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Plant’s kaizen approach a boon for the environment

Jason Psutka, environmental officer at Toyota Boshoku in Elmira, has applied the philosophy of kaizen to meet the company’s rigorous environmental targets. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

The Japanese philosophy of kaizen, or continual improvement, is more than just an idea at the Toyota Boshoku plant in Elmira – it’s principle at the core of the business.

Literally translated as ‘improvement’ (kai) and ‘good’ (zen), kaizen is a philosophy of attaining goals by continual and incremental improvements. It’s a philosophy that has been used for decades in both personal and professional development, and strongly associated with Toyota and its subsidiaries.

At the Toyota Boshoku Corporation, an auto parts manufacturer that employs some 41,000 people around the world, including in Elmira, it’s a philosophy that guides not only the company’s business practices, but its ambitious environmental program too.

“We always look at what we’ve done. So we’ve just finished last year’s reductions – OK great, all of a sudden that’s not good enough anymore. What are you going to do next? And that’s just the way life is in this company,” said Jason Psutka, environmental officer at the plant in Elmira.

“And that’s great. It’s challenging, it’s fun, you’re making positive changes for the environment, which we really are.”

The parent company has mandated strict reduction targets at all its locations for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, wastewater and landfill waste that, year-over-year, challenges Psutka to find new ways to reach those targets. By 2050, the Boshoku Corporation hopes to become a zero-CO2 emitter, plant 1.32 million trees across  the world, and eliminate wastewater generated by recycling water.

“We have a water reclamation system here, so we collect rainwater and other sources, like drinking fountain bypass. You know when you drink from a water fountain, you don’t drink all of that, so when it goes down the drain, we collect that,” explained Psutka of a system recently installed at the plant.

By capturing those so-called grey-water sources that would otherwise be flushed down the drain, the Elmira plant has seen its water consumption drop 40 per cent. The company even started to collect the condensate of its HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, which at its peak has been able to supply up to 400 litres of water an hour that would otherwise have been wasted.

“We collect that and then we treat it, and we use it to flush toilets, we use it to irrigate, we use it for urinals and we use it for other cleaning processes within the plant where that water would be acceptable to use,” said Psutka.

“To a visitor, if you were to use the washroom you wouldn’t be able tell. But that is reclaimed water that you’re using so that helped us a lot,” he noted. “We have reduced our water consumption by 40 per cent because of that. We’re really proud of that, it works well, [and it’s] fully automatic.”

The company has also mandated substantial reductions in CO2 emissions each year, with the goal of eventually reducing those emissions to zero by 2050. For Psutka, that means finding ways of cutting the amount of energy and natural gas the company uses, without inhibiting its production process.

Psutka explains how a recent project allowed the company to cut natural gas consumption by 12 per cent, by improving the efficiency of its welding exhaust system. The MIG welding system uses robots, generating fumes in the process.

“When the robots are welding, they’re creating smoke, weld fumes. And you have to exhaust that outside for health and safety reasons,” explained Psutka. “So we have an exhaust system that is connected to all the weld cells, and pulls all the exhaust out and puts it outside the building like our certificate of air allows us to do.”

The upgrades allowed the units to substantially cut down on its exhaust, from 25,000 cubic feet per minute to 9,000. The savings go beyond just the environmental too, as cutting down on the exhaust has made work on the assembly line much quieter.

“Because of our changes, I’m not moving as much air, and some cells are completely shut off when not needed. So it has reduced noise for us as well. So those are other added benefits,” he said.

In waste, the Elmira plant is looking to make sharp reductions as it incorporates a new waste-to-energy scheme that will see landfill waste put towards energy generation. Already, the company recycles 86 per cent of its waste, with the remaining 14 per cent currently going to landfill.

But Psutka says the company is looking to divert that waste from the landfill to a more productive alternative. “We’ve just completed an analysis of that, and we will very shortly be going to waste-to-energy, or incineration of our waste.”

To meet its tree-planting goals, the Elmira plant has partnered with the Township of Woolwich, which last year adopted its own ambitious goals through a greening initiative. The township hopes to increase tree cover in the municipality – or the percentage area covered by trees – from its current 16.4 per cent to 30 per cent.

The company will be funding a giveaway of 100 trees to township residents by sponsoring tree vouchers. For a $5 donation to Trees for Woolwich group, these vouchers will put $50 plus GST towards the purchase of native tree species from local nurseries. Seventy-five vouchers will be on offer at a greening initiative launch event at Bolender Park on May 4.

“I think it’s really a great thing that Toyota has decided that they want to be part of this whole greening solution,” said Inga Rinne, of the Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee (TWEEC), a volunteer committee under the auspices of Woolwich council.

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