AKRON—It's difficult to define “going green” because the term means different things to different people.
To Bob Handlos, vice president of product development for Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.'s tire operations, a company must look at all aspects of its operations when trying to become an environmentally friendly business.
“It's not just about what you do with products but also how you make the products and how you deal with the environment,” he said. “It's how you educate teammates and work to reduce your environmental footprint in as many ways as you can.”
Handlos made the comments in an interview before giving the keynote address Oct. 13 on “One Team, One Planet: Thinking Green for a Better Tomorrow,” at the ACS Rubber Division's Technical Meeting and Rubber Expo '09 in Pittsburgh.
Green initiatives take a high priority within the Bridgestone Group worldwide, and the North American-based subsidiary is working hard to do its part, Handlos said. Accomplishments in the past year have included:
—Tire factories in Warren County, Tenn., and Aiken, S.C., became the only tire manufacturing plants to gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council;
—Firestone Build¬ing Products Co. L.L.C.'s roofing facility in Wellford, S.C., was accepted into the South Carolina Environmental Excellence Program; and
—The “Get the Lead Out” program started by Firestone Racing and the Firestone Complete Auto Care unit to phase out lead wheel weights received a Corporate Social Responsibility Award from PR News.
Handlos was especially proud of the LEED certification at the two tire factories because it's much easier to earn the honor at new facilities rather than existing ones—particularly manufacturing sites. He said the U.S. Green Building Council puts out a series of qualifications that can run from the very simple to as complex as putting in waterless urinals or improving the HVAC system.
Upgrades at the tire facilities included such actions as the use of clean energy hydrogen fuel cells in automation-guided vehicles and installation of energy-efficient lighting, high-tech fans and resource-conserving fixtures in the restrooms. The initiatives led to a significant reduction in energy and water consumption at the two tire factories.
The new technical center that Bridgestone will build in Akron will be designed to be a LEED-certified facility right from the groundbreaking, planned for next spring. The program will start with the most efficient heating and cooling system, but also will include such actions as having an appropriate number of bicycle racks so people can ride bikes to work.
“It will run the whole gamut,” Handlos said. “We will encourage teammates to reduce their carbon footprint. It seems simple and we wouldn't think of it as being an environmental building, but we're going to include those types of things in the facility.”
Bridgestone talks about best practices for the environment on a global level and the various geographic entities can adopt activities that fit within its operations. For example, after Firestone Racing eliminated lead weights in racing tires, the Bridgestone Group then followed the same path in its Formula One racing series.
“We certainly want to be a leader,” Handlos said. “Basically, it's the right thing to do. We only have one environment and we need to make sure our children can enjoy the same great environment we've grown up with.”
Making business sense
Of course, behaving responsibly also must be balanced with making sound business decisions. But there's even some pushing in this area, he said, from the growing niche of customers who are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products to coming government regulations such as the proposed tire fuel efficiency label.
“You have to be ahead of the curve,” Handlos said. “You have to understand what shapes the wants now, and also five to 10 years out.”
The Bridgestone executive said the company continually looks for ways to reduce its overall environmental impact. He views the activity as an ongoing evolution where nobody knows for sure what the end game is, emphasizing that “going green” isn't something the company just started in the past couple of years when having a social conscience became popular.
“There are always ways to do it better,” Handlos said. “We've significantly reduced the amount of energy we use and the amount of waste that goes to landfills. We continue to look for ways to do these things better. There is incremental improvement year after year, but it adds up.”