How Owens Corning Is Taking Big Steps To Reduce Its Environmental Footprint
Customers are increasingly seeking products and services that are manufactured and delivered sustainably. And for more than a decade, fiberglass manufacturer Owens Corning has been focused on doing just that.
In 2002, as a continuation of its sustainability efforts, the company began looking for specific ways to reduce its environmental footprint. This evaluation led to company-wide goals of reducing Owens Corning's energy and greenhouse gases by 20% - and its waste-to-landfill by 70% - by the year 2020. By 2012, the company had made great strides toward its objectives, and took its energy and environmental goals to the next level by teaming up with energy company Constellation to build a solar power system (the largest of its kind, at the time) in upstate New York.
Frank O'Brien-Bernini, vice president and chief sustainability officer for Owens Corning, recently shared the answers to some questions about the company's 2020 sustainability goals and its collaboration with Constellation.
Interview conducted by Business Insider Studios. These answers have been lightly edited for length.
BI Studios: How long have you been working at Owens Corning, and what is your role there?
Frank O'Brien-Bernini: I've been with the company for more than 30 years. I'm currently the vice president and chief sustainability officer. I oversee Owens Corning's sustainability strategy development and implementation, which encompasses environment, health, and safety.
Back in 2002, the company made it a priority to reduce its carbon footprint. How did that decision come about?
FOB: Well, Owens Corning's belief in sustainability actually pre-dates 2002. Our products have been saving energy for over 75 years. We started measuring and reporting on our environmental footprint in 2006, but we established the baseline year as 2002. We're currently working on our second set of goals that will be established for 2020.
How would you describe the company's energy usage prior to developing a sustainability plan?
FOB: Years before we established our sustainability goals, the company had an operating philosophy of "Corporate Stewardship." And that meant operating our manufacturing plants in a way that protected the environment and the health of its employees and neighbors. Today, we're working on our second set of environmental footprint reduction goals. Every day our employees work on our environmental footprint goals by producing energy-saving products for our customers. For example, a typical pound of insulation saves 12 times more energy in its first year than the energy used to produce it.
When and how did you start working with Constellation?
FOB: Our relationship with Constellation as an energy supplier dates back 10 years, but we had not engaged in any renewable projects with them. Then, a few years ago, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced its New York Sun Competitive Photovoltaic Program to encourage development and construction of large-scale solar projects. Constellation told us about the expansion of the program to include upstate New York, and we began discussing with Constellation the possibility of a project at our Delmar plant near Albany, in September 2012.
Tell us a bit about the solar power system.
FOB: The solar power system is made up of about 9,000 ground-mounted, photovoltaic panels located on more than nine acres. It's designed to generate approximately 3.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year - about 6% of the Delmar plant's annual electricity use. If we generated the same amount of electricity using non-renewable sources, it would release nearly 2,339 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to emissions from 487 passenger vehicles a year.
What do you think other businesses can learn from your experience with the solar installation?
FOB: That in certain markets solar is a practical and reliable power-generation source for meeting environmental goals and managing electricity costs. It's important to find a supplier that you can trust to lead you through the process and manage whatever renewable energy project you pursue. Through our Spirit of Partnership awards we recognize suppliers, such as Constellation, for their efforts to help us deliver more sustainable products and services to our customers.
To learn more about Constellation, visit the website.
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