AKRON—Mark Emkes knows that when it comes to companies “going green,” it's important that top management sets a good example.
So not only does the chairman and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. separate the plastics in his office for recycling, he also has “downsized” his business cards. Emkes now hands out cards printed on 100-percent recycled paper that are roughly half the size of traditional business cards.
He views it as one small statement to let the firm's 53,000 employees know that Bridgestone's “One Team, One Planet” slogan really is more than just words. It's a way of life.
“I'm a firm believer that the tone needs to come from the top, but it really is the team that implements it,” Emkes said during an interview after delivering a keynote address Sept. 16 to a combined audience of the Tire Society and the International Tire Exhibition and Conference. “And fortunately the team is very strong and the team has embraced the concept.”
During his talk, the Bridgestone Americas chairman emphasized that operating a company in an environmentally friendly manner—while meaning different things to different firms—is more than just making “green” products.
It's as wide ranging as improving pro-cesses in factories to developing roofing systems that incorporate plants, irrigation and landscaping along with the regular roofing membrane.
It also encompasses the company setting up wildlife habitats at several of its U.S. tire plants and its employees getting out into the community and being involved in various initiatives.
“We need to improve our processes and systems so that we're reducing energy consumption in our facilities, eliminating waste where we can and recycling what's left over,” Emkes said.
Even in such a profit-driven world, he said it's imperative that companies do things because “it's the right thing to do.”
“The bottom line is important, but also the way the numbers are achieved is equally important because if the numbers are not achieved in the right way, eventually the numbers are going to go away,” Emkes said. “And simply by doing the right thing, we've enhanced our bottom line because the people are more inspired. So I think doing it the right way—maybe not immediately, but eventually—will enhance the bottom line.”
Bridgestone is far from the only tire and rubber company moving toward being green, he said, and all these firms need to play a vital role in educating the public, especially when it comes to what it really means to be green.
“Currently, there's no government standards,” Emkes said. “So, for now, we need to find ways to help consumers cut through the clutter and determine what's really beneficial to the environment and what's simply hype.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on a system that would grade tires on fuel efficiency on the basis of rolling resistance, enabling the public to compare options and choose green tires. But such a system is still a few years down the road, so until then “we need to give consumers reliable information they can use to make good buying decisions if they want to 'go green' today,” he said.
For its part, Bridgestone plans to launch its Ecopia line of fuel-efficient tires in North America and Europe next year after rolling it out in Japan earlier this year, Emkes revealed in his speech. Bridgestone claims the Ecopia line can improve a car's fuel economy by as much as 5 percent.
“The Ecopia tire line will put a premium on rolling resistance for the consumer who wants to prioritize maximum fuel economy, all while maintaining a safe ride,” he said.
The tire maker also plans to start building Ecopia technology into its Turanza and Potenza touring and performance tire lines to reduce their rolling resistance without impacting the performance of those tires.
While the vast majority of tire buyers still are concerned primarily about getting a product that will last a long time and is price competitive, Emkes believes more consumers will start seeking out tires that offer better fuel consumption.
“Once again, it's the right thing for the industry to do, to develop tires that have better rolling resistance and are more eco-friendly,” he said, “and I think as we have those products then we can push them a little more and encourage people to go in that direction.”
Emkes said there are people willing to pay more for green products. He pointed to Bridgestone's pilot program at its retail stores in Boston and Portland where it began offering an economically friendly oil change that uses a recycled, twice-refined motor oil product called EcoPower.
The cost of the EcoPower oil change was more than for a traditional oil change and the company wasn't pushing it hard, not wanting to cannibalize its existing business. “But as people realize we have it available, they're actually coming in and buying it,” he said.
Bridgestone also has incorporated green technology into its truck tires, offering the Greatec Super Single as a lighter, more fuel-efficient product than a dual tire set-up. It also is emphasizing the importance of retreading truck tires through its Bandag business.
“Making a Bandag retread only takes seven gallons of oil, compared to the 22 gallons required to manufacture a new tire,” the Bridgestone chairman said. “In the last 50 years, we estimate the Bandag retreading process has saved more than 4 billion gallons of oil.”
More than just products
But offering green products is just part of the overall solution, he said. Bridgestone Americas now boasts 10 facilities in the Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Performance Track Program, which recognizes excellence in environmental performance.
“We're reducing waste and we're recycling,” Emkes said. “Since 2003, we've reduced total waste per ton of product by 34 percent, while increasing waste recycled per ton of product by 24 percent. This means that more than 10,000 tons of waste per year is not going into landfills.”
Other initiatives run the gamut from simple things like using low-energy lighting products and high-efficiency fans to futuristic approaches such as using hydrogen fuel cells to power material movers at certain tire plants. “These hydrogen fuel cells reduce energy consumption, give off no harmful emissions and improve our ability to move materials through our facilities,” he said.
* has converted to nonlead wheel weights in its motorsports program and at its retail stores;
* offers photovoltaic roofing systems that convert sunlight to electricity to reduce the energy costs for an entire building;
* has employees at many of its factories working with community groups such as the Boy and Girl Scouts in a wide variety of environmentally friendly programs; and
* built a state-of-the art waste water treatment plant at its natural rubber plantation in Liberia to protect the water quality in the community there.
“'One Team, One Planet' is not a slogan,” Emkes said. “It is a commitment that touches every facet of our business. We're creating green products in an environmentally responsible way. We're working with our partners to protect our lands and waterways. We're reaching out to our communities to provide unique outdoor opportunities for kids that enable them to have fun in the great outdoors while learning about nature.
“When it comes to the environment, we're all in this together.”