A finishing room operator at Waupaca Foundry cleans and removes excess metal from a casting that will be assembled on a diesel engine.
The adage "Waste not, want not" is part of everyday business for more and more Wisconsin companies.
At Waupaca Foundry, the company has focused for years on cutting energy use, reusing byproducts of the foundry process and sending less to the landfill.
The iron foundry with operations in three states is accelerating its sustainability initiatives and has joined a growing number of companies that have been accepted into the Green Tier program administered by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Green Tier companies are recognized for environmental performance and a commitment to go beyond just compliance with environmental standards, said Laurel Sukup, DNR chief of sustainability and business support.
"What we're really looking for is continuous improvement over time," she said.
To qualify, companies must demonstrate that they are using environmental management systems to track emissions, waste and how they're progressing to hit waste- and energy-saving targets.
Companies accepted into the program are given a single point of contact at the DNR and can connect with each other to share ways to become more energy efficient and cut waste.
Program is growing
Another company that DNR accepted into Green Tier this year is Muskego manufacturer InPro Corp., which has been focused on sustainability for years and in recent years hired its own full-time sustainability manager.
InPro is a prime example of "the role leadership plays in advancing some of these ideas," Sukup said.
The Green Tier program started in 2005 with four companies and has grown to include 107.
"Everybody can always be looking in the mirror and trying to think about how can they do better — what's next for them," said Sukup. "We all know this is a journey and we just need to keep looking toward the future. The Green Tier program is a way for the department to support businesses who want to do more than what is asked of them — and help them stay on that trajectory."
Waupaca Foundry wants to become the first foundry that can claim it's no longer sending its waste to the landfill, said Gary Gigante, chief executive.
"We've achieved 80% and 90%, why can't we be at 100?" he said.
At a meeting with General Motors Co., the automaker's executives said they were pleased that so many of their suppliers achieved "zero landfill" status.
"The only companies that we don't have yet at 'zero landfill' are our foundries," Gigante heard the GM presenter say. "And so when I left that meeting, I came back and said 'Why can't we get to zero?'"
Reusing waste materials is one way the company is drawing closer to that goal.
The blackish foundry sand and slag byproducts left over from the foundry process aren't harmful, and Waupaca has found uses for them in road projects or for farms expanding their barns.
The company's gotten more creative about finding new uses of its waste: In November, the material was used to help create a 42-foot high sledding hill at Swan Park in Waupaca.
In its latest project, which recently received an engineering award, Waupaca and the engineering firm TRC worked to see if it could be used to cover its on-site landfill.
After years of side-by-side, on-site tests comparing the foundry waste with clay — the typical substance used to line landfills because it holds water so well — the Waupaca byproduct performed well, said Bryant Esch, Waupaca chief sustainability officer.
"It ended up that the foundry material performed as well or better than native clay," said Esch. "It worked fantastic."
The DNR reviewed the tests and is permitting Waupaca to use the waste material for both landfill covers and liners.
Through the re-use of the sand and slag byproduct, 80,000 cubic yards of waste material for the liner barrier layer and 112,000 cubic yards for the final cover barrier layer won't be heading to the landfill.
The new landfill barrier using the system will be built next year.
Waupaca has been operating since November as a subsidiary of Hitachi, which bought the business last fall for $1.3 billion.
Waupaca hasn't been slowed by the transition to ownership by Hitachi, said Gigante.
With 3,900 employees in three states, Waupaca manufacturers gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron castings sold to vehicle, agriculture, construction and other markets.
"The marketplace is good," Gigante said. The auto industry makes up about 60% of Waupaca's business, and production of cars and trucks continues to expand, creating more demand.
Waupaca supplies all of the global automakers with plants in North America, and last year found its products were used on 19 out of 20 car and truck production platforms in assembly plants.
The rest of the business isn't doing as well, but the strong car industry has offset challenges in the farm-equipment sector, which accounts for 10% to 12% of its business.
"That's quite weak because of the commodity prices," Gigante said.
What hasn't changed under Hitachi is Waupaca's focus on eliminating waste.
The company hired its first full-time energy manager last year, Gigante said, and is part of a group of Wisconsin companies working with a national program to reduce the energy intensity of their factories by 25% by 2020.
Of about 30 companies across the country that signed on to cut their energy intensity by 25%, nine were from Wisconsin — and three were foundries.
"It tells you that foundries are thinking about how important it is" to cut energy waste, Gigante said.