Electro Chemical Wins Enviro-Silver Award

April 30, 2002
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WYOMING — Electro Chemical Finishing Co. was one of only seven metal finishers in Michigan to be honored recently by the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency for reducing waste from its plating process.

In fact, the 24-year-old Wyoming company was the only West Michigan firm to receive the honor and one of only two that received the highest award given.

"There is some excitement around here for that, and some of the other environmental things that we've been doing," said Steve Hulst, director of safety, environmental and laboratory services for Electro Chemical. "It's a good feeling."

Only Electro Chemical and Tawas Plating and Powder Coating of Tawas City won a silver award, while five other Michigan firms picked up a bronze. No company in the state grabbed the gold last month, so the silver that Electro Chemical earned was the year's top prize for metal finishers.

The silver award means that Electro Chemical had a 66 percent gain in its goal to lessen the waste from its manufacturing process. On top of that achievement, the company won a bronze last year, which meant that its reduction program had a 33 percent gain for 2000.

Hulst said the company had to learn how to use less electricity and water in relation to the amount of manufacturing waste it produces, which wasn't easy to do from the start.

"It's been a process of seeing what works," he said. "Sometimes you have to spend money to upgrade the equipment you've got to get that payoff in the future, and we've had to do some of that."

Electro Chemical also changed some of its work methods and its rinsing process. The firm also substituted some less hazardous, but often more costly materials for cheaper, but more dangerous ones.

The company also sent employees to seminars on how to cut waste and make the environment safer.

As Hulst pointed out, Electro Chemical hasn't regretted making those efforts.

"It's definitely worth the investment in the cost savings," he said.

"And it's a good marketing tool, which allows us to drum up more business, because people like to do business with companies that are environmentally sound.

"It's also been good public relations for us with the community. People see what we've done and they're not so scared having a facility next door that has some potentially hazardous things on hand," he added.

"We try to bring jobs to the community and put out a good product. But at the same time, we want to be a good neighbor."

The company reduced its wastewater discharge by more than half last year, as it went from .29 gallons for each dollar of sales to .09 gallons.

Electro Chemical also lowered its output of sludge by even more, going from 6.03 pounds per $1,000 worth of sales to just 2.54 pounds. The firm also dropped its organic chemical emissions from .54 pounds per $1,000 in sales to .1 pound.

"We saved money over that period of time, if you look at those numbers. So, the investment that we made in the additional equipment and the training was well worth it," said Hulst.

A technical review panel mostly made up of members from the DEQ and EPA verified the awards, which are part of the National Metal Finishing Strategic Goals Program. Twenty other states participate in the program, and Michigan was only the third state to have metal finishing companies climb up the waste-reduction performance ladder.

Firms that get involved in the program do so on a voluntary basis, and Electro Chemical has taken part in it for the past five years.

"The DEQ and participating metal finishers have a strong commitment to this project and anticipate continued benefits from the program," said DEQ Director Russell Harding.

"The biggest benefit of the program, beyond the positive environmental impact, has been the creation of an open line of communication between the industry and the local, state and federal regulatory agencies," said Robert Burger, chairman of the Michigan Strategic Goals Program and CEO of Chemetco.

Electro Chemical does decorative brass, chrome, gold, black pearl and physical vapor deposition finishing, along with other specialty finishes for the automotive, door hardware and plumbing industries.

The company received its silver award at a ceremony held in March at Constitution Hall in Lansing, and Hulst felt that most of the credit for the firm's waste-reduction track record should go to company president Terry Vollmer and his executives.

"One of the keys is to have upper management get on board with the program right away," he said, "and commit to spending the resources needed to reach those goals."

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