Lessons in sustainability
As one of the few remaining large textile manufacturers in the U.S., Mount Vernon Mills has long been recognized for its industry leading environmental initiatives that meet or exceed regulatory requirements. Its programs also extend to helping its customers comply with regulations.
As one of the few remaining large textile manufacturers in the U.S., Mount Vernon Mills has kept a keen eye on the increasing number of regulatory requirements-not only meeting these requirements, but often exceeding what it is required. Mount Vernon Mills has been receiving recognition for its eco-friendly initiatives since 1999 (see box).
For Mount Vernon Mills, fuel (coal and natural gas) costs and electricity are two of our biggest manufacturing expenses.
Some of the company's more noteworthy achievements in pollution prevention in 2008 include:
• 90%+ solid waste recycling or reuse;
• Reducing waste sent to landfills by 43% compared to 1997 levels;
• 72% elimination of regulated air pollutant emissions;
• 44% elimination of volatile organic compounds;
• Reduction of water use by 37%;
• Eliminating 33% of organic pollutants released in wastewater;
• Eliminating 57% of waste water bio-solids, with the remaining 43% being used for fertilizer;
• Zero hazardous waste; and
• Recycling or reuse of all chemical drums and totes.
Considering this substantial track record, we asked Ron Beegle, Mount Vernon Mills corporate director of environmental affairs, to provide a better understanding of how this manufacturer consistently achieves such lofty environmental goals. The company's early conservation efforts (to reduce water usage and regulated chemicals usage during the 1990s), and its recycling efforts, are what led to these awards, said Beegle.
Q: Can you cite an example?
Mount Vernon had been recycling fiber and other solid wastes for decades; for example, after the local landfill closed in 1994, it became significantly more expensive to transport solid waste out of the county, so we set our sights on reducing the remaining landfill stream by half before the end of the decade and actually ended up reducing it by 65% by 1999. Since then, we have reduced our landfill waste stream by an additional 16%. Today, more than 90% of our solid waste is recycled or reused in some manner.
Q: What started this as a corporate initiative? How do you sustain and improve on it?
I would like to say that we woke up one day and decided to just save the planet, but of course government regulations have been behind some of our motivation. However, we did take the initiative early on to go beyond the minimum requirements for elimination of certain regulated substances. That decision paid substantial dividends. For example, in the mid '90s when the maximum achievable control technology standards from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required costly controls on industry on many substances used in our production processes, we had already eliminated them. As a result, we have no facilities that are "major sources" for hazardous air pollutants according to the Clean Air Act.
We have greatly minimized the usage of regulated chemicals, but in some cases due to the high performance end-use requirements of the fabrics (such as for flame resistance), the best available chemistry may still require the presence of certain regulated chemicals. In these cases, we routinely work with our chemical vendors to make sure that the chemistry we use is as safe as possible for our employees in our manufacturing processes as well as for our customer's employees during garment manufacturing and for the ultimate end user.
Q: Mount Vernon Mills has been recognized for so many environmental accomplishments, but we're most interested in three: your millions in energy savings, water savings, and low carbon footprint. With regard to the energy savings, how many millions are we talking about, how long a period is this calculated over, and what did you change to achieve it?
RB: Energy savings have been achieved over time by doing things like replacing motors with more energy efficient units, optimizing our air compressors by utilizing control systems, and installing more efficient lighting. We periodically survey our locations for energy-saving project ideas and distribute a summary to all plant engineers in order to share ideas. The most recent survey included dozens of project ideas from small, no-cost tasks to larger capital projects with attractive ROIs. A great example of a major capital project we recently undertook with an excellent ROI would be the replacement of a 40-year-old chiller with a new more efficient unit in one of our greige mills (dry processing mill). On the small project side, deploying simple motion sensors on warehouse lighting and other areas not occupied on a continuous basis to turn off lighting and computers after business hours has produced additional savings. For Mount Vernon Mills, fuel (coal and natural gas) costs and electricity are two of our biggest manufacturing expenses. Many millions are spent annually to power our facilities, dry fabrics, and generate steam with our boilers. A 10% reduction in this expense results in millions saved.
Q: Mount Vernon Mills claims that it now uses one-third less water. When was the reduction achieved and how did you do it?
RB: From the mid 1990s to early 2000s, we reduced our water withdrawal by more than 1.5 million gallons per day. Much of this was accomplished by:
• Reclaiming a/c and compressor non-contact cooling water;
• Reclaiming hot condensate generated by our caustic recovery system;
• Reclaiming water used for general wash down and cleaning water activities;
• Using wastewater treatment plant effluent as makeup water for polymer mixes;
• Backwashing water used for non-potable plant utility needs, such as influent screening structures; and
• Computer automation of processes by which we could optimize water flow rates, such as in our wash boxes.
Mount Vernon Mills
The company has received recognition and awards from organizations such as Air and Waste Management Association (1999 Certificate of Achievement), South Carolina Environmental Excellence Program, Georgia Pollution Prevention Partners Program (Model Level Certification), and the Governor of Georgia (1999 Honorable Mention and 2001 Winner of the Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention in the Large Industry Category).
Q: You claim to have achieved a 72% reduction in regulated air pollutant emissions. How did you achieve that?
RB: This reduction occurred over the last 10 years and was achieved by carefully screening our dyes and chemicals for regulated components and working with our vendors to find more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Q: One of the more interesting environmental achievements pertains to maintenance of your customers' restricted substances list. I've heard that this is done to avoid using any substances that may not be banned for you, but could be a problem for your clients. With 16 location in the U.S. alone, plus plants in Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia, how do you accommodate for this with regard to production?
RB: As a vertical manufacturer of the fabric, we can certify compliance with the limitations in all of the major published restricted substances lists (RSLs) such as the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), Levi Strauss, and Gap. We also monitor other initiatives such as Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and REACH (for the EU) to make sure our fabrics are not manufactured with nor contain any of the regulated substances covered by those European directives. Even though a particular non-U.S. initiative may arise that would not immediately impact us directly, we are finding in today's global marketplace that when a substance is added to one list, it soon makes it onto all of the others.
For example, a substance recently added to the EU REACH candidate list was also added shortly thereafter to the AAFA RSL. Therefore, it is prudent for us to monitor globally all of these regulated substance initiatives and take action where necessary to avoid exposure to them if at all possible.
- Edited by Renee M. Robbins, managing editor, MBT www.mbtmag.com
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Mount Vernon Mills
An international manufacturer of textile, chemical, and related products for the apparel, industrial, institutional, and commercial markets, Mount Vernon Mills employs some 2,600 people and operates 14 production facilities in the U.S., as well as in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The company has received recognition and awards from organizations such as Air and Waste Management Association (1999 Certificate of Achievement), South Carolina Environmental Excellence Program, Georgia Pollution Prevention Partners Program (Model Level Certification), and the Governor of Georgia (1999 Honorable Mention and 2001 Winner of the Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention in the Large Industry Category).
Mount Vernon Mills corporate director of environmental affairs