Air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley is a major problem, but even more so for those of us close to the source. Here on the west side of Salt Lake City, we have even more exposure to health hazards due to an abundance of factories that create air, water, and ground pollution.
One business here in Glendale stands out in a different way. On 900 South between 700 and 800 West, you will find a building with giant solar panel arrays on its roof, water-saving xeriscaping, and numerous stations to park and plug in your electric car - Utah Paperbox.
Passing proud displays of their current solar production, Gold LEED certification, and signs celebrating their 100th birthday, we made our way into a sunlit office with Steve Keyser, President of the family run business. The East High School and U of U alumnus shared with us how Utah Paperbox came to be such an example of community responsibility.
Created in 1914, the company passed down through the family until it was Steve Keyser’s turn in 1998.At that time, the company was spread out in five buildings around the valley. He began consolidating and found that the city would give him a deal that he couldn’t refuse if he would help move a polluting tire recycling business out of the neighborhood. With the extra space, they were able to expand the main building in a series of careful renovations.
In 1998, Steve Keyser was presented with a great opportunity to print for Starbucks. However they had one major requirement: it had to be done “green.” That’s then he was “bit by the green bug,” he says.
That meant a lot for Keyser. It became a personal lifestyle change, but also a change in the way the company ran. He had to work hard to convince his father and the other company stakeholders to make expensive but environmentally responsible changes. However, they could soon see that “green means lean.” The environmentally sustainable choice was also the financially sustainable way. “Green and lean manufacturing are the same thing,” he says. “It just got misbranded. It was a political issue, but walls are coming down.”
Simple but logical choices have proven huge financial savings by generating 130 kwh of electricity daily to run their power hungry operations and using heat exhaust from one production center to keep workers nice and warm in other areas. The offices have been built with European natural light standards, which almost eliminate the need for artificial lighting in many offices during the day.
As we walked through the expansive buildings, Keyser pointed out things like recycled steel, cabinets made from recycled materials, and concrete with 18 percent fly ash content (an otherwise hazardous material). These carbon-saving design elements are part of a long list of items that earned the main building a Leed Gold Certification.
Keyser believes that the fight for a clean environment is really one for humanity; that we all depend on clean air and water. There seems to be a culture in the environment that understands that here.
Still, we questioned how a business that requires the cutting down of trees could really be environmentally friendly. That’s where “chain of custody” comes in. Their paper is all Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified meaning that trees are harvested in responsible ways and that forests are maintained and replenished. Nearly all waste is recycled.
Touring the facility reveals many other unique things they are doing. Utah Paperbox is one of the few printing companies that mixes their own soy-based inks which are better for people (non-toxic) and the earth (biodegradable). They also use a glycol loop to cool their printing machines, instead of running huge air conditioners. A minimarket has been set up in the break room so that employees don’t need to contribute to air pollution by driving off site to purchase lunch. A yoga class is offered weekly and a gym room is open to all, increasing the health and wellbeing of employees, as well as saving them a trip to the gym.
Keyser doesn’t stop there. He encourages other businesses to also become more responsible in our community through his work with an organization called Leaders for Clean Air. They offer a “pay it forward” program to help businesses install charging stations for electric cars for their employees and customers. Check out leadersforcleanair.org for more information.
Over the last 100 years, Utah Paperbox has seen a lot of change. Those made since Steve Keyser took over may have had the most important impact of all. He says it is just the right thing to do.