December 1, 2007
special report | Winning DC Designs

Forever green

forever green

From its recycled coal-ash sub-base to its light-reflecting roof, JohnsonDiversey's new facility just might be North America's greenest DC.

By John R. Johnson

A lot of companies are jumping on the "green" bandwagon these days. JohnsonDiversey isn't one of them. It's not that the company isn't environmentally conscious. It is. It's just that the Sturtevant, Wis.-based manufacturer of cleaning and maintenance supplies established its eco-credentials long ago. Since its founding in 1886, the company (formerly known as Johnson Wax Professional) has maintained an unusually strong record of environmental leadership.

In 1935, for example, then-president H.F. Johnson made a historic expedition to Brazil to study the sustainability of carnauba palm trees. Carnauba palms represent an important source of raw material for the company's floor waxes—the cut leaves are sun-dried and mechanically thrashed to remove the crude wax. But only 20 leaves can be cut from each tree per year. Though Johnson made the trek in his company's best interests, his efforts to establish a carnauba palm plantation have also helped preserve the species.

In the early 1970s, JohnsonDiversey voluntarily eliminated the use of all chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in its aerosol products—long before the ban became law. In the years since, it has introduced an environmentally friendly container and launched several water and agricultural sustainability projects, racking up an impressive array of environmental and conservation awards along the way.

Given the company's long history of environmentally responsible manufacturing, it should come as little surprise that JohnsonDiversey is also committed to sustain- able building and development. In 1997, it built an environmentally friendly corporate headquarters, which has earned a gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This past September, the company opened the greenest distribution center in North America. Like the headquarters building, the new $24 million DC, which is also located in Sturtevant, has received a gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The group says the DC, which occupies 550,000 square feet of space (the equivalent of 11 football fields), is the largest DC to be awarded a gold certificate.

"We designed this to be a green facility from the very start," says Stu Carron, director of global facilities and real estate at JohnsonDiversey. "Some companies wondered if we were seeking both green and nongreen bids to compare the two, but we just weren't going to build a non-green building. You can do so much better when it comes to energy efficiency, water use, and productivity in the building when you build green in from the outset."

Developers were asked to compete on the basis of how many green features they could provide, Carron says. Initially, 17 companies bid on the project, but several dropped out when they realized they didn't have the necessary experience in green construction. In the end, the choice of developers turned out to be an easy one, according to Carron. "The low bidder was also the one that produced a bid with the most green features," he says. "It had the most experience building green buildings and had figured out a way to develop green buildings [that are] no more expensive than regular buildings."

Green from the ground up
JohnsonDiversey's new DC is green literally from the ground up. More than 12,000 tons of bottom ash—a granular byproduct of combustion in coal-fired power plants—were reclaimed from a local landfill to be used for the building's sub-base. By the project's completion, the design and construction team had recycled 941 of the 964 tons of waste generated during the building's construction. The result was a net reduction in the volume of landfill material—Carron reports that the company pulled 500 times more material out of the landfill than it put back into it.

The DC has no air conditioning system, relying instead on a state-of-the-art ventilation system and fans the size of helicopter rotors that circulate air in the building to keep it cool in the summer. A specially designed HVAC system ensures optimal indoor air quality and efficient energy use, and a white thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roof and extra insulation at R-27 help to reduce solar heat gain within the building.

Faucets in the DC's restrooms and break room reduce the flow of water to one-half gallon per minute, and together with waterless urinals resulted in a 51-percent savings in water usage over the minimum legal baseline. The building's energy-efficient lighting system incorporates fluorescent high-bay fixtures and motion-activated occupancy sensors. Combined with a high-gloss floor finish and a white-painted interior, these features help drive down energy costs. According to the company, the new DC uses 40 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than a typical DC of its size.

The company has also committed to buying green power. All electricity at the new DC is generated by alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and biomass, which equates to a reduction of 3.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide. Carron says it is the only DC of its size in the United States to make this claim.

Not going for the gold
Though justifiably proud of the DC's LEED certification, the company insists that the project was not about going for the gold. "We never set out to obtain a gold-level certification," says Harold Miller, regional operations manager for JohnsonDiversey and the project leader for the DC's construction. "Our object was to be certified. We never felt we'd hit the gold level. We didn't want to pay our way to obtain a certain level of certification; we wanted each decision we made to be cost justified."

In fact, the JohnsonDiversey team considered but rejected a number of common green features during the planning and design process. For example, they passed on a rainwater collection system, which has turned out to be no great loss. More than 70 percent of the 38-acre site has been landscaped with native and adaptive plants that don't require irrigation.

Company executives also took a pass on skylights because the 10-year payback exceeded the three- to five-year time frame the company was looking for. Solar panels also didn't make the cut, although the company plans to look at the technology down the road as a possible building retrofit as the price of solar equipment drops.

Even without solar panels, the DC's energy savings promise to be impressive. The company expects to save more than $100,000 a year on energy costs over a typical DC of its size. It also expects that the facility will be much more productive than traditional DCs.

"It's highly competitive to build green and this project proves that," says Carron. "We have not only created a much better working environment, but one that undoubtedly will improve productivity as well."

About the Author

John R. Johnson
John Johnson joined the DC Velocity team in March 2004. A veteran business journalist, John has over a dozen years of experience covering the supply chain field, including time as chief editor of Warehousing Management. In addition, he has covered the venture capital community and previously was a sports reporter covering professional and collegiate sports in the Boston area. John served as senior editor and chief editor of DC Velocity until April 2008.

More articles by John R. Johnson

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