While alternative-engine school buses often make headlines for helping to clean up the environment, several bus manufacturers are also “greening up” operations behind the scenes with sustainable initiatives that get less publicity.
Those in student transportation may not hear about other companies’ efforts to save energy or reduce waste until an award puts them in the spotlight. Mike Strickland, environmental health and safety manager at Collins Bus, said it is “very rewarding” for the company to have won two awards in 2011 — the Pollution Prevention Award from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Green Corporate Citizen Award from Waste & Recycling News.
“We were very surprised to make it to the final three, and for us to win was incredible,” Strickland recalled.
When he was hired in 2008, the company only recycled scrap metal. Since then, Collins’ recycling program and other waste-reduction initiatives have cut back on landfill waste by nearly 90 percent. The earnings from recycling cardboard “more than offset” the amount paid to have scrap wood recycled and reused.
What also caught the attention of Waste & Recycling News was Collins’ mentoring program, which brings in other companies for a tour of the factory, including a tutorial on recycling, waste reduction and water conservation.
Learning the Three R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Thomas Built Bus, Blue Bird Corporation, Trans Tech Bus, IC Bus and Lion Bus also have recycling and waste reduction initiatives that pay off in more ways than one.
In 2011, Thomas earned the distinction of becoming the first school bus OEM to achieve Zero-Waste-to-Landfill status, which means everything it receives or produces is used, reused, recycled or sold. Then, Thomas received the 2011 Environmental Steward Award in February from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The company reported it nearly doubled its recycling of wood and nearly tripled its paper and cardboard recycling from 2008 to 2010, while reducing its annual water consumption by 42 percent and its energy consumption by 6,891 kilowatts from 2006 to 2010.
Thomas officials noted that new factory equipment has helped to realize leaner management and greener operations. The purchase of two 4,000-watt laser cutters and a 20-foot stacker enabled them to eliminate five other machines and shorten the time to fabricate parts by 25 percent.
“These new lasers provide greater precision, so we get the optimum number of parts from a sheet, reducing waste,” said Jeff Allen, Thomas’ VP of operations, adding that they’ve also saved on material costs and recycling fees.
Blue Bird spokeswoman Erin Lake said the company’s “Join Blue, Go Green” program reinforces environmental awareness and encourages all employees to recycle as much as possible. The goal is to become 100-percent landfill free, and at this writing the company was at 90 percent. It currently recycles 100 percent of its cardboard, plastic and all metals.
“We have successfully reduced our carbon footprint and our environmental waste while producing products that are environmentally friendly, such as propane and CNG school buses,” Lake said.
This spring, the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition recognized Blue Bird with its Extra Mile Award for a commitment to cleaner-burning school buses. The award lauds organizations that improve Georgia’s air quality while advancing economic, environmental and energy security.
“We are committed to providing innovative, reliable and efficient green solutions that our customers want and value,” said Phil Horlock, Blue Bird’s president and CEO.
Meanwhile, Trans Tech President Dan Daniels said company officials there continually look for ways to incorporate the ideal of sustainability into the products they manufacture, like the all-electric eTrans school bus, as well as all manufacturing processes.
He said one of the first improvements he made after joining the Trans Tech team in 2007 was to replace its linear production line with a circular, more efficient process. The previous linear process did not allow the company to properly utilize its facility, materials, energy or labor force, Daniels explained.
“By redesigning the layout of our manufacturing process, we were able to maximize the floor space in our facility, make our production process more efficient and fill customer orders more quickly,” he said. “As a result, we were able to implement a four-day work week, which has helped us to significantly reduce power usage.”
Trash Talk for Cost Savings
IC Bus has also increased its efforts to reduce landfill waste and energy consumption. Greg Hutchison, manager of the company’s Tulsa, Okla., bus plant, said two green projects are underway.
The first is a complete upgrade to energy-efficient, high-output light fixtures, which could save about $140,000 annually. The second project entails re-piping the main plant’s air compressor and adding a monitoring system to the current compressors that will rotate usage, potentially reducing energy costs by $70,116, or 39 percent.
The Tulsa plant recycles cardboard, paper and wood pallets, receiving a monthly reimbursement for wood of up to $3,500, Hutchison noted. Paint recycling has also produced cost savings.
“All paint system purge solvent is sent off to Reclaimed Energy in Connersville, Ind., to be recycled, and then we buy it back at a reduced cost to reuse,” he said. “The waste goes through a re-blending process and is exactly the same as buying virgin solvent.”
In addition, the paint filters are sent to Covanta Energy, whose 40-plus facilities generate energy from waste.
“Several non-hazardous waste streams that are being sent to a waste disposal company have been approved by Covanta and the state to go to the waste-to-energy plant for steam production,” Hutchison continued. “This will reduce the cost of disposal as well as reuse waste material to produce energy.”
Marc Bedard, president of Quebec-based Lion Bus, said the company is using less paint and doing less welding, which minimizes toxic emissions from its plant in St. Jerome, north of Montreal.
The company switched to using composites like ThermoPlastic Olefin (TPO) and Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic panel, he noted, because of customer feedback.
“We are using gel coats instead of paint,” Bedard said. “Our waste management is also getting more efficient, and we recycle as much as possible.”
He confirmed that the company, which launched in 2011, is starting to explore alt-fuel options for its Type C buses.
“The market is open, so we are investigating alternative fuels,” he said. “In Quebec everything is electric, so we’ll see what we do in the future.”
Reprinted from the August 2012 edition of School Transportation News. All rights reserved.