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OPERATIONS

The Converts

They saw the light. Now they're making sure everyone else does, too.
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Suddenly, "organic fast food" is no longer an oxymoron

Someone call Eric Schlosser. Burgerville is out to redeem the greatly maligned fast-food industry, one environmentally friendly burger at time.

Founded in 1922 as a small creamery--it now has 39 locations in Oregon and Washington--the family-owned business always had a fresh-and-local identity. It traditionally sold shakes made from local blackberries and onion rings made from Walla Walla onions. Three years ago, Burgerville decided to take it further and shoot for near-complete sustainability. That meant starting with the beef for its burgers. Burgerville decided to buy all its beef, some 35,000 pounds per week, from the Country Natural Beef co-op, whose members raise humanely treated, grain-fed cows without using antibiotics or growth hormones.

Last year, Burgerville went even further, purchasing enough wind power from local utilities to power all of its facilities. That has eliminated 17.4 million pounds of carbon emissions annually--the equivalent of taking 1,700 cars off the road. Last fall, the company instituted a program to transform cooking oil, a restaurant's largest waste product, into clean-burning biodiesel. "Our hope is to challenge the industry," says Jeff Harvey, Burgerville's COO. "Quick service is just a delivery mechanism for food--everything else is up to the company."

Bill Hayward, your great-grandfather would be proud

When Homer T. Hayward founded Hayward Lumber (now Hayward Corp.) in Monterey, California, 87 years ago, "people thought that the forests would last forever," says his great-grandson and the company's current CEO, Bill Hayward. Of course, that turned out not to be the case. Hayward's mission is to make sure the construction industry doesn't forget.

Hayward has been steadily greening up the family-owned business for about a decade. It's now the only large building supplier marketing its own line of energy-saving products, which include sustainably harvested lumber, energy-saving windows, bamboo flooring, and insulation made from recycled denim. But the company--which runs seven lumberyards and three design show rooms--truly put its principles into action when it built a new on-site factory to construct trusses, the triangular wood frames that hold up roofs. Equipped with an array of water- and energy-saving features, the factory draws half of its power from solar panels. It's also proved to be a savvy marketing move, drawing contractors curious to see a solar-powered factory. At $2.5 million, the factory was more expensive to build than a traditional factory, but lower operating costs already are offsetting those costs, Hayward tells his customers. "We're showing builders that they can actually reduce costs through green building," he says.

GreenOrder is the shepherd. Big businesses (think GE and General Motors) are the sheep

You know you're on to something when some of the largest companies in the world start cold-calling. At GreenOrder, an environmental consulting firm, those calls come almost weekly--all of them from companies looking for someone to guide them into the new world of sustainable business practices. "I had a client say to me, 'Oh, I get it, you're kind of like the McKinsey of green business," says founder and CEO Andrew Shapiro.

GreenOrder guides clients--which include General Electric (NYSE:GE), Office Depot (NYSE:ODP), and General Motors (NYSE:GM) --through the thicket of environmental terminology, metrics, and certifications. Its marquee project: General Electric's companywide environmental overhaul. GE is shooting to improve its energy efficiency by 30 percent by 2012 and to double, to $20 billion, its annual revenue from products that offer environmental advantages. GreenOrder, based in New York City, devised guidelines to evaluate and promote the benefits of GE products ranging from fluorescent light bulbs to energy-efficient jet engines to offshore wind turbines.

When a company of this size changes, it matters: GE estimates--that is, GreenOrder helped it estimate--that if every household in America replaced one 100-watt bulb with a GE compact fluorescent, the savings would be enough to power more than one million homes for an entire year.

Laura Roberts was a tree-hugging elementary school teacher. Now she's cleaning up some of the dirtiest industries around

"If you say a product is green, people automatically assume that it doesn't work or it's more expensive," says Laura Roberts, CEO of Pantheon Chemical. Her mission is to prove the skeptics wrong. Considering that Roberts had no business experience when she took over the Phoenix-based company after her father's death in 1997, and that she's taking on some of the dirtiest materials around--industrial cleaners and solvents--it's quite a task.

Pantheon's flagship product, PreKote, which is used to prep aircraft for painting, is an alternative to the conventional products that contain hexavalent chromium, the stuff of the Erin Brockovich lawsuits. Pantheon also makes nontoxic cleaners and lubricants for firearms, biodegradable metalworking fluids, nonhazardous solvents for the asphalt industry, and a wide line of cleaners for the hospitality industry. None of these industries are known for embracing change, but Roberts is slowly gaining converts. Both Continental Airlines (NYSE:CAL) and Air Canada use PreKote. The Air Force is onboard, too. "The military wants to reduce workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals," says Roberts. Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah, won an award from the EPA--just for switching to PreKote.

Meet the bar-code-scanner reseller who has a bold plan to save the world

It hardly looks like the type of business that's out to save the planet. The Ryzex Group, based in Bellingham, Washington, sells and repairs new and used bar code scanners and data-collection equipment. But CEO Rud Browne started the business because he was sick of seeing old machines wind up in landfills when companies upgraded their systems. If Ryzex can't find the machines a home, it dismantles them and sells the parts to recyclers. And the commitment to sustainability doesn't end there. This year, the company, which expects revenue of $75 million in 2006, went 100 percent waste-free--trash cans disappeared and staffers began recycling everything, even leftovers from lunch. To date, Ryzex has recycled 225,000 pounds of garbage, including over 15,000 pounds of paper, 1,400 pounds of bubble wrap, and countless Chinese food containers.

Browne says Ryzex's recycling program will turn a profit in a few months. And he's not done yet. He wants to recycle other companies' electronic junk, too. "I'm not interested in running a business that's profitable on one end but funding unprofitable environmental practices on the other," he says. "The way to solve the world's environmental problems is to show that you can make more money doing things the right way rather than the wrong way." Ryzex's financial success has spawned rivals in the refurbished bar code business. Says Browne: "Whether they think of themselves as having an environmental impact or not, they are."

New Leaf Paper proves you can make a business out of saving trees

Jeff Mendelsohn estimates that he's saved a million trees so far. More than half the fiber used in the company's sustainable paper products comes from old paper that's mashed to a pulp and whitened without chlorine, reducing toxic emissions that otherwise pollute the waterways. The result: bright-white paper marketed under names such as Reincarnation and Encore and company revenue of nearly $20 million.

Mendelsohn got his start in the paper business after college, running a printing service in New York City that used ecofriendly paper--or at least what was considered so back then. Most, he says, had 30 percent or less recycled content. So he started New Leaf Paper, based in San Francisco, in 1998 to make his own paper. When companies like the Gap (NYSE:GPS) and Nike (NYSE:NKE) signed up as customers, the industry took notice. A couple of years ago, New Leaf was the only company selling bright-white stationery made from recycled content. Today there are about five competitors, a sign to Mendelsohn that he's inching closer to his goal of creating a new kind of paper industry. "If all we did was pioneer a market, we haven't succeeded," he says. "In order for the industry to change, it has to change from within."

Next: The Pioneers

Last updated: Nov 1, 2006




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