Moving Toward Certification

Founded in 2012, Steelhead Composites has a customer base that’s very concerned with sustainability; it manufactures specialty lightweight composite pressure vessels for weight-sensitive energy and fuel storage applications. Although the company has always had a culture of environmental stewardship, going through the ISO 14001 environmental certification process helped it implement additional sustainable practices.

To qualify for the ISO certification, which it earned last fall, Steelhead had to understand, identify, quantify and plan for all of the significant environmental aspects of its manufacturing and operations.

“It took many months of looking at our systems – waste, energy usage, our manufacturing processes, even down to the nitty-gritty of any cleaning supplies that we might use,” says Marissa Sundy, director of business development. The company also reviewed its compliance with state and local regulatory requirements. By the end of this process, Steelhead had found several areas for improvement.

“We have decreased our cost of solid waste disposal, decreased the cost of liquid disposal and highlighted ways in which we can save on our electricity bill, such as staggering machine start-up times,” Sundy says.

The company’s commitment to improvement didn’t stop with certification. Company managers regularly conduct environmental reviews and track key performance indicators. Every employee is involved. Company-wide meetings each Tuesday often provide further education and training on environmental and sustainability issues. Some team members act as spot checkers to ensure that the company continues to follow sustainable practices.

Companies do have to make a materials, time and financial investment to achieve certifications like ISO 14001. “We believe, however, that the tangible benefits outweigh the investment, not to mention the intangible benefits of increased safety and a smaller environmental footprint,” says Sundy.

She adds that the biggest challenge for companies may be making sustainable practices part of their day-to-day operations. It has to become embedded in their culture, in the company DNA.

Understanding the Scale

Gromacki says that employees are generally positive about sustainability because they can see how it will benefit them. “People know that it’s economic, societal and environmental aspects [of a company’s operations] that are being managed through sustainability,” Gromacki says. “Most people want a company that is doing well in their community, that’s doing well in their industry, that has a good future.” This gives them a stake in sustainability efforts.

Companies that haven’t discussed sustainability with their employees need to have those conversations. Sundy believes that there’s an inevitability to sustainable manufacturing for the composites industry, as regulators and customers increasingly require environmental quality policies and certifications like ISO 14001.