May 22, 2013

Pittsfield fire-safety company among five celebrated for environmentalism

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINSLOW — Little things, such as donating felt pads used as packing material to an art class at a local elementary school, can make a difference in environmental sustainability, according to workers at a Pittsfield company that produces fire safety products.

click image to enlarge

Mid-State Machine employee Steve Meunier, right, leads a tour through the Winslow company on Wednesday for a group with Edwards-United Technologies. The Pittsfield company was one of five businesses to receive a 2013 Environmental Excellence award from the state. From left are Bob Belanger, Steve LaMarre, Vern Palmer and Plant Manager Christopher Smith.

Staff photo by David Leaming

"All of our employees put in an effort here. It's about focusing on the small stuff," said Steve LaMarre, environmental health and safety manager for Edwards-United Technologies.

The company was one of five businesses in the state recognized by the governor's office and the state Department of Environmental Protection with a 2013 Environmental Excellence award during a presentation Wednesday at Mid-State Machine Products in Winslow.

The awards are given annually to businesses that go beyond regulatory requirements in environmental sustainability.

"Maine employers and Maine people working together are what improve our environment and our economy. Our award winners are committed to protecting and enhancing both," said Carlisle McLean, senior natural resource policy advisor for the state and the office of the governor.

The other award winners were Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Agri-Energy in Exeter, Cary Medical Center in Caribou and Window Dressers of Rockport.

Edwards-United Technologies, which manufactures fire safety and security devices as well as bells and buzzers, employs about 375 people, according to plant manager Christopher Smith. They also manufactured the stock exchange bell for the New York Stock Exchange, he said.

On Wednesday, the company was recognized for their efforts to reduce waste, including reducing annual water usage from 13 million gallons to 1.2 million gallons by installing a system to reuse water that cleans machinery.

The Farmington, Conn.-based company moved their manufacturing headquarters to Pittsfield in 1957 and while environmental stewardship has always been a priority, LaMarre said that it was within the last five years that many of the changes the award recognizes were made.

Recent projects include the reusable water system, changing halogen lights to florescent bulbs and replacing chemicals with less harmful alternatives.

There are also small things the company does within the community to reduce their waste.

Felt pads that are used for packing are donated to a local elementary school for art projects, he said.

LaMarre also said that plastic trays used to carry electronic parts are sent to other companies for reuse.

They said they are able to recycle 91 percent of the waste generated.

Smith said that in the midst of switching practices, the company has been able to expand production, bringing in new products and new models of smoke detectors and fire panels the company makes.

LaMarre said he did not have an exact figure for how much the changes cost.

"It was a lot but we do see pay backs quickly, usually within a year," he said.

The closed-loop water system cost about $500 for the parts but has saved thousands of gallons of water, said LaMarre.

Some projects have cost more money and don't always yield the same returns.

Removing a sewer pipe that ran across the river cost about $300,000, said LaMarre.

"We didn't have to do that but it was the right thing. It didn't look great and if it were to fail it would be a mess for the river," he said.

Recognizing the efforts that some companies make to be environmentally friendly can inspire others to do the same, said Glen Brand, Maine chapter director for the Sierra Club, a nonprofit that seeks to protect natural resources. He said the Maine business community has many leaders in creating clean energy.

At the same time, he said, the governor's office has not been supportive of some environmental problems companies are trying to remedy.

For example, Window Dressers of Rockport was recognized for creating insulating window inserts that reduce the use of heating fuel in homes.

"It's just sort of ironic," said Brand, who pointed to Gov. Paul LePage's current support to reducing funding to the Efficiency Maine Trust, a program that gives incentives to residents and businesses to insulate their homes and properties.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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