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Clayton Frech of Classic Party Rentals on Green Practices

More from Clayton Frech, Classic Party Rentals, Los Angeles

What got you committed to going "green" in your business operations? (Was it the release of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006, or where you always eco-aware?)

I would characterize our “going green” process as more of an evolution than a revolution. Classic has always been committed to a safe and sustainable work environment. Since I joined five years ago, we have promoted sustainable business practices such as effectively maintaining equipment, minimizing fuel consumption, reducing our use of chemicals and other supplies, and selling/donating used inventory instead of throwing it away. We are also in an environmentally friendly industry, as rentals are inherently green because they reduce the need to buy or build new equipment and infrastructure.

Over three years ago I moved into an executive position with Classic to help manage our growing operations, develop best practices and implement training programs. Given my environmental background (I worked at the U.S. EPA in the mid-1990s and did environmental research in the early 1990s at UCSB), sustainability was a natural evolution from operations and best practices. Being efficient from a resource and sustainability standpoint is essentially the same as being efficient from an operations standpoint.

Our efforts started gaining real momentum in the summer of 2007. At the time, we were working to consolidate our vendors under the direction of [Classic staff member] Tom Gifford. Our first step was to make sustainability a key factor in purchasing. Within a few months, we had asked all of our vendors to provide sustainability commitments and plans. After that, we started to broaden our focus to include recycling, green products, natural resource consumption and internal processes.

By the fall of 2007, we formalized our overall commitment with the development of the SAVE Initiative and appointed a diverse team to help drive the effort.

How long has Classic had your job on the vice president level—very impressive!

Well, I have been the executive sponsor and champion since the beginning. My title of VP of Operations was updated in January 2008 to include Sustainability in January 2008 to reflect the increasingly important work we are doing with our SAVE Initiative (SAVE stands for Sustainable Applications for a Viable Environment). There are true synergies between operations and sustainability. At the most basic level you need to run a good, efficient business in order to stay in business. We believe running an efficient business is the most important thing we can do for the environment. We are constantly reminding our managers of this.

What is the scope of your green initiatives?

We have made a commitment to creating "environmentally friendly" events for clients, ensuring healthy and safe work environments for our employees, and being a civic leader in the communities in which we operate. In addition, we are committed to leading the industry in environmental awareness and sustainable business practices.

Specifically, our SAVE Initiative goals are to:

  • Develop best-in-industry “green events” for clients
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle all solid waste materials possible
  • Reduce energy, fuel, natural gas and water consumption
  • Develop a sustainable purchasing program
  • Ensure proper air and hazardous waste disposal at all facilities
  • Apply strict California air quality standards at paint booths nationwide

What have you changed about the way you do business to go greener?

Our SAVE Initiative has resulted in changes to how we purchase virtually everything, manage operations processes, and dispose of waste. Let me break these three areas down for you:

  • Purchasing – As mentioned previously, we already have a sustainable vendor program in place to ensure our vendors share our commitment to the environment. In addition, we think about our purchases in a few key areas:
  • Supplies – We have switched to more sustainable suppliers and products in some cases, such as non-toxic cleaning chemicals. Also, we are focused on reducing and re-using supplies – an example is teaching our dish department staff to efficiently wrap a glass rack. You can use 6 ft in length single wrapping or you can use 18 ft in length if you triple wrap the rack.
  • Rental Products – We are bringing in green rental products, like sustainable/recycled carpet, green chafing fuel, energy efficient lighting, recycling receptacles, and green “sale” or “disposable” products that can be composted. We also buy tables made from sustainably harvested wood and are pursuing a variety of other products.
  • Natural Resources – We replace lighting with energy efficient bulbs. We have done full facility lighting retrofits in some locations and are looking at solar power for our San Francisco facility. We are also in the process of conducting resource audits at all facilities to map out our next steps re: conservation and efficiency.

Operations Processes

  • Execution – We are refocusing our efforts company-wide to execute flawlessly at every step in our process of selling and delivering our services. This means solid planning, diagrams, site evaluations up front. Thorough and accurate order entry and confirmation. Excellent communication to inventory and operations team members. Getting orders packed, prepared, loaded, delivered, and picked-up correctly, the first time. Getting event and shortage bills out quickly and accurately. It also means effective and frequent communication with clients, vendors, and partners on events. All of these steps reduce wasteful second trips, confusion on the job site, and ultimately are great for the environment.
  • Vehicles – Effective fleet management is very important to us. If we are loading, routing, and driving efficiently, we can save tremendous equipment and fuel resources. We are developing fuel efficient driving training programs for all employees, as well as regulating idle and accelerators on vehicles where possible.
  • Equipment Utilization – Our goal here is to ensure we are getting full utilization out of all our operating equipment. We use our washing machines at full capacity. We go to second shifts to avoid buying new equipment.

Recycling and Waste Management

  • Event Waste – We are starting to bring back our own waste from event sites. This includes hangers, velon (plastic taffeta), and plastic bags/wrap from dishware items. We also offer recycling receptacles and will help plan/facilitate the recycling/composting process for clients that want to host green events.
  • Facility Waste – We view virtually all of our waste streams as recycle-able. In many cases this offers us a revenue generating opportunity. Some items, like velon, carpet, and turf are a little more challenging. This is forcing us to think out of the box to figure out solutions.
  • Air, Water, Hazardous Waste Management: Our goal here is to set a standard across the company. Each region has different regulations, so we first need to be compliant in all locations. However, after that, we want to establish a higher standard across the company, even for regions that have low compliance standards. An example is the paint we use to paint chairs and other items in our paint booths. We are using low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint developed for the strict California market at all of our locations. An excellent example of how we can leverage best practices across our entire network, despite local regulations.

I can see the program pays off for the environment—how about for your P&L? Does going green cost more or can it be cost-effective? Can you measure its cost-effectiveness?

There is an investment that needs to be made by management and staff to map out a game plan, research solutions, and implement green programs. However, as our programs begin to take root, we believe our SAVE Initiative will be at least cost-neutral, with the potential to help drive revenue as the market for green events expands. Over time, we should be able to track both cost reductions and revenue increases. A few examples:

Reduced Costs:

  • Utilities (as we install efficient equipment, fully utilize operating equipment, and improve processes)
  • Fuel (as we route, deliver, and drive more efficiently)
  • Trash hauling (as we recycle more and more waste)
  • Supplies (as we find more efficient ways of doing things to reduce consumption)

Increased Revenue:

  • Rental revenue from green events/clients
  • Rental revenue from recycling receptacles and green rental/disposable products
  • Revenue from recycling materials like metal, cardboard, and plastic

What are clients’ reactions to your green efforts? Are brides and bar/bat mitzvah parents concerned about going green, or do they make exceptions for these milestone events in their lives?

Our clients are a mirror image of America – they are at all different levels of knowledge and experience. We have found many caterers, planners, venues, and organizations are very progressive in the greening of their events. In other cases, we have clients that either don’t care or don’t know much but want to learn more. Also, some cities appear to be moving towards green events more quickly, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Miami.

Our hope is to be a true partner for those who want to green their events and, overtime, help educate those that want to learn more. We created our SAVE Guide to help clients understand how they can green their rental orders. This guide should be useful to clients at all levels of environmental knowledge.

I know many hotels are bashed for “greenwashing"--that is, taking credit for going green when they are accused of being wasteful in many areas. Do you think this is true or is it unfair?

I am sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle. An organization is simply a collection of people, and people are imperfect. I think that as long as you try to be honest about your product/service and company’s accomplishments, then you should be able to steer clear of the green-washing accusations.

At Classic, while we have made some good progress, we have many additional opportunities to be greener. We feel that this is an ongoing process as we move forward and that there is not a point in time when we will claim to be a 100% “green” company.

Are there any green initiatives you tried that just didn't work out?

Well, we are not trying to do everything at once. A few steps at a time will get us there and help avoid missing the mark. That being said, we have found that some initiatives are more challenging than others. A couple examples include bio-diesel and disposables…

  • Bio-Diesel – Generally, biodiesel burns much cleaner that other fuel, reducing air pollution and our dependence on petroleum products. Biodiesel fuel does not produce as much power, releases nitrous oxide, is less fuel-efficient than regular diesel, and may have challenges in cold weather. Additionally, availability, cost, and maintenance are two issues to implementation.
  • Disposables – One of the challenges with disposable or sale products is that the products are constantly changing. Also, is it better to locally harvest corn to create corn-plastic products or to import sustainably harvested bamboo products? We have offered up options for clients and will hopefully continue to offer viable options.

What do you say to people in the event industry who complain that truly going green is too expensive and too time-consuming?

We honestly don’t get that response very often. Being green can actually save you money and time in the long run. There are many examples where an industry has been forced through regulation or other means to make a change for environmental reasons, but ended up saving significant money. It is often discovered that when you start reworking systems and processes, you find redundancy and waste in places you didn’t intend to.

In our business, simple things like focusing on good up front planning, inter-vendor communication, flawless execution on the ground will save on second trips and wasted efforts/supplies/etc. An easy way for clients to start doing greener events is to recycle and compost waste – in some cases this is not any more expensive than hauling the waste would have been.

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