Why Rejuvenation went carbon neutral, and more importantly, how.
The Rejuvenation team is an opinionated lot. On issues historical lighting, political, business, and best-dog-breed, we get pretty hot under the collar. The one thing we all agree needs to be neutral – our carbon use.
Being environmentally responsible is in our DNA. Jim Kelly began with the model that the most sustainable building is one that’s already built. Then we built on that idea by manufacturing our own lighting right here in Portland, Oregon.
Even though Jim went from running a small shop (with under 20 employees) to a large manufacturing facility (between 150 – 200 employees), he was always very clear he wasn’t going to sacrifice his integrity in the name of business. “While I have never had any ideas about a grand social experiment, it is our company policy not to blindly accept ‘good business’ rules. It has always been my intention to proceed with a philosophy that values fairness, cooperation, honesty, and quality over just dollars and standard business practices.”
From the beginning he knew that taking care of the environment was core. Because you can’t reach a goal if you don’t know where you are right now, we began measuring our impact around major carbon producing activities like driving, utilities, and travel back in the 1990s. In 2005 we started to specifically measure carbon. This came about as part of our 30-year anniversary and commitment to not only measure, but also to REDUCE our carbon and offset our operational impacts.
We were surprised to learn that the largest piece of our carbon footprint (the heel, if you will) was employee commuting. With 170 employees going to and from work at our two stores and our manufacturing facility, the carbon emissions really added up. Rejuvenation already supported alternative commuting by paying people a monthly amount to walk, bike, or carpool to work, but the company took another step and purchased TriMet bus, streetcar and lightrail passes for every employee. We also added a fleet of loaner bikes at our factory for people to use for errands or fresh air rides.
Guess what? It worked! We do TriMet surveys every two years, and between 2007 and 2009 we increased our alternative commuting by 19%. Currently our Grand store has 50% alternative commuting and our manufacturing facility at Nicolai has just under 50%.
The good news? Commuting is no longer our biggest carbon source.
The bad news? That honor now goes to General Operations (things like our manufacturing facility, two stores, and shipping).
The good news? Since 2005 we’ve seen a 20% reduction in carbon emissions. Year by year our number is going down, too. We have reduced our carbon footprint. It was 923 tons in 2009 and in 2010 it was down to 718 tons. We’re not yet where we want to be, but we’re on our way.
What have we done to tackle this? We’re mindful of lots of things with our business. Our lights are built to last 30 years or more. We recycle and reuse brass parts and wood and we repurpose old wood and furniture to build our display cases and service desks. Other things we do internally that contribute to less carbon in the long run, though more difficult to measure in the short term:
- Added motion sensors to our factory lighting
- Switched all store lighting to compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
- Began to sustainably and responsibly recycle the cfl bulbs, and any that customers bring and send us, so no mercury ends up in landfills.
- Turned down the thermostat
- Switched packaging materials to one that weighs less, needs less fuel to transport, and therefore produces less carbon
- Used low VOC paints to paint the stores
- Created a low VOC product finish process
- Rerouted storm water into our planter to keep sewage out of the river
Measuring was the first step. Changing our manufacturing, employee, and retail processes is the second. The third is the actual carbon offsetting. The first year (2007) we wrote a check for $10,000 to a trusted partner who is doing a carbon mitigation program. That was okay, but didn’t feel “Rejuvenation” enough — we wanted to be more directly engaged and didn’t feel comfortable just paying.
Ultimately, with the product we offer, we know we can have a lot more impact by helping our customers shift to becoming more energy-efficient, too. We already do that by making lighting and hardware that will last a long, long time, and but we’re looking for other ways, too. Last year we sent a free energy-efficient bulb out with every fixture. We based this decision on the fact that each bulb would offset 450 pounds of carbon, as compared to a typical incandescent light bulb.
What are we going to do this year? We’re in the process of honing in on that and have a couple big ideas. We can give you a hint about one of them … it’s going to have something to do with our new store in LA, and the sustainable implications of saving and preserving old buildings. The other is a surprise. Stay tuned!