Opening its doors during the Great Depression, and working through its infancy during World War II times of rationing, Racine International, Inc. was founded on principles of sustainability. At the time, running a business with sustainability always in mind was a necessity! However, minimizing wastes and costs also makes good business sense and keeps prices down. This logic is a permanent part of the company culture, and extends from its facility management to the products they make.  Famous for manufacturing the environmentally friendly HOST Dry Cleaning System, Racine International knows that sustainability goes beyond making a “green” product. Sustainability is more about the how than the what, and while some are daunted by taking steps towards more sustainable practices, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Public and private interest in sustainable business practices has grown, and with the company’s long history of such practices, Racine International is happy to share what they know.

Stay Flexible

Having a formal sustainability plan in place is useful because it identifies opportunities and gets everyone on the same page. However, a formal plan can stifle creative solutions to changing circumstances, so a plan should be flexible and open. For instance, for many years, some models of HOST machines carried a chrome finish. The chrome finish looks nice and protects the substrate well, but don’t recycle easily. Therefore, thanks to an environmental policy allowing for flexibility and change, Racine International uses a powder coat finish instead. The finish will still protect its substrate, and will increase the metal’s “reusability factor” later in its life.

Make Small Changes

Making many changes all at once can be such a large project that it can be paralyzing and counterproductive. A better approach is to make small improvements when the opportunities arise. For example, Racine International wanted to increase the recycled content in its packaging, and struggled for years to find a satisfactory solution. In the meantime, the company encouraged creative reuse of their packaging if local recycling facilities weren’t available. “After years of research, testing, and waiting for the market to catch up with our demand, we finally succeeded in finding a 25% recycled-content package without added phthalates that performed well and was cost-neutral,” says Geoff Greeley, Brand Ambassador. “Most people will notice the change in color rather than the material, but that’s okay.”

 Think About Hidden Costs

Sometimes purchasing decisions are based solely on their price tags. However, there are often hidden costs associated with such a buying strategy, such as associated water and energy costs or frequent replacement needs. When engineering the best way to heat a drive-through tunnel that runs through their Wisconsin facility, it would have been less expensive up front for Racine International to heat the area in a traditional way. However, after looking at the associated hidden costs, they implemented a heat reclamation system that saves resources and is less expensive over time.

Think Long-Term

Many sustainable solutions are not more expensive than traditional ones, or they have a proven ROI (Return on Investment) that makes a price difference worthwhile. Sometimes though, they are simply more expensive. When a solution is more expensive, the decision to go with it anyway often is an ethical or philosophical one rather than a fiscal one. This kind of thinking led Racine International to make a commitment to using 100% renewable energy to power their offices, school, and manufacturing facilities. The company is proud to be the first commercial cleaning product manufacturer to become an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 100 percent Green Power Partner. The company was able to off-set the extra cost with savings from other environmental initiatives.

“Green power is currently more expensive than traditional electricity,” expressed Deborah Lema, Quality Control Manager for Racine International. “But if people don’t support green energy with more than good wishes, then the availability will never increase and the prices will never come down. We hope that with the leadership that the cleaning industry has shown in the green arena, more companies will follow us down this road. We think of it as a long-term investment that also happens to feel pretty good.”