Giving Birth To 'Cradle-To-Cradle'

Dec. 21, 2004
Republic Windows & Doors takes a leadership role in introducing its industry to closed-loop production.
Nobody is clamoring for recyclable windows and doors. Although they would be nice, it seems there are other, more pressing environmental issues in the news and on the minds of Congress. But midsize manufacturer Republic Windows & Doors, with 750 employees, has decided it's time to introduce the fenestration industry to closed-loop production. The Chicago-based company is working with ecological design consultancy McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry to develop a cradle-to-cradle production cycle that will involve recyclable materials and other recycling-oriented design specifications. The project is funded by a grant from the city of Chicago. "We are not sure where this journey will take us, but we expect that this collaboration will change the way the window industry works," says Republic COO Les Teichner, who recently elaborated on this project for IndustryWeek.IW: How will Republic benefit from this strategy? Teichner: The top line benefit will be the attraction of new customers, as well as reinforcing the benefits of Republic with existing customers. Purchasers of vinyl windows and doors that are environmentally conscious and are interested in representing products that have an eye toward societal values will look to Republic to be their supplier. Younger consumers have historically been more aware of environmental issues, and as they enter the purchase cycle for windows, our hope is that they associate Republic's brands with the cradle-to-cradle philosophy. The bottom line benefit to Republic will be profitability through continued improvements in our methods of production. When a company takes the time to thoroughly scrutinize processes for any reason, it is certain to bring to light additional areas for improvement. Most importantly, if we understand what actually goes into making a product, we can be more judicious about what goes into its manufacture and decide what we value most. We are also focusing on the energy and dollars that are used to make a window. Homeowners replace windows every 10 to 12 years due to innovation and aesthetics. What if the design allowed for a frame that could be left in place for 50 years, but the sash were designed with a shorter life span? Homeowners could change the sash and leave the longer lasting components in place. We would buy back the old sash for a price and recycle it. IW: You are taking a leadership position here. Will competitors follow? Are you anticipating regulations? Teichner: A primary characteristic of leadership is to put yourself out in front. We encourage all of our competitors to follow us. Paying attention to how our manufacturing methods affect the earth and contribute to waste is good for the entire industry. As for regulations, we do not anticipate any mandated regulations in the foreseeable future. Our hope is that our industry will be responsible and will regulate itself. IW: How does Republic keep up with technological advances in materials and processes that reduce the environmental footprint of its products? Teichner: Looking at the developmental lifecycle of a window, manufacturers have approximately a two- to three-year "window" of opportunity to reach out and see what's new. We have many processes under way to engage with our suppliers in the process of designing total window systems. When we partner with a reputable supplier, their dedication to innovation is one of the key benefits of that association. We regularly use them as out-lookers to bring us the latest technologies available. Most recently, Republic had a revelation, or an awakening about the way we viewed product development. In the past, we relied solely on our extruders for product design. No longer. We began to look at windows holistically, evaluating our practices by thermal performance, water management, functionality and aesthetics. This mindset resulted in our first in-house extrusion design, 12 patent-pending components, and 100 unique and proprietary product features. We could have never achieved this without an enormous contribution from our suppliers. For more information on reducing manufacturing's environmental impact, see "Making Waves."

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