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June 30, 2008 | last updated December 7, 2011 9:12 am
Commentary

Intelligent design | A smart facility layout for your company is not only efficient, but a lot more green, too

In the 1800s, it was often said that "as Maine goes, so goes the nation." At the time, ours was the first state in the nation to vote, and the results were often seen as a harbinger of how national elections would turn out. Today, we are once again leading the nation — this time in the movement toward being better environmental stewards. Whether through the use of recycled packaging or the implementation of "zero waste" policies, businesses such as Tom's of Maine and L.L.Bean and schools such as College of the Atlantic and Unity College are making sustainability a priority.

It's easy to see why environmental responsibility is important to so many of us. We are extraordinarily blessed when it comes to our natural environment, and our lakes, rivers, forests and seashore are largely responsible for the wonderful quality of life we enjoy.

In adopting environmentalism, many Maine businesses have discovered that sustainability is also good for business. By introducing energy-saving design approaches and technologies into their facilities, many Maine businesses have saved thousands of dollars in heating and cooling costs. And by redesigning their buildings to introduce more natural light and fresh air into workspaces, businesses haven't just saved money, but have also created healthier, more pleasant work environments for their employees. These benefits have many companies and organizations looking for new and creative ways to improve facilities and promote sustainability.

In their search for effective ways to be better environmental stewards — and save money — many organizations are overlooking a potentially powerful resource that is already readily at hand: their materials management systems. On many corporate, university and hospital campuses, as well as business parks, vast amounts of space are consumed by the movement, delivery, storage and disposal of supplies and materials. As institutions inevitably expand, the amount of space devoted to infrastructure and support multiplies rapidly, which leads to a cluttered, noisy and inefficient campus. Delivery trucks compete with pedestrians, loading docks are in plain sight, trash dumpsters sprout up and lobbies, hallways and stairwells are used for storage space.

These hazards can be avoided through the development and implementation of a strategic materials management plan, which can turn an organization's service infrastructure into a virtually invisible and sustainable environment. It can also maximize the efficiency of the land on which a business, university or hospital campus is located, permitting the organization to reclaim valuable real estate for other uses.

Plan of attack

An effective materials management plan finds innovative and effective ways to take the unattractive and unintended impacts of managing operations and support services — from delivery truck traffic and loading docks to storage facilities and waste removal — and make them less intrusive. For example, take truck deliveries and service vehicle routes. It is often possible to consolidate deliveries to reduce the number of trucks entering and exiting a facility. Or service vehicles can often be routed to the rear of the facility, instead of having delivery trucks coming in the front entrance and jockeying for position with pedestrians and customer vehicles. And in many cases, relocating utility infrastructure and service equipment can make systems more efficient while improving campus aesthetics.

The business advantages of such a plan are clear: When materials management systems are created through a strategic blueprint, business and other organizations can reap sizeable financial benefits through reduced delivery and maintenance costs, as well as the cost savings that come with effective recycling. Additionally, campuses and office parks become much more attractive, which makes them much more enjoyable places to work.

At the same time, the environmental benefits are just as important. An effective materials management program can provide a more holistic approach to managing vehicle use and emissions, solid waste, hazardous waste, recycling and utility services. Often, by consolidating functions — and reducing the amount of space that is needed to complete those functions — additional green space can be created for the enjoyment of employees and visitors. The result is a "greener," more sustainable environment and a reduction in the company or institution's carbon footprint.

Materials management programs are typically developed as part of a capital expansion or master planning project. Plans can be created during the original development of a new business park, hospital, business or university campus; or they can be part of a retrofit designed to improve an existing business park or campus.

Implementing a successful program must be a team effort. Business owners and campus planners need to rely on their full range of experts—architects, planners, traffic managers, environmental engineers, solid waste professionals, civil engineers, etc.—to work together to ensure that every materials-related challenge is addressed.

Maine companies and organizations that value sustainability should consider implementing a strategic materials management program. Those that do will find that such a program will not only promote environmental stewardship and make the business or organization "greener," but also be healthy for the bottom line by reducing operation costs.

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