was used in the winter. In the summer, the doors and the majority of the fans were reversed to exhaust the hot air.

All the equipment was specified with premium efficiency motors and sized for the load to achieve maximum cost savings on energy. In specifying the machines, we looked at the most efficient options available at the time. We used a distributed control system (DCS), which allowed the computer to control each range and continuously back up the data.

Everything was done to help management better control the efficiency of the manufacturing process which means reducing waste at all levels and maximizing the equipment to produce the highest quality product every time.

What has been the reaction to the project inside your organization?
Even those people involved in the rebuilding process are amazed that we achieved what we did in the time we set. The facility has proven to be highly efficient and has a much lower environmental footprint than the plant it replaced.

What did you learn from this project?
Having a sustainable policy in place and an environmental team that undergoes annual training (we average about 80 hours per year) was extremely valuable. For example, one of the things that we did several years before the fire related to our environmental policy; we replaced all the main substation transformers which had PCBs. Had we not done this, we would most probably have not been able to rebuild on this site.

Questions about this project can be submitted to Bill Gregory at [email protected].

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