MEP News

GREEN PRACTICES MEET ECONOMIC VALUE: Achieving the Waste to Profit Balance

By Larry Gess, Chicago Manufacturing Center

One person’s trash truly is another’s treasure. Engineered Glass Products’ Philip Gordon hoped to realize this for his company when he joined a new City of Chicago initiative last year. Little did he know how quick and easy it would be.

The initiative is called the Waste to Profit Network, a partnership between the City of Chicago and the Chicago Manufacturing Center (CMC). The sustainability program, developed as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s green agenda, brings companies together to create synergies so that one company’s waste can become another company’s raw material.

Engineered Glass Products (EGP) is a glass fabricator with a 60-year history. Its principal product is heat-reflected coating for oven doors, and the company has applied its heated glass technology to new products as well, including heated glass shelves for the food industry and heated towel warmers for residential design and construction. In its two plants in Chicago, the company generates 1200 tons of cullet—or glass waste—each year.

Via the Waste to Profit Network, Gordon met Garrett Obluck, director of operations for InnerGlow Surfaces, a four-year-old Chicago-based countertop manufacturer. InnerGlow’s Gilasi countertop line, introduced in 2006, is made up of more than 80% recycled material by weight. Immediately, the potential for the EGP-Gilasi match became clear.Photo of Gilasi Counter

Because of the metal oxide used to create the heat reflective coating of its products, EGP could not recycle its glass waste via traditional means. As a result, prior to the Waste to Profit match, EGP’s cullet was hauled away as trash that was added to the local landfill. Gilasi had received the recycled glass material for its countertops from sources in Ohio and Indiana, spending thousands each month on shipping. When Obluck learned that EGP’s plant was only 30 blocks away, he was immediately interested in how his shipping costs could be reduced. Also, Gilasi’s customers really liked the iridescent quality the metal coating from the EGP glass gave to the Gilasi product.

In addition to the lower shipping cost, the shorter distance between the two companies now enables Obluck to bring in smaller supplies and free up plant space for manufacturing rather than storage. “Our relationship with EGP has helped us achieve both cost and green benefits,” said Obluck. “The Waste to Profit Network opened up avenues to us that we didn’t know were there. We had been searching for local sources of clean glass, and the Network quickly and easily opened up a local supplier I may never have otherwise found.”

The companies’ initial synergistic partnership diverted 50 tons of EGP’s glass cullet from landfill, and the companies have plans to work together to do the same for more than 900 tons each year. “We’re happy to find a place for the cullet without adding to the landfill,” said Gordon. “And gaining revenue from it is certainly a bonus. But the greatest benefit from the Network is learning what the other companies in the network do, and developing relationships with them for all kinds of materials. Now we know that recycling isn’t just a green practice, but a practical way to reduce costs and increase revenue.”

For officials from the Waste to Profit Network, this synergy is representative of the success of the one-year-old program. "At the City we're committed to finding ways in which a strong business community and a healthy environment can go hand in hand,” says David O’Donnell, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Environment. “We think energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and waste reduction as being in synch with improving the quality of life in our city and making it a competitive, global economic center. The Waste to Profit Network is a perfect example of private/public partnership that spurs innovation and creative solutions to some very critical local problems, like the need for a strong, resilient manufacturing base and global problems like climate change."

CMC’s Sustainability Practice Leader, Karen Wan, is the Director of the Waste to Profit network.  She leads the multi-organizational team that facilitates the Network through working meetings, helps dedicated members implement projects, and provides broader networking functions to bring in new companies that might be interested in the program. The Network’s current roster of 100 participating companies represent a wide range of industries and all sizes of companies, and all combinations are working together to turn waste into ingredient materials. At the end of its inaugural year, the Network reported the following results: 22,000 tons of solid waste diverted from landfill; 45,000 tons of CO2 reduced; $4.5 million in cost savings and new revenue creation; and 20 jobs created or retained.

The results are generating interest beyond Chicago as well. “We’re receiving lots of interest from other municipalities and regions interested in learning about the Network and hearing about the results,” said Wan. “The combination of green and economic impacts is attracting more people to consider the program as a means of augmenting their own sustainability efforts.”

Looking ahead, the Network plans to enhance its program with more educational opportunities during meetings, more strategic support to clients, increased technical data collection to measure results, and a dedication of resources to find solutions for waste streams that have been more difficult to work with, including organics waste and construction and demolition waste. A recent grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will allow the Network to focus on these areas.

For companies like EGP and Gilasi, their partnership is just the beginning. As Philip Gordon says, “Waste to Profit has opened my eyes to the possibilities.”

Larry Gess is the chief operating officer for the Chicago Manufacturing Center (CMC). CMC’s advisors in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area promote manufacturing and help companies one-on-one in such areas as competitive strategy, operational excellence, and quality management.

The Chicago Manufacturing Center is an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), located in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  Information can be found at its Web site:  Inquiries can be sent via e-mail to