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Cintas implements environmental efforts

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By Tom Wilmoth

According to James Mercadante, it’s profitable to “be green.”

And, he said, it’s also a sign of being a good neighbor to the community.

Cintas Corporation has implemented a variety of environmentally-friendly practices and business ventures to its uniform rental service, including its recent announcement that the business has become the first major industrial launderer to transition to an environmentally-friendly detergent.

But that’s just one of many steps Cintas has taken to upgrade its operations, according to Mercadante, the general manager of Cintas in Bedford.

Besides being a uniform rental service, Cintas has diversified its operations to include document management, as well as chemical dispensing and parts cleaning services.

Document shredding has been a large growth venture for Cintas, growing some 30 percent a year at the Bedford facility since it was implemented three years ago. Mercadante said the company has learned to make a profit by recycling other people’s paper.

Cintas recycles all of the paper it shreds. Mercadante stated that recycling paper uses 25 percent less energy than manufacturing paper from trees and helps save water usage and reduces green house gas emissions. He said nationwide, the company’s recycling saves 2.5 million trees per year along with 528,000 cubic yards of landfill space, 300,000 barrels of oil and 96 million pounds per year of reduction in green house gas emissions.

“There’s a market for that,” he said of document shredding. “It’s a good growth area. It allows us to provide more jobs.”

Diversification has been key to the company’s success as changes have come to the uniform business, he said. As industries close or scale back, Mercadante said it’s important to find new ways to serve the customer — and to find a new customer base to serve.

“We’re much more than just a uniform company,” he said.

Cintas, which is planning a $3 million expansion of its Bedford operation this fall, provides restroom cleaning services and helped out last year when schools in Bedford were cleaned to disinfect them from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) after the death of a student at Staunton River High School. Cintas helped clean and disinfect Jefferson Forest and Liberty high schools as well as Bedford Middle School.

The facility services utilize “Green Seal Chemicals” and its cleaning chemical dispensing platform delivers concentrated products to customers in a “package free way,” which reduces the amount of packaging consumed and disposed of, Mercadante said. He said the Safe Washer used by the company reduces solvent emissions, thereby reducing hazardous waste.

The goal, he said, is to find business units that complement and take advantage of what Cintas is known for — distribution.

“We’re trying to think of ways to utilize the infrastructure (in place). Our goal is to be a one-source provider to our customers,” Mercadante stated.

Implementing environmentally-friendly practices is just part of the process “and the right thing to do” for the company, he said.

The goal, Mercadante added, it to be a good citizen and neighbor to the community where its employees work and live.

That response could be seen more than a decade ago when city of Bedford officials asked the company to put in a pretreatment facility for its wastewater. “We made the investment,” Mercadante said of the cost of adding that process. “We try to be good business citizens.”

He said the company implements numerous energy and recycling measures and also tries to be a good employer.

The Bedford location, one of five in Virginia, covers all of Southwest Virginia. It employs some 130 people and operates on a four-day work week. Mercadante said that benefits both the employees and the customers.

And it saves fuel, reducing the number of vehicles on the road on a weekly basis.

All Cintas laundry facilities are “soap and water” operations and don’t involve commercial dry-cleaning materials, Mercadante pointed out. The switch from a Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE) based detergent to the new, more environmentally friendly detergent took place last month.

Benefits of that change include:

— Energy conservation. NPE-free detergents use plant oil derivatives, a renewable resource that decreases the global dependence on fossil fuels.

— Environmental protection. NPE-free detergents use biodegradable surface-active agents, less toxic byproducts and solvents that don’t pollute the air. The ability to biodegrade faster relieves the stress on the environment.

— Worker/consumer safety. There is low volatility and low combustibility, ensuring a safer workplace.

“Cintas is committed to serving as an environmental steward and being proactive in meeting the needs of our customers, communities in which we do business,” stated Scott Farmer, chief executive officer with Cintas. “We look forward to continuing to work within our industry to promote innovative solutions that benefit the environment.”

The ingredients now used by Cintas are endorsed by CleanGredients, an Environmental Protection Agency program that endorses products with positive environmental characteristics.

Cintas, nationwide, employees 34,000 people at its more than 400 facilities.