By Kevin Damask
GREEN BAY – On the heels of a $500 million expansion — possibly the largest single-development project in Brown County’s history — Green Bay Packaging has been awarded for its commitment to sustainability and environmental improvement efforts.
GBP, which completed expansion of its Green Bay facility in March, was recently named a Green Master by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council as part of its Green Masters Program.
The program, which began in 2010, recognizes businesses that take key steps to improve sustainability and helps them create development plans for future sustainable projects.
GBP has been honored as a Green Master each year since the program started.
“GBP has incorporated sustainability into its strategic business plan and deployed it through widespread initiatives, technology and innovation to take its sustainability efforts to the next level,” Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council said in a press release.
More specifically, GBP was awarded for its commitment to reducing water consumption.
The recently completed Green Bay Mill is the first in the world to be certified “Net Zero Water,” according to GBP.
Through a “closed-loop system,” the mill takes wastewater from the Green Bay area and uses it for production purposes, but releases no water back into local rivers and lakes.
Jessy Servi Ortiz, managing director for the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, said net zero water projects are smart ways to reuse the local water supply as opposed to constantly taking from it.
“These are the kind of processes and innovations we need at a broader scale,” said Servi Ortiz.
“It’s essential for the cleanliness of our lakes and rivers throughout Wisconsin.”
Through the process, any amount of water used is cleaned and returned to the main water source, nearby Lake Michigan.
“There are two key concepts that are fundamental to the success of the Net Zero approach: use as little water as possible in the process and re-use water as often as possible,” GBP stated in a newsletter.
For water to be used in a paper mill, it must maintain low levels of bacteria, sediment and several other components.
The packaging company can treat water on site through various means of biological, mechanical and chemical separations.
GBP brings in reusable water in unique ways, such as collecting storm water from the plant’s roofs and parking areas.
By using an anaerobic digester system, GBP can pre-treat and recycle its water.
The digester also collects methane and other bio-gases, helping the company trim its natural gas consumption by 4%.
Moving forward, in utilizing biogases, GBP believes it can slash natural gas usage by 10%.
“We are blessed with freshwater in the Great Lakes region, but there’s a real water quantity risk across the globe,” Servi Ortiz said. “The risk we have in Wisconsin, in particular, is water quality. And if we pollute that water beyond cleanliness and beyond the ability to drink and provide for our basic needs as human species, that doesn’t make any sense. I have small children and I want them to be able to play and enjoy recreation in the water. I want the rivers and lakes to be clean so we can swim in them and drink the water.”
For recycling, GBP has been using the new plant to recycle paper stock that it couldn’t use in the past, which helps increase reusable paper efficiency.
The $500 million expansion allows the company to recycle mixed paper that had previously been dumped in landfills.
The drive to reuse paper has also helped GBP double its production from this time last year, according to the company newsletter.
GBP monitors its effect on climate change through the International Carbon Disclosure Program and hopes to stay in the top tier of the program’s ranks for years to come.
“In the long haul, doing everything more efficiently is not only better for the environment, it will reduce our cost of production,” GBP Corporate Marketing Manager Catharine Rathbone said in the newsletter.
“It also makes some companies more likely to purchase their packaging materials from us. “Many purchasers have scorecards to rate the environmental pluses and minuses of products they purchase and GBP comes out as the top of these rating scorecards.”
Servi Ortiz hopes GBP’s sustainability success, along with increasing incentives to reduce water and energy consumption, will prompt other Wisconsin businesses to join the climate change fight.
“When they were designing the new mill, they really used that as an opportunity to showcase and continue to lead sustainability and show what was possible,” Servi Ortiz said.
“GBP is a model we can look to and learn from.
“While their processes and systems might be different than other organizations, it doesn’t mean we can’t design systems like that across industries.
“There’s a lot of paper and packaging (factories) in the Green Bay area and it’s something a lot of these companies are and should be looking at and can use GBP as inspiration for what’s possible.”