EBP Member Company Spotlight

by | Mar 9, 2017

From Community Engagement to Whole Systems Sustainability – EBP Supply Solutions Shares their Journey

Founded in 1918 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, EBP Supply Solutions is a leading provider of environmentally preferable cleaning and food service products and services to businesses and institutions. Now in its fourth generation of leadership, the company has grown from a small operation to one that includes 400,000 square feet of distribution centers and a fleet that covers the eastern U.S.

What is your company’s approach to sustainability?
Giving back to the community is a part of our company culture, and has been something we’ve done for many years. Our commitment isn’t something we promote or celebrate; we do it because it’s the right thing to do. We support Easter Seals and Connecticut Food Bank to engage with our local community and provide a societal benefit. In the past few years, we’ve expanded that awareness to environmental issues and impacts.

Some companies have sustainability in their company DNA like one of our suppliers Revolution Bag, which makes trash bag liners from recycled agricultural tubing. But EBP is a distribution company with warehouses and truck fleets. So we are trying to take our competitive industry pillars of energy and transportation, along with our business activities, and make them sustainable.

Even though we didn’t start off as a company rooted in sustainability, we are fully committed to integrating sustainability principles and practices into our core business. It takes time – and is a journey – but we are well on our way.

What are you doing internally to improve sustainability performance?
We start with the question: how can we make the environment better for our children? Waste generated from packaging is a material environmental impact that all distribution companies face. Addressing the issue at all stages of the materials economy (reduce, reuse, recycle) decreases the impact on natural resources and resulted in cost savings, and even revenue-generating opportunities for us.

In the coming year, we’ll focus on maximizing participation in DEAL (Distributor Efficiency Analytics & Learning). The program allows participants to track energy savings and evaluate the efficiency of various efforts. It also allows us to compare data with peers in the distribution industry. This has allowed us see our strengths, weakness and improvement areas. The next step is to translate the data into a less technical format and share it with a broader audience.

How are you helping customers?
We are constantly learning, and sharing insights and best practices with our customers to help them further their sustainability efforts. For green cleaning, it is both having green products available and demonstrating the best practices. For sustainable food service, it is teaching customers about how important it is to understand their waste stream when considering the products they use. Sharing information, providing sustainable products, and conducting audits for our customers is important in helping them travel down the sustainability path. We often have customers ask us for help, and we are working on training Sales Representatives to take on more of a consulting role.

How did you get started?
As a mid-sized company, staying on top of market trends has been ever important to our business, and ultimately how we serve our customers. In 2010, we recognized there was some momentum building and we started talking about how to apply sustainability to our business. In 2012, we signed up as the first participants in the United Illuminating’s Business Sustainability Challenge (BSC). We worked with UI consultants to identify ways in which to become more energy efficient; including weather stripping, lighting improvements and changing employee behavior to power off lights and machines when not in use.

For the past seven years, we’ve continued to identify initiatives that create efficiencies, lessen environmental impacts, save money and earn a return on investment. We are strategic in focusing on one area, making improvements, and leveraging the benefits. The number of improvements you can make is amazing, once you start looking.

What are some of the challenges you face?
Incremental improvements become more difficult when you have achieved a certain level. For example, we already have some of the most fuel-efficient trucks available, so when we update our fleet next, it will appear to be a very small improvement. Companies with large environmental footprints are perceived in a positive light when they make small efforts, but if you have already been practicing sustainability for a while, the improvements don’t appear as significant.

Upfront costs associated with making changes is a barrier for a lot of companies, ours included. But if you can connect to existing programs, resources, and incentives – and apply a longer-term horizon to the pay back – you can, at the very least, break even. It also provides co-benefits like a healthier workplace, better employee retention and productivity, and appealing to top talent in recruiting which are important, though harder to quantify in dollars.

In distribution, we’re always on the look out for new technologies to apply to our business. The tech space is changing rapidly, and many of the solutions we’d be willing to implement – like hydrogen fuel cells, low acid batteries, hybrid or CNG vehicles – are prohibitively expensive. We will continue to evaluate and vet new technologies, and look for opportunities to introduce them as they make sense economically and environmentally.

A problem specific to green food service products is that there are a lot of claims on various characteristics, but due to the lack of standards it becomes “green washing”. EBP put forth a big effort to develop our own requirements and standards for what can be considered “green” and to properly educate our customers.

What advice can you share with others?
Take the time to understand how what you are already doing can build into a deeper commitment. Start simple. Don’t underestimate the value of behavior change through education.

The key to success is patience and persistence. Even once sustainability gets built into the company mind-set, it is not always easy to convince others of the value. If you can get senior management on board and/or driving sustainability — like we have at EBP — getting support for sustainability efforts will be much easier.

EBP is excited to be a founding member of CTSBC and looking forward to working with like-minded businesses in Connecticut to promote sustainability in the business community. Contact smarlin@ebpsupply.com for more information.