Harbec’s Green Initiatives Deliver Bottom Line Results

When discussing measures we can take to reduce our carbon footprint, it may seem odd to look toward a plastics manufacturer for inspiration. But a company in Ontario, NY has been implementing “green” technologies for decades and today, they are showing the world how many of these initiatives are not only good for the planet – they can serve the bottom line!

Harbec, Inc. was founded by Bob Bechtold 45 years ago as a contract manufacturer. Expertise in plastic injection molding, CNC machining, and 3D additive processes have helped establish a loyal customer base whose needs are highly demanding – including critical medical, industrial and military sectors.

But Bob’s vision for the company extends far beyond just its mechanical capabilities. Early on, he committed to making Harbec operations a true environmentally responsible manufacturing alternative. The journey began as a series of hits and misses, and for nearly ten years now, Harbec has enjoyed the distinction of being 100% carbon and water neutral.

Investments in wind, solar, and geothermal technologies provide a climate controlled, modern work environment for employees which has bred a culture of heightened awareness around every decision. Can this process be performed with less water? Can cycle times be reduced to decrease energy consumption? Are alternative materials available that are recyclable, less toxic, made with non-fossil renewable ingredients? Can it be made lighter and packed more efficiently to reduce transportation costs and the associated pollutants? Every process and activity is questioned to address the three “P”s – People, Planet, and Profit.

Establishing (global) Credibility

Producing precise, sometimes highly complex assemblies reliably can be challenging. But to do it in a way that is environmentally responsible takes grit and determination. In 2013, Harbec achieved ISO 50001 and US SEP (Superior Energy Performance) certifications which is essentially an internationally recognized commitment to operating a facility-wide energy management system.

By 2021, The US Department of Energy (DOE) had awarded Harbec “Platinum” status (its highest honor) for the third time as a company that, documented by third-party audits, goes above and beyond its’ certification requirements.

The Utility Company’s Unfortunate Reality

As more businesses attempt to manage their brand around sustainability messaging, implementing actual processes can be perplexing. While many utility companies appear to rally around saving energy, the irony is that to exist, they need consumers to buy their product – which is in fact energy consumption.

While their home pages may be riddled with “How to Save Energy” tips, utility companies understand their biggest users are the manufacturers who require vast amounts of heat, electricity and water to build products and provide services. And, for those companies interested in installing true energy saving technologies, utility companies have proven to be among their biggest obstacles.

Rather than rewarding a company for improving energy efficiencies, they incent consumption by offering significant savings to their highest volume users.

Quantitative and Qualitative Results

A homeowner can install energy saving technologies (often with government incentives) and calculate the investment’s ROI with relatively simple math. For a manufacturer, the task is much more daunting.

As Bob explains, “Initially, we were excited to tell people we were doing things that were good for the planet. But if we wanted to get bank financing to support, it often fell on deaf ears and customers too were more interested in understanding the economic benefits for them. So, we began to quantify everything.”

“At first blush, the cost of a renewable energy installation may appear substantial. But today’s turbines are built to perform for up to 25 years and solar panels can produce reliably for up to 30 years. To justify the investment, we essentially draw from two pockets – our ROI pocket and our “we can’t do anything about it anyway” pocket.”

If set up costs are amortized to equal that of the otherwise monthly bills used to pay for energy from the grid – the net cost is zero. When the amortization is complete, there is a spike in savings that is ongoing and into the foreseeable future.

Example

$100,000 – installation produces $2,000/month
$2,000 – monthly payment to bank (~6.5% interest, 60 mo.)
Monthly payment = Energy cost savings
Net cost = $0 for 60 months
ROI = $2,000/mo. after 60 months ongoing

In this example, the ROI between Year 6 and Year 10 is $120,000. Of course, when utility costs rise during the same period, the savings and returns will be even more meaningful. And since renewable energy costs are unaffected by market volatility, Harbec is poised to provide more stable pricing to its customers.

There are other benefits as well. As consumer energy demands surge, power grids are becoming increasingly less stable and more vulnerable to outages. For manufacturers, that can mean production shutdowns, late deliveries, and costly recoveries. Having renewable energy and a soon to be installed one megawatt storage on-site help mitigate those risks – a message not lost on customers who depend on “just-in-time” deliveries and “lean” manufacturing processes.

As Harbec’s footprint has grown, so has its knowledge of sustainable practices and technologies. Beneath its new 30,000 square foot expansion lies nearly three miles of tubing that produces radiant heat in the flooring. In the summer, hot water is captured from manufacturing processes and a geothermal pond, sent to an absorptive chiller and released as cold water for air conditioning. Daylight pours in from strategically placed clearstory windows, switching only to energy efficient LED lighting as needed and when triggered by photoelectric sensors. Electric presses (not traditional hydraulic) hum quietly and (up to 60%) more efficiently. The building is designed to capture heat in the winter and exhaust as much as possible in the summer.

The overall effect is a work environment that is comfortably climate controlled, noticeably quieter and well lit. Less obvious (and perhaps unexpected) benefits worth noting include an employee attrition rate that is a fraction of the industry average. With company program incentives and heightened awareness, many have made changes in their own homes and lifestyles to reflect the values they’ve acquired at work.

While visits to manufacturing facilities around the world often require hearing protection and do not always extend air conditioning or filtration to workers in the plant, customer visits to Harbec can offer a very different experience. Conversations can take place uninhibited (and are encouraged) between a customer and machine operator to arrive at solutions in real time at the point of production. Creativity has soared since these new practices and installations have taken effect.

The Concept of Circularity

The guiding principal of “circularity” as it pertains to our economy is to “reduce by design”. This applies to both products and services and again, begins by raising awareness.

In a circular economy, a product is made to be used longer and at the end of its use cycle, is ultimately repaired, repurposed, or recycled to create another product from the same material(s). It is estimated that today, only about 9% of our economy is truly “circular”.

At Harbec, energy produced using renewable resources is “grid-connected” meaning it is sold to the utility company and re-purchases only what it needs from 100% green power sources.

The Important Role of Storage to Your Bottom Line

Most people understand that utilities sell at higher rates during peak use hours. But, interestingly, they also purchase at higher rates during the same hours. Therefore, energy that is created by wind and/or solar can be stored for resale during peak hours and repurchased during off hours at a profit.

It doesn’t matter when the energy was created. The greater the storage facility, the greater the profit potential that can be realized.

Brand Messaging and Delivery

With regard to recognizing the significance of embracing sustainability initiatives, few would argue that Europe has been ahead of the US. An ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria) score has been used for years to measure a company’s performance in each of these three categories.

This year, public companies in the United States will be held accountable by third party auditors to publish their ratings in their quarterly and annual reports.

Greenwashing, or the practice of making unsubstantiated or false claims about the sustainability of a product or service for marketing purposes will no longer be tolerated.

This new ruling presents a tremendous branding opportunity for both Harbec and its customers who wish to market their product with “green” messaging. An ISO 50001 SEP facility is fully audited and committed to continuous improvement. And though more manufacturers claim to be ISO 50001 ready, only about 300 facilities qualify as SEP (Superior Energy Performance).

Open Learning and Sharing

Like most companies that provide services to government and medical suppliers, much of Harbec’s work is considered highly confidential. By contrast though, Harbec has chosen to share its sustainability tracking by treating it as “open source”. In fact, virtually anyone can see how these installations are performing through a live portal available at: https://webcontrol.harbec.com/

Just type GUEST in the Log In and leave the Password blank.

From the dashboard, you can see:

By sharing performance data in real time without restriction, Harbec hopes to raise awareness for its customers and the general population so that we can all be inspired.

And it’s working. Bottom line outcomes at Harbec are not just measured in monetary savings. By creating a culture of environmentally conscious employees and customers, discussions and actions are frequently inspired to extend to family and friends. As a result, many of the innovative solutions found at work have manifested into meaningful changes in homes across America.

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