The green scene


AUBURN – The hum of trucks crisscrossing the yard at Safe Handling has a little different timbre these days.

That’s because the fleet of 25 is now using biodiesel at its Rodman Road facility and on its short-haul deliveries to customers throughout Maine.

“Right now, we’re at 2 percent biodiesel (fuel mix), but we expect to reach 20 percent within three weeks,” said Andy Meyer, vice president of green initiatives. “When we do, I believe we might become the biggest consumers of biodiesel fuel in the state.”

Last week’s conversion to biodiesel is just the latest step the bulk transporter has made to make the world a little more livable. Since 2004, it has pioneered transportation efficiencies by using rail rather than long-haul trucking; and by moving lighter, dry products rather than liquid.

Two weeks ago, it made a commitment through the Governor’s Carbon Challenge to reduce its carbon footprint by 75 percent for each new project it undertakes.

“As it turns out, doing what’s right for the planet is also what’s right for business,” Meyer said.

The initiative is one of many launched by local companies concerned with environmental stewardship whose efforts have been noticed in Augusta.

• Promotional products company Geiger has made significant reductions in energy consumption by modifying its boilers, installing high efficiency lights and HVAC systems, reducing its electricity usage by 580,000 kilowatt hours for an annual $87,000 savings.

• New warehouse lighting at White Rock Distilleries is saving that company $5,000 per year and reducing the emission of about 22 tons of carbon.

• At Poland Spring Bottling, trials are under way to reduce energy for moderating the temperature of its water processing, which already show 10 percent reductions in electricity use and carbon emissions. The water bottler also uses a biodiesel fleet and employees achieved more than 350 tons of carbon reductions for an Earth Day project this year.

• Even smaller businesses such as Lamey-Wellehan, which has been a longtime environmental leader, are contributing. Using energy efficient systems in its seven stores, the footwear retailer has been able to reduce its electricity use by 19 percent and its carbon emissions by 23 percent. The company uses biodiesel in its delivery trucks whenever possible and the standard company car is a Toyota Prius.

“Going green is an up-and-coming thing, but we’ve been doing it for a while,” said Ray Bergeron, facilities and engineering manager at Geiger. “This whole place is about doing what’s right and doing it well.”

That company has been on a tear, upgrading one system after another to save electricity and reduce emissions. It started with a conversion of more than 1,300 lights to high efficiency units, a project that was completed just as the company’s electricity contract was expiring.

“It got us thinking about electricity as a whole,” said Bergeron, noting their price for electricity was almost doubling (going from about 9 cents per kilowatt hour to 16.5 cents). “We said, ‘Let’s do what we can to lower prices.'”

Geiger turned to Efficiency Maine, the state program that offers cash incentives to companies willing to convert to more energy efficient systems. Efficiency Maine had already helped finance the lighting upgrade, contributing $41,000 to offset Geiger’s $80,000 investment. It stepped up again, when Bergeron discovered a way to upgrade the plant’s three boilers, and netted an 83,000 kilowatt hour gain per year.

“Plus we saved more than 13,000 gallons of heating fuel,” said Bergeron, a combined savings of $37,500.

Geiger tapped Efficiency Maine again when it looked for ways to reduce the horsepower running its air compressors. By installing a new $30,000 variable speed compressor, Geiger reduced its per hour operating cost from $7.45 to $1.40 and saved $15,000 a year. Efficiency Maine kicked in $12,000 of the cost of the new compressor.

“So now our pay-back time is a little over a year,” said Bergeron of the new compressor. “To a bean counter, that’s huge.”

Geiger and White Rock were both cited for their efforts by Efficiency Maine this spring, earning accolades from Public Utilities Commission Commissioner Sharon Reishus. The program offers free technical advice to businesses of all sizes and cash incentives of up to $200,000 for energy efficient equipment.

Likewise, Poland Spring, Lamey-Wellehan and Safe Handling have earned kudos for their participation in the carbon reduction program. That program offers no financial incentives but asks companies to voluntarily roll back carbon emissions to 1990 levels.

“The more we can awaken opportunities to form agreements and achieve these goals, the more we can all reach a better level of environmental performance,” said Roy Krout, an environmental specialist in Augusta’s Office of Innovation.

For Jim Wellehan, the commitment to operating a green business simply makes sense, from a environmental and an economic point of view.

“We’ve reduced our greenhouse gases by 23 percent between 2004 and 2006 and reduced our expenses by that much as well,” said the company president. “Greenhouse gases and money go out the door together.”

Meyer said Safe Handling’s Smart Transportation strategy has saved about 55,000 tons of carbon emissions a year – the equivalent of taking almost 10,000 cars off the road annually. Customers previously had chemicals trucked in a liquid state thousands of miles to their Maine facilities. For the last three years, customers have had their chemicals shipped via rail as a powder, which are then mixed into the appropriate liquid format at Safe Handling before being delivered.

Now those Safe Handling tankers are powered by a biodiesel mix – a suggestion that came from an employee via a company-wide campaign to make Safe Handling even greener.

“We think it’s pretty cool,” said Meyer of the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship. “Everybody wins.”