While the wire and cable manufacturing industry is not typically thought of as being particularly sustainably minded, Superior Essex is working to buck that perception by bringing the latest in green manufacturing practices to an increasingly discerning client base.
“We have established a true leadership position in an industry not typically associated with green natives. We’ve done this through a number of sustainability-oriented initiatives, many of which are industry firsts,” says Eric Perry, vice president of applications engineering and quality at Superior Essex.
Superior Essex is a leading manufacturer and supplier of communications cable and accessory products, such as copper and optical fiber cables used to communicate between devices, homes and enterprises. Operating primarily in the North American market, Superior Essex is a subsidiary of South Korea-based LS Cable & System. In addition to working throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the company has a presence in Central America, the Middle East and Europe.
Superior Essex caters directly to a variety of customers in the communications industry, as well as selling products through industry-related distribution channels.
Founded in 1998 as the result of the acquisition of Essex Wire by Superior Cable, the company leveraged Essex’s standing in the distribution market with Superior’s reputation on the contract/service provider side to form a new, full-service manufacturing company.
Today, the Atlanta-based designer, manufacturer and supplier of wire and cable products has set itself apart in the market by setting and achieving ambitious sustainability goals.
Setting the bar for zero-waste manufacturing
Superior Essex has developed a multifaceted approach to green manufacturing practices that includes waste diversion, transparency in materials and chemical ingredients, life-cycle assessments and continual third-party verifications of its products and processes.
The company has also achieved 100-percent water recycling in its Hoisington manufacturing facility , as well as installing energy-efficient lighting and starting a reel recycling program. These sustainable achievements have earned the company multiple awards in the last year, including the Bronze Edison Award and the TMT Telecom Award.
In terms of waste diversion, the company boasts one of the nation’s few zero-waste manufacturing facilities in Hoisington, Kansas. Certified as a Zero-Waste to Landfill facility by GreenCircle Certified, the facility allows the company to further distinguish itself in a crowded market.
“It’s one of only a handful of third-party verified zero-waste facilities in the United States, and that’s very difficult in a cable environment,” says Perry.
Unlike most sustainability initiatives in the manufacturing sector, the Superior Essex zero-waste facility was not the result of a top-down edict from corporate bosses, but rather a grassroots effort.
“It really started with a small group of employees who took an interest in trying to minimize waste. We noticed the efforts of one of our plants and paid attention to that, started to fund it a little more, got third-party certified and it kind of grew from there into a real grassroots, organic effort,” says Perry.
While Perry would like to see the zero-waste program extended to the company’s other manufacturing facility in Brownwood, Texas, he knows from experience that it can be a long process that requires the buy-in of everyone from the manufacturing floor to the manager’s office.
“It took Hoisington about nine years to get from the start to the finish of that process and it required them to develop a high level of discipline, including making small changes to their everyday work environments, such as eliminating trashcans in their offices” he says.
It was when the company turned to GreenCircle Certified to validate the results of its zero-waste initiative that Superior Essex learned a valuable lesson about seeking outside assessment.
“The third-party audit takes it to another level. They go to the waste management companies we use and see what they’re doing with it, and are subsequently able to evaluate the impacts of our supply chain,” says Perry.
For Superior Essex, the audit experience was humbling, but also eye-opening. Armed with a guide to the weak spots in its waste diversion supply chain, the company sought out new waste management partners and within 15 months, had achieved zero-waste status.
Backing up the hype
In an effort to better understand the real-world impact of its products, Superior Essex has also been placing an increased emphasis on life-cycle assessments and product transparency in recent years. The wire and cable manufacturer has completed life-cycle assessments at both its Brownwood and Hoisington facilities, producing data that will inform the company’s strategy moving forward.
“It’s all about how you effect the environment from the time you procure the materials to the end of the life of the product. We’re now taking all that data and using it to try to reduce the impact we have,” says Perry.
The company offers a wide range of copper and optical fiber products carrying Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Health Product Declarations (HPD), all of which are backed by third-party certification and allow the products to contribute toward certain green-building certifications such as LEED. “We don’t just believe the hype when it comes to anecdotal information on sustainability, that’s why we partner with GreenCircle Certified. We’re beginning to see some of our competitors follow suit in terms of third-party verification, but frankly we’re well ahead of the pack,” says Perry.
Building industry connections
The upcoming Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Los Angeles represents an exciting opportunity to showcase the company’s achievements in sustainable manufacturing.
The company plans to highlight a number of key concepts at the conference, including its zero-waste manufacturing facility and its large portfolio of certified EPD/HPD products. These products include a PVC-free, low-smoke, halogen-free product, as well as the Superior Essex PowerWise 1 Gigabit 4-pair Power-over-Ethernet (4PPoE) cable, a 22-gauge, Category 5e+ Power-over-Ethernet cable with the ability to carry both power and data. “You only have to install one cable for power and data transmission, so you get a tremendous amount of productivity in terms of interoperability and energy efficiency, as well as reduced labor costs for integration,” says Perry.
As a leader in sustainability in the wire and cable manufacturing market, Superior Essex has set the stage for future growth in an industry always hungry for the latest and greatest in green technology.
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