Curtis Packaging's Innovative Approach to Sustainability
When Kerry Brown found himself sharing a stage at a sustainability conference with the likes of Robert Kennedy, Jr., and the director of sustainability for Coca-Cola, he realized just how much of an impact small businesses can have on the environment. Curtis Packaging, a folding carton converter in Sandy Hook, Conn., has always been at the forefront of sustainability in packaging, and has now made it part of its mission to help other companies boost their environmental initiatives while saving money.
“We really try to change what is done in the industry — and not necessarily what is done in the paperboard industry — but in a lot of industries,” says Brown, Curtis Packaging’s VP of operations. “I personally feel responsibility to improve the environment where we have control. The whole idea of why we’re doing it is that it’s really the right thing to do.”
Brown explains that part of the mindset that has helped Curtis Packaging become an environmentally responsible company is that it does not view anything in its facility as waste, but as “post production assets.”
He says that Curtis now recovers $35,000 per month via recycling and has reached 100% landfill-free status and recycles approximately 96% to 98% of its materials.
“We recycle everything from rubber gloves to paperboard; plastic wrap to lids, to buckets that we use,” Brown says. “Everything goes into recycling and it turns into something we get paid for. So not only is it the right thing to do from a social responsibility standpoint, it’s the right thing to do from a financial standpoint.”
In addition to its recycling initiatives, Brown explains that Curtis Packaging has also been ambitious in improving the sustainability of its operations. In conjunction with the Connecticut Green Bank, Curtis Packaging recently completed a $2.5 million project that included natural gas conversion, energy efficient HVAC and lighting systems, and a solar array.
Part of Curtis Packaging’s goal to help a variety of industries improve their sustainability has resulted in a partnership with the nearby Yale School of Forestry. Brown explains that every year, the company proposes a project to the school, and one or two students then work with Curtis to accomplish it. The central aspects of the partnership, Brown says, are for it to benefit the students, the school and the company, and so far it’s been able to do all three.
The students, he says, benefit from advancing their professional development, the school benefits because the students teach their peers about what they learned from the project, and Curtis Packaging benefits from the help it receives for its sustainability initiatives.
“It’s really our responsibility to help those students because they’re going to be the future leaders of industry,” Brown says. “If they can see a real-life example of a sustainable company running, hopefully they’ll take that into larger corporations like Coca-Cola, Dell and Apple and it will have a larger impact on the world.”