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Bosch Reduces Waste through Collaboration and Competition

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This sugar maple tree was planted to commemorate Bosch’s achievement of the Wisconsin DNR’s Green Tier 2 status. (Click to enlarge.)

Robert Bosch GmbH is a multinational engineering and electronics company, and the world's largest supplier of automotive components. The company has an overall commitment to sustainability in general and waste management in specific. Its auto parts manufacturing plants, for example, use what is called the Bosch eXchange Program, a remanufacturing initiative that includes an “intelligent return system” for old components that no longer work. The still-useful parts from these components are remanufactured.

The company remanufactures about 2.5 million parts each year. At one plant in Germany (Lower Saxony), the total volume of reused materials includes 240 tons of copper, 440 tons of aluminum, and 2,200 tons of steel. Overall, from 2007 to 2011, the corporation has reduced total waste generated by 5.4%, the equivalent of half a million metric tons.

Closer to home, Bosch Packaging Technology in Raleigh, North Carolina, got a push from the Robert Bosch corporate headquarters to introduce sustainability initiatives, largely as a result of the corporation joining the Chicago Climate Exchange, North America's largest and longest-running greenhouse gas emission reduction program. Bosch Packaging Technology develops, designs and manufactures packaging technology for the food, drinks, pharmaceutical, chemo-technical and cosmetics industries.

As a result of the corporate direction came some sustainability targets for Bosch Packaging Technology. Once the company got started in the initiatives, however, it began to “run with the ball” on its own, quickly looking for other opportunities to save energy and water, and to reduce waste. “Worldwide in 2011, Bosch spent nearly $3 billion on technologies to improve energy efficiency, conserve resources and protect the environment,” said Pres Lawhon, president of Bosch Packaging Technology in North America, in a press release. “We are continuing to work on current projects as well as implement new ways to reduce consumption and eliminate waste.”

One of the starting points for Bosch Packaging Technology in seeking sustainability initiatives is the global Bosch Production System, which is a lean manufacturing initiative. From that came two specific initiatives introduced in the New Richmond, Wisconsin, plant:

When Bosch assemble a new machine waste materials are collected and sold.

When Bosch workers assemble a new packaging machine, scrap wire, metal, plastics, shrink wrap and more are collected and sold as commodities.

“When we assemble a packaging machine, we have found that we can recoup about 99% of end-use material streams in the production cycle,” states Jeff Keyes, health, safety and environmental manager for the New Richmond plant. “We looked for ways to recycle everything we could, including unused wire, metal, plastics, shrink wrap and more. We set up a stream for each of these, and we now make money selling these materials as commodities.”

Another initiative involved a continuous improvement project to eliminate certain paints that were related to hazardous waste.

Recently, Bosch Packaging Technology's New Richmond and Shell Lake, Wisconsin, facilities received Green Tier 2 status, an environmental excellence award sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Bosch is one of only four companies in the state to receive Green Tier 2 status. Tier 1 is designed to encourage innovation, collaboration and new environmental goal setting. Tier 2 involves more rigorous participation requirements, placing greater emphasis on superior environmental performance contracts as a means to provide customized regulatory flexibility proportional to environmental performance.

According to Keyes, the most important element of success in sustainability initiatives is to ask employees for ideas. “No one in the organization has not been asked for ideas,” he emphasizes. Another key to success is the fact that all of the company's plants are in competition with other plants in terms of sustainability initiatives, including percentage of waste reduction.

A third key is a focus on the future. “We have a group that meets twice a year to review projects,” states Keyes. The group creates and studies a special list of “dream projects” that look out three years into the future, and then budgets for the ones that it wants to begin. “As much as possible, the group tries to focus on low-investment projects that have the opportunity to provide good results,” he continues. “We then share this list with employees, emphasizing the improvements that we want to make, so they can start thinking of ideas and ways to achieve the goals.”

More information on Bosch Packaging.

Bosch’s latest sustainability report.

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