Plastic sheet, rod, tube, tapes and fabricated parts distributor Curbell Plastics is committed to improving its footprint while encouraging others to follow suit on responsible plastics distribution. The Orchard Park, New York-based distributor — perennially among the top plastics companies on MDM’s annual Top Distributors list —recently released a video that highlights how long-term performance plastics, like those that Curbell sells, can potentially outperform other materials and reduce waste and energy consumption in the process. Through a 17-member ‘green team,’ employees lead sustainability initiatives at Curbell’s 20+ locations.
Mark Shriver, director of safety & environmental affairs, has been with the company for 40 of its 79 years and credits the top-down commitment by its people to environmental best practices for Curbell’s example-setting successes. Shriver’s held many positions with Curbell, including in safety, regulatory affairs and quality, but says his passion is on the sustainability side.
MDM recently spoke with him about Curbell’s ongoing efforts.
Please share a bit about Curbell’s corporate commitment to sustainability.
Shriver: Curbell is a generational business that has been around since 1942. The owners of Curbell, Tom Leone and Tina Sabuda, are committed to the long-term success of the business and believe that the concept of business sustainability goes beyond simple recycling and relighting programs, but rather it is a commitment to total corporate responsibility.
Responsibility to our employees and being the employer of choice, to our business partners and working with them on long-term, quality relationships so we can collectively prosper while being environmentally diligent, to our customers where we create ongoing relationships that offer excellent products and services and where we partner with them on opportunity, growth and in many cases environmental responsibility, and to the communities in which we operate where we engage on many levels that include donations, time and encouraging employee participation.
A lot of times businesses, they kind of put things together, they start recycling, they don’t really have a full commitment from leadership. It’s like, ‘We have to do this. Our customers want this.’ Or whatever it may be. We’ve been blessed here at Curbell. Our ownership group, it’s a generational organization, we’ve been around since 1942. They want this company to be here long term, and through more generations.
And [Leone], he’s here every day. He has one of the first LEED certified homes in Western New York; he drives an electric vehicle. He believes in this stuff. He realizes that these types of best practices are not only good for the long haul and for the communities and our employees but it’s also really good for the businesses. And he sees those benefits to businesses and into our business. He’s the one who drives it and we have a great culture because of that.
Sometimes corporations will vaguely reference sustainability, and there’s not much behind it. What are some of the metrics that you’re using to ensure that you’re maintaining your commitments?
Shriver: Our programs are maturing, and we continue to evolve. So do our metrics. Currently, we track solid waste, waste diverted from landfills, repurposed materials, energy and water consumption and reduction, and outreach. We review this data periodically in management review and other meetings.
Like anything, and especially in this field, when we first got into it, there was really no template to follow. We were looking at all these Fortune 500 companies, these big companies that have all these people and they’re doing all these different things. And we realized early on that we have to do this the way we have to do this — it’s got to fit our business.
We can’t use a template from another company. And so we’ve made broad commitments. We want to reduce our waste. We’ve done some assessments, and we said, ‘What is our biggest impact?’
Early on, we realized that our biggest impact was solid waste. And so we addressed that and got it to a certain point. We don’t always set goals as to where we want to be. We just address it vigorously and as hard as we can and oftentimes surprise ourselves with where we’ve been.
So a lot of times, we target an area, for instance, energy, and we say, ‘OK, here’s where we are.’ We’ll collect our baseline data. As we move through projects, often they are projects that are good business projects. LED lighting, that’s something that everybody’s doing. You cut your cost by, say 40%, 50%, 60%, it pays for itself in two and a half years. We follow those metrics, and we look for the next little thing that we can do. And we continue to do that.
We are evolving. Our bigger impacts, whether it’s transportation, energy, any other utilities, solid waste, things of that nature, we are always reassessing and saying, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ And what is next is some strategic planning.
We’re starting to look at things like zero waste — which would impact our supply chains — being carbon neutral. Bigger, broader, grander. We’re looking at going to that next level.
How does executive leadership promote and model the commitment to sustainability?
Shriver: By supporting efforts like my work in co-developing the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable where we collaborate with local government, academia, and both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations on creating an economically and environmentally resilient Buffalo Niagara Region. Also, the work we have done in supporting industry initiatives (International Association of Plastics Distribution) in teaching and encouraging sustainable behaviors to others in our industry and assisting them in becoming more environmentally responsible.
We do a lot of outreach in the organization. It’s not all committed to the environment. We work with different groups out there, whether it be the United Way, or a corporate challenge where we sponsor employees to get involved in things. We encourage that across the board. But we also promote opportunities for them to be involved with the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable.
We encourage our employees to get involved with things like the International Association of Plastics Distribution. We are an organization that just encourages employees to be involved.
The biggest thing internally that I love doing is Earth Day is April 22. Everybody knows that, I hope. But we take the whole month of April and we call it Earth month. During that month, companywide, we have daily activities, contests and communications designed to teach, encourage and promote sustainable concepts at work and at home.
We have potlucks and we have cookouts and throughout the month there’s activities including things like here in Orchard Park, we have a recycling event for electronic waste. All the proceeds go to Camp Good Days, which sends kids with cancer to camp. So those are some of the things that we do.
How does this focus on sustainability help the business to develop and grow? Sometimes companies look at those words like ‘carbon neutral’ as getting in the way of helping the business grow. But it sounds like you all are taking the opposite approach and that it’s helping you to develop and become a stronger company.
Shriver: Yeah, that’s definitely one of the reasons why we’re not there yet. Because we’re always trying to find ways to make it fit the business. I’m a firm believer, and I’m very passionate about the environment. But I also have to work. I like to call it business sustainability; it’s not just environmental sustainability, it’s business sustainability. That means a true business sustainable effort is one that helps the business as well as the environment. And we’re learning different ways of making that happen.
For instance, it’s easy to say, ‘We put new lights in, and we’re saving this much money.’ It’s great. And the investment pays for itself, we lower our costs, the environment is better. But where it becomes a little more difficult is where it may cost us a little bit of money to achieve something. And then we have to find ways of where are we getting value for the company do this? How can I justify this? What’s my return? How can I get in front of the board of directors, the chiefs here, and get their support?
We’re looking at branding. That’s a big deal. Our brand is growing, there’s some value to that. And we use that as part of the justification. We’re also looking at being the employer of choice.
Go out and interview some people between the ages of 18 and 25 years old and I’ll bet you you’re gonna come across the majority of them asking questions about, ‘Do you have any environmental programs? What kind of benefits do you have? What kind of a company are you?’ They want to work for companies that are committed to them, as well as the places that we all live, work and play.
Our brand is growing because of these efforts. We are truly improving when it comes to being the employer of choice. So many young people today ask questions surrounding our commitment to the environment and want to be part of a company that they can feel good working for.
As for many of our customers, this is a differentiator. Many are now demanding environmental responsibility and we have a story they enjoy being part of. So that’s some of the things that we’re doing here and trying to learn and trying to figure out so we can continue to move forward.
What are your goals for the future?
Shriver: We are in strategic planning now. We’re considering possibilities of zero waste and carbon neutral.
How do you promote this environmental commitment within the company and also within the industry?
Shriver: CurbLife is our internal social media. Of course, Earth month. Externally, working with the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable and the IAPD. Also, with media blasts regarding certain products, using our new videos and bragging about our latest award or certificate. Also, when doing presentations to business partners or at trade shows, etc.
What kind of feedback do you get from customers, employees, prospective employees and peers?
Shriver: It’s all good. Most can’t believe that a company of our size has achieved what we have.
Is there anything else you would add on the topic?
Shriver: All I have to say is, I encourage people to do this. It’s not only something that you’ll feel good about when done, but employees embrace it. It’s helpful all around.
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