Levin Furniture is no couch potato when it comes to cleaner air.
Eight years into its efforts to become a more sustainable company, the furniture retailer recently expanded its green initiatives by participating in the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge. By saving energy, water and other resources, the company helped reduce air quality impacts–and improved its bottom line.
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Levin revamped office and warehouse policy to incorporate extensive recycling programs that salvage cardboard, plastic, office equipment, machine batteries, glass, electronics and other materials. It also replaced incandescent lighting with LED motion-sensor bulbs in its warehouse and 27 retail locations across Pittsburgh and Cleveland—a switch that has saved more than 105 kWh of energy in just over a year.
The resulting energy savings, combined with efforts to clean up company cars and reduce the waste dumped into landfills, earned Levin Furniture a sixth-place finish in the medium business category of the Green Workplace Challenge. The challenge is a yearlong competition hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh that encourages area organizations to save money and gain recognition for implementing green practices.
Operations manager Rich Permuka says Levin is proud of these efforts, spurred by the sustainability goals of third-generation family owner Robert Levin. Becoming green is not only environmentally and socially responsible, he explains, but also benefits Levin financially.
For instance, maintenance costs are much lower on the new LED light bulbs, which last an average of 17 years. Changing burned-out incandescent bulbs in the 300,000-square-foot warehouse had been a constant job for Levin’s maintenance staff.
“[Maintenance is] really something that folks don’t even think about,” Permuka says. “But you have to add it into your cost savings because it’s huge.”
Recycling is also financially beneficial, according to Permuka. Materials such as plastics, cardboard and glass can be re-sold to other manufacturers, paying for the extra labor costs that often prevent companies from implementing recycling programs in the first place.
“There definitely is economic value in recycling the product, but again, it’s making the process easy,” Permuka says. “You almost have to build it into your processes, and it will more than pay for itself in the end.”
Some recycling programs, such as cardboard and plastic, involve employees sorting materials at the warehouse. For others, recycling is a more complex process. Levin’s Styrofoam densifier machine deconstructed, compressed and repackaged 80,000 pounds of Styrofoam last year. Levin sold the cubes to a manufacturer for four cents a pound. Instead of adding to a landfill, the Styrofoam is now being used as insulation behind the vinyl siding of buildings. The Styrofoam was part of the 1.8 million pounds of product that Levin recycled last year.
Other Levin green initiatives include eliminating the use of Styrofoam dishware, using only natural cleaning products and replacing company cars with hybrid Toyota Camrys that average 40 miles per gallon. Eventually, Levin hopes to replace its diesel trucks with alternative fuel vehicles to decrease harmful air emissions.
Such efforts make Levin a responsible partner in the community and demonstrate the company’s commitment to sustainability, a characteristic that is appealing in a changing consumer culture, Permuka says.
“Maybe the culture 20 years ago was ‘Hey, we’ve got to have this product without considering the environmental impact,’ and I think today we all look at things a lot differently,” he says. “As the culture is changing, folks are demanding environmentally responsible processes.”
He says it is important for Pittsburgh and its suburbs to be a greener in order to remain an attractive, healthy place to live and work for future generations.
“The folks will not want to relocate into the Pittsburgh area if the air and the water quality is not very good,” Permuka says. “We’re all responsible for that. Every manufacturer, every company is responsible for keeping it that way. ”
— By Allison Keene, The Heinz Endowments Communications Intern