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Most trends, regardless of the industry, are first embraced on the coasts and then move inland. Count sustainability among them.
 
Chris Nolan, president of H.T. Berry, Canton, Mass., started researching the sustainability movement seven years ago after noticing his vendors developing eco-friendly products.

“I was a big believer right at the beginning and felt we should be doing this as a conscious company,” says Nolan.

Nolan embraced the products he was selling and used them in his own facilities — everything from green chemicals and paper to microfiber mops.

Then five years ago the company installed sensor lighting to cut down on energy usage. And trucks were given idle cut-off switches and fueled by a low percentage of biodiesel.

H.T. Berry’s foresight paid off as customers also discovered sustainability and began asking what their supplier was doing to be environmentally friendly.

“We have business at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); they are very forward thinking,” says Nolan. “They really challenged us about limiting trucks on campus and how we, as one of their key vendors, conduct our business at home.”

But it hasn’t just been education customers pushing sustainable initiatives. Banks that H.T. Berry helped LEED certify years ago are now analyzing their vendor base and choosing to conduct business with sustainable companies.

In 2012, H.T. Berry decided to make its biggest commitment to sustainability by installing photovoltaic solar panels atop its 100,000-square-foot warehouse.

“Our company founder, Henry Thomas Berry, always had the vision of reinvesting in the company,” says Nolan. “When I became president eight years ago, he would always say to me, ‘Every year we need to look to get better. Every year we need to look at new innovation.’ That always stuck with me.”

Admittedly, the warehouse solar panels are a little outside the box and a big investment at $1.1 million (H.T. Berry did recoup a third of the amount from a government grant). But the project will pay dividends not only toward the environment, but to H.T. Berry’s bottom line.

For starters, the company no longer has an electric bill, an annual savings of roughly $36,000. But the panels don’t just save money, they make it. H.T. Berry sells solar renewal energy credits (SREC) back to the utility provider at a price of approximately 37 cents per kilowatt. That adds up to about $90,000 a year. Return on investment should take a little under four years, says Nolan.

Inside the office, a projector shows the daily electricity tally from the warehouse solar panels — a highlight to show customers touring the facility.
 
“A client that is interested in the environment wants to see the trickle down effect of, ‘Great, you guys have green products, but what do you do?’ The solar panels give us a chance to show them that we are a 100 percent energy independent company right now,” says Nolan.

To really show off the improvements, H.T. Berry hosted an Earth Day event in April. More than 400 customers attended and some even left contemplating taking similar actions at their own companies.

H.T. Berry has used sustainability as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition and customers have taken notice. For example, a real estate company recently asked Nolan if he could accompany them on a tour of a building to help explain its environmentally friendly attributes.

“Years ago we were just the toilet paper guys,” says Nolan. “Now we’re involved in a tour trying to sell the building with a client to prove its greener than the next building. I think that’s cool.”