What Does it Take to Build a Culture of Environmental Stewardship?

31 Aug 2018

Over 115 years ago Andersen Windows was founded on the banks of the St. Croix River. Having a desire to preserve this scenic waterway, and the beauty of the area, Andersen was born with environmental stewardship in mind. You could say that they were into sustainability before sustainability was cool. It’s just part of who they are. Still, the company realized that there was more they could do to reduce their energy usage, water consumption and waste. In 2013, they decided to tackle the issue and created some rather bold goals for doing so. Five years later, they are on track to exceed those goals. How? By creating a culture of environmental stewardship.

Andersen Windows

Setting goals

According to Greg Beskow, Menomonie Plant Manager, Andersen Windows wants to reduce energy and water consumption, along with their total waste, by 20 percent. Using 2013 numbers as a baseline, they need to hit these goals by 2020, even as business continues to grow. In Menomonie, they have already exceeded their goals for water consumption and waste.

Sharing the why

Employees at Andersen understand the importance of being good stewards of the environment. The raw materials the company needs to produce its windows and doors require it. If they purchase lumber from companies who clear cut, and do not replant trees, their supply will dry up or at least become far more expensive in the future. That’s not good for business. Simultaneously, the employees at Andersen are concerned about issues like climate change and happy to take steps to reduce the company’s negative impact on the environment.

Getting buy-in

Culture cannot be driven from the top down, unless there is employee buy-in, something Andersen’s Dunn County plant has in spades. Though the corporate office initially set the goals, it is up to individual plants to determine what changes they want to make to reach them. Greg Beskow commented, “I’m amazed with our workforce because if you ask them to help you with something they will. Many of our employees are passionate about sustainability and going green. They often come up with great ideas and other employees will gravitate towards them in following their mission. We created the “green team” to help us with getting after some of these initiatives and they have come up with ideas, helped us to implement them and then move on to the next great idea. We have given our employees a forum and then empowered them to be creative and run with it. Their energy becomes contagious.”

One of their employee-led initiatives is a recycling program for scrap wood. Previously, the scraps were placed in a compactor and sent to a landfill. Now it is being directed to a supplier who grinds it up and sells it to a local company who turns it into animal bedding. Excited about the program, employees have created a culture where they encourage each other to toss the scrap wood into the correct container. Visual management tools and signage have also been helpful.

Employees have taken their passion for environmental stewardship offsite as well. They regularly participate in Earth Day projects and provide free labor for organizations working on local clean up projects. This is paid for by Andersen because “…it is important to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t save money.”

Overcoming challenges

Even with employee buy-in, it can be challenging to do things like reduce energy consumption. Very often, this requires creativity and a willingness to keep trying. In their Dunn County plant, reducing energy usage has been the greatest challenge because of their desire to keep employees comfortable during all seasons. It takes a lot of energy to power the HVAC system.  Other steps have been easier to take, such as installing LED lighting with motion sensors that cause the lights to dim and then go off if there is no activity. Now they are engaged in an energy audit to determine what they can do to reduce energy consumption at the individual employee level.

They are also looking for solutions on how they can reuse old windows and doors removed from homes by their Renewal by Andersen installers. As that line of business has grown, they have become more determined to find a way to recycle these products. Andersen has proved up to the challenge thus far and with employee participation, they are on track to continue finding solutions to these pressing questions.

Other companies can create a culture of environmental stewardship

We asked Greg Beskow for suggestions on what other companies could do to create a similar culture. “First – empower employees to lead on this issue. Their energy can be contagious. Also, there are opportunities and ways to reduce energy and water usage, and waste, that do not cost anything but could actually save money. There are strategic investments that you can make that will create savings over time. Then, if it is the right thing to do, consider implementing it regardless of whether or not it will save money.”