The following is Part I of our two-part series on green technology and the small business. Part II, which will follow tomorrow, focuses on business opportunities catering to the “green” crowd.
Situated across the harbor from the gleaming skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, in the once rough and tumble waterfront of South Brooklyn, Linda Tool has not only survived the continued contraction of New York City’s manufacturing sector (down 8 percent over the last decade) but has expanded, adding four employees since September 2008. Established in 1952, Linda Tool manufactures precision components and assemblies for a number of major aerospace and industrial concerns in the U.S. While it would not be considered “green” in some circles, Linda Tool’s president, Mike DiMarino, believes the integration of green practices and technologies into workplace operations makes sense not only for business, but also for the health and well being of his employees.
“The skilled employee base, or ‘human capital,’ needed to succeed in any business is hard to sustain,” DiMarino says. “Creating a safe and healthy work environment, coupled with a livable pay scale and a menu of benefits, helps to ensure that Linda Tool will have that skilled workforce for years to come. Linda Tool has not had a layoff since 1983, a record we are proud of.”
One Company’s Path to Green
Among the several clean technology steps that Linda Tool has taken are the installation of an air conditioning system with HEPA filtration and mist collectors on every machine tool and the switch to water-based machine fluids and lubricants to help reduce waste. DiMarino sees these as a “tremendous benefit for employees and I believe it is greatly appreciated.” In addition to recycling employee-generated waste, Linda Tool reuses packaging material and recycles all chips from machine operations, which saves on both labor costs and the purchasing or re-purchasing of packaging materials.
These steps are all laudable, but the crown jewel of Linda Tool’s sustainable business practices is the company’s “green roof.” With the help of a Department of Energy (DOE) “cost share grant” of $250,000—bringing Linda Tool’s share of the project to 44 percent—the factory’s 12,500-square-foot tar top was replaced with a patented soil blend of recycled polystyrene and local compost created by Paul Mankiewicz of the Bronx-based Gaia Institute. In place of a long, black, uninviting slab, a lush, wild garden now blooms. This green roof better insulates the building as well as absorbing rainwater that would otherwise run into sewers. Intrigued by the long-term benefits of the project, a team from Columbia University has installed a combined sewer overflow (CSO) device atop the roof to monitor its effects.
Since completion of the project in 2009, Linda Tool has seen savings of 40 percent on air conditioning costs and a 20-percent reduction in heating oil consumption, explains DiMarino. “The temperature in our facility is now very stable 24/7, 365 days of the year…a constant 74-degree atmosphere with a 35 to 40 percent relative humidity,” he notes. Not only has the green roof produced immediate savings for Linda Tool, but it’s also made the building more efficient by keeping the shop environment more stable, which “is important for the products that we make.”
While a large-scale project such as a green roof may seem daunting, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offer information and resources to small businesses looking to take more incremental steps on the road to “going green.” Making your business more energy efficient is a good place to start. Simply turning off lights and machines when not in use, sealing up those energy-depleting leaks to the outside, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, getting rid of those old fax machines (faxpress has made them obsolete), replacing outdated equipment with Energy Star products, and reducing paper usage by recycling can all measurably cut utility costs. There are also federal incentives and various state programs in place to help offset pricier clean technology and retrofit costs.
Green Irene, the country’s fastest growing eco-consulting service, and the Green Business Bureau (GBB) have joined forces to help small and midsize businesses adopt sustainable business practices through a green standards certification process. For more comprehensive changes, GreenBusinessPlans.com offers business plan assistance to companies that want to green their operations. “Of the 100-plus business plans developed in the last few years, well over half have been to incorporate green business practices,” CEO Tim Cassidy points out. His consulting company has helped restaurants, demolition and construction companies, gyms, and salons go green. “From a branding perspective, the value of being green outweighs the initial costs,” says Cassidy. For example, “it costs only two to three percent more for a builder to be LEED certified.”
For Linda Tool’s DiMarino, going green has not only been good for the bottom line, but also good for business. “It is a very good selling tool. People are interested in this, and I think it shows that Linda Tool is a forward thinking company. It makes clients realize we are there to look out for their best interests.” Linda Tool’s factory goes almost unnoticed nestled in the industrial blocks between a mega Fairway Market, housed in a Civil War-era warehouse along the waterfront, and a 35,000-square-foot IKEA store that now sits upon a once busy dry dock. While the longshoreman have been replaced by tourists disembarking from the Queen Mary 2, Linda Tool remains, carving a new “forward-thinking” path for Red Hook’s economic future.