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At Philip Rosenau Co., Inc., in Warminster, Pa., the company's sustainability journey began with small steps.

“Once you start with the little things, then you can look into the big things,” says Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability. “Steve Ashkin always says, ‘Sustainability isn’t an event, it’s a journey.’ Well, baby steps count.”

A jan/san distributor’s biggest contribution to the waste stream comes from the warehouse. So five years ago Philip Rosenau began recycling cardboard boxes, plastic, metal, paper, shrinkwrap and equipment batteries. Instead of buying new pallets, they decided to reuse old ones.

“We pay our delivery drivers incentives to bring back more pallets than they deliver,” says McGarvey.

In January 2011, the company expanded this recycling program to include old cleaning equipment.

“I saw a 30-yard Dumpster piled high with cleaning equipment that was broken and abandoned. As director of sustainability, I knew there had to be a better way,” says McGarvey.

Now the company pays to have the machines broken down and recycled. Yes, it’s an added cost, but they were already paying to have equipment hauled away as trash. At least now it’s out of the waste stream.

In 2013, McGarvey hopes to expand the program by offering equipment recycling to customers.

“Our goal is to see five tons of used equipment come from customers. That’s 10 percent of what we’ve already done,” says McGarvey.

All totaled, in the last two years, Philip Rosenau has diverted more than 51 tons of material from landfills. But the company wants to do more. Recently employees have been asking about starting a battery-recycling program to recycle batteries from work and those brought from home.

This past February, Philip Rosenau went from taking small steps to a giant leap by relamping its 50,000-square-foot warehouse. Even though they lease the space, the sustainable initiative was important to the company and as part of the lease renewal, the cost of the new lighting was factored in. The switch has reduced energy usage by 40 percent and costs by 32 percent.

“The new lights are so bright we shut half of them off,” says McGarvey.

The company held a “Superheroes of Sustainability” themed product expo and trade show in October to highlight their sustainable efforts to customers. Feedback from the event was very positive as many clients — and even some employees — didn’t realize all the steps the company has taken.

Even though most customers aren’t taking their distributor to task about sustainability, McGarvey says he sees end users moving in the direction of sustainability.

“We promote sustainable products to customers, but at a certain point in time you have to look in the mirror,” says McGarvey. “Ultimately sustainability is the right thing to do. We need to look at our footprint and what impact that will have down the road.”