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Finelite’s Greening Success a Shining Example for Others

Union City Firm Wins 2011 Leadership Award from StopWaste

Finelite manufactures high efficiency lighting systems for schools, offices and other workspaces where lighting performance as well as visual comfort are essential. Finelite products illuminate facilities throughout the US, including Stanford University’s new, ultra-green “Y2E2” building—a testimonial to Finelite’s cutting-edge quality. But the company’s quest for efficiency and smart design is not limited to their product lines. Over the last few years, Finelite has progressively reduced waste, from 110 tons generated in 2005 to only 18 tons per year now, an 84% reduction. Besides a much lighter environmental footprint, this has brought the company $27,000 in annual savings on garbage disposal costs. Local public agency StopWaste, whose staff has supported Finelite in their waste trimming efforts from the beginning, honored the achievements with the 2011 StopWaste Leadership Award, presented during a ceremony at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on October 28.

Making a Move

When Finelite transitioned to their current production facility in Union City in 2005, staff took the opportunity to clear out obsolete office furniture and supplies. “We had over 72 square feet worth of wall dividers, chairs, stationary and other materials, all in good condition,” remembers Recycling Coordinator Vianne Chandler, who also works in the Credit & Collection Department. Determined not to let the material go to waste, she contacted StopWaste and was referred to an organization that accepts the kind of used items Finelite had to offer to teachers with minimal amounts to spend on supplies. With further help from StopWaste, including a $5,000 grant for indoor bins, Chandler and her colleagues set up a comprehensive recycling system at the new location, capturing everything from cardboard, paper, bottles and cans, to wood, copper wire and other scrap metal and shrink-wrap. The changes paid immediate dividends: After only one year, Finelite’s garbage bill had dropped from over $44,000 to $31,000 annually.

“Opportunities Everywhere”

Finelite soon expanded their initial waste reduction efforts, adding e-waste and printer cartridge recycling, a drop-box for reusable clothes donated by staff, and even plastic foam recycling. “Once you get started [reducing waste] you see opportunities everywhere,” observes Finelite CEO Terry Clark. Under his leadership, employees are encouraged to apply the company’s trademark principle of efficiency to the production process itself and make suggestions to cut waste wherever possible. As a result, Finelite now routinely reuses much of the incoming packaging to cushion outgoing orders, and returns certain materials, such as sturdy cardboard sleeves that protect the delicate lighting components, to its suppliers for reuse in the next shipment. Getting the vendors on board with the idea was not difficult. “Some of these companies have worked with us for years. They’re making regular deliveries to our production site, so taking the packaging materials back on their return trip was a no-brainer,” explains Clark.

Creative Solutions

In 2010, Finelite took on a particularly tricky material: plastic film. A versatile and commonplace industrial packaging material, plastic film wraps tightly around stacked products, like a giant bandage, to secure and protect them from damage during transit. For years, Finelite received large quantities of plastic film, used to fasten incoming orders of 12-foot-long lighting fixture components to the racks they are delivered on. “We would un-shrink-wrap the fixtures and recycle the plastic film, but still, it seemed like a lot of waste,” remembers Dean Mayes, Finelite’s Director of Manufacturing. Inspired by a StopWaste workshop on reusable transport packaging, one of Finelite’s industrial engineers came up with a solution. In collaboration with the supplier of the components, he designed a tarp made from sturdy, clear sheet rubber. It fits snuggly around the delivery racks stacked with components, but can be reused rather than discarded. About twenty of the custom-tailored tarps are currently in use at Finelite. With a payback period of less than one year, the innovation prevents 3 tons of plastic film per year. Mayes is pleased: “This solution eliminates not only the shrink wrap expense, it also saves both us and our supplier hours of labor that each side spent in the past to apply and remove the plastic film.”

Management Support and Free Ice Cream

Finelite’s company culture and values reflect the organization’s quest for efficiency and prudent use of natural resources. Management calls each of the company’s 170 employees to action on efficiency improvements and supports staff input on every level. As with any company-wide initiative, ongoing communication and feedback are essential for lasting success. At Finelite, that feedback comes in the form of a giant chart, plotting out the steady increase in waste reduction, complemented by frequent, company-wide celebrations of the progress made. “Some of the money we save on garbage pays for buffets and picnics for the entire company,” notes Chandler, who’s in charge of regular updates to the jumbo chart. “During the summer months, an ice cream cart makes its way around the building handing out treats funded by recycling revenue,” she adds. Sweet.
StopWaste’s services are available at no charge to all medium and large businesses and institutions in Alameda County. Services and resources include technical assistance, funding and educational materials. For more information about StopWaste business services please click here or contact us.
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