Sustainability at Thorlabs means meeting the needs and requirements of our customers while actively considering the environmental and social impacts of our operations, so as not to place an undue burden on the environment, our employees, our customers, our community, or future generations.
Sustainability at Thorlabs provides not only environmental and social benefits but also serves as another dimension of our customer-focused philosophy as we embrace the expectations of our customers beyond the products and services we provide. Thorlabs recognizes its obligation to minimize our environmental impact and strengthen our local communities while we identify, enable, and accelerate key photonics technologies. By reducing our resource consumption, making our systems more efficient, supporting our community’s local economy and people, and fostering a culture of sustainability, Thorlabs seeks to promote a vibrant photonics community as well as healthy ecosystems and strong neighborhoods.
Our approach to packaging has been evolving. We continue to try and balance protection for our product with environmentally friendly packaging. A certain level of packaging materials will always be needed to provide protection and cushioning for our products as they ship to guarantee these products arrive to our customers in the same condition in which they left our warehouse. We provide this protection for our products because we know an unnoticed ding in a part could cause adverse impacts in the lab and compromise stability in the systems of our customers. With that being said, we recognize there is room for improvement and we have been continuing to work on assessing our use of packaging materials. We welcome our customers to provide input and ideas as we examine our packaging.
Our green packaging efforts are focused on reducing the weight of our packaging by eliminating any unnecessary packaging and implementing packaging design changes that allow for a reduction in packaging materials. We also continue to look for opportunities to provide packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable for our customers when possible. Over the past few years, we have implemented packaging materials that are more easily recycled or reused by our customers such as our fiber optic patch cable tins and our Geami GreenWrap paper, which is used in place of bubble wrap. The Smart Pack icon (shown to the right) will be used for any product packaging change in line with our packaging improvement initiative.
We tackled our biggest packaging offenders earlier through the first wave of our Smart Pack Initiative. The re-engineered product packaging from our first wave was estimated to avoid more than 18,000 kg of CO2-equivalent emissions from the travel of these packaging materials to our customers around the world and reduce material usage by over 25,000 pounds since the changes were implemented in 2010 or 2011. We are continuing to reevaluate and re-engineer our product packaging for more of our product line in addition to our packaging processes.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Thorlabs strives to reduce the amount of material sent to landfills by eliminating waste before it is even generated, by identifying opportunities for materials to be reused, and by recycling materials when possible at its global locations.
Initiatives such as our break room sustainability initiative allow us to avoid waste generation. With each break room in our new headquarters building featuring two dishwashers, Thorlabs has been able to eliminate the purchase and use of disposable coffee cups, plates, and silverware. Employees are each given their own ceramic Thorlabs mug and are provided the use of communal silverware, plates, and additional community mugs in our break rooms. In addition, we have been working with our caterers for our events to minimize waste through practices such as the use of reusable dinnerware and bulk packaging. For our 2012 holiday party, we used compostable plates, utensils, and cups that were added to the event’s food waste to form a value-added soil amendment by a local composting facility.
The reuse of supplies is another integral part of our waste and recycling program. Our receiving department unpacks many incoming items each day. Many of the packaging materials that arrive with these goods are diverted from the waste stream to be reused for our consolidated shipments to international Thorlabs locations or recycled. Using these materials again eliminates the need for new packaging materials. While we cannot reuse all supplies, we look for opportunities for these materials to be reused by others. For instance, old fiber spools that could no longer be used in our operations and could not be returned to the manufacturer were donated to an institution of higher education.
When materials cannot be reused by us or others, we look for opportunities to recycle these materials. Thorlabs’ headquarters has a single stream recycling program, meaning cans, glass, plastic, and mixed paper can all go into the same recycling receptacles. Additional recycling programs are in place for batteries, scrap metal, toner cartridges, e-waste, and plastic bags to move more materials out of the waste stream.
Paper and Supplies
Each department of our company is responsible for a unique set of activities, such as picking and packing orders, assembling products, answering phones and taking customer orders, but all share a common need for paper and other office supplies. As with many resource conservation efforts, we look to our employees and technology to help us reduce our consumption of resources. From 2012 to 2013, we were able to reduce our copy paper purchases by 6%.
Employees are encouraged to think about their paper usage. One way our employees have demonstrated their concern is by electing to use direct deposit. Over 90% of our Newton employees are signed up for direct deposit, which is a voluntary effort in New Jersey, conserving resources by eliminating the need for paper and envelopes and avoiding carbon emissions associated with mailing checks.
Technology provides the means of furthering our paper reduction goals. One example of a technology that allows us to save paper is computer faxing. Through a program known as RightFax, we are able to receive and send faxes through our computers without having to print out documents at all. By changing our company-wide printing preferences and printer purchasing policy to favor duplex printers, we have also been able to minimize paper consumption. In 2013, our Sales department was further able to drastically reduce their paper consumption through the use of double monitors. In addition, we have created a new webpage that is dedicated to providing paperless product documentation to eliminate the need to print and send out paper copies for some of our product lines. Check out the page: Manual Download
We extend the opportunity to our customers to help us improve our paper consumption as well as their own. The accounting department has Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) capabilities and also offers customers the option of being emailed their invoices to reduce the environmental consequences of printing and mailing customer invoices.
With many diverse branch locations across the world, employees commute to work in many different ways. We encourage our employees to be mindful of the environmental impact of their mode of transportation and opt for greener forms of transportation when possible.
Our headquarters location puts us close to many residential areas, restaurants, and shops in Newton. We encourage Thorlabs employees to use our new location to improve the environmental impacts of their commuting and transportation during the work day.
Thorlabs employees are invited to utilize one of our eight community bikes to make trips into town for lunch or to run an errand. Several of the bikes feature saddlebags, allowing for easy transport of lunch or other goods.
After Hurricane Sandy, many employees were struggling with their commute to work in the face of a gas shortage. Carpooling efforts were made to match employees in need with employees in their area to help alleviate this strain. These carpooling efforts have been expanded with the assistance of TransOptions to allow more of our employees to green their commute, save money, and get to know their coworkers.
Thorlabs was recognized for its support of sustainable transportation options and commuting alternatives by receiving a platinum level New Jersey Smart Workplaces award from our local Transportation Management Association, TransOptions, in 2014. We were also recognized as the Employer of the Year in 2014 for our dedicated commitment to improving the quality of life for our employees by providing and maximizing transportation choices. We continue to partner with TransOptions to expand our green transportation offerings and reduce our environmental impact in New Jersey.
Siting and Building Design
The location of our headquarters building puts us very close to Newton’s popular Spring Street with shops and restaurants in addition to many residential areas. Many of our employees live within 5 miles of our headquarters office.
The site of our headquarters is located on a former brownfield site (an abandoned or under-used property that may see complications with the reuse of the land because of the presence or potential presence of hazardous substances) that had been earmarked by the town for redevelopment. The site had previously been used by a fabric manufacturing facility and then a plastics facility until 1992. When brownfield sites are remediated and redeveloped, it helps reduce the need to build on undeveloped land by using property that already has access to existing infrastructure and services.
Our headquarters building in Newton, NJ, also contains other green features that help us use resources more efficiently. Our building has a very open layout on each of its three floors. As a result, turning off lights becomes more challenging as different departments share a common workspace. Light sensors have been installed throughout the building to power down lights when different areas of the main work space are unoccupied. We also have timed water faucets in our bathrooms to minimize our water usage.
As a manufacturing company, our energy usage is substantial. Identifying reduction opportunities and ways to broaden our renewable energy portfolio are important to us. We have been researching the possibility of installing a solar array at one of our buildings in Newton, NJ, to help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for electricity.
Culture of Sustainability
The environment does not belong to one entity and therefore the responsibility to care for it involves the actions of many. We look to educate and inspire our employees to take action at work and at home while also supporting local neighborhood groups with their green initiatives.
Our employees are encouraged to take part in Thorlabs' efforts to improve our environmental impact. For example, at our headquarters location, we engaged employees in sustainability by acknowledging Earth Day 2012 through a weeklong sustainability pledge, a competition to design our internal sustainability logo and slogan, and a used mug drive to increase our community mug supply in the break rooms. For one of our 2013 Earth Day celebration events, we held a book swap and were able to donate 180 books employees had brought in during the two week collection and swap period.
We are enthusiastic supporters of our local community and their eco-friendly initiatives. Announcements and postings are made to employees to let them know about green community events like free e-waste events at the local county municipal utilities authority and local farmers’ markets. We are also supporting the town of Newton in their development of a running and biking trail that connects two existing branches of the Sussex Branch Rail Trail. A Thorlabs volunteer day was held in November 2012 to allow employees to provide a helping hand in clearing this trail for community use. Over 40 employees helped clear 500 feet of trail with Newton’s Department of Public Works.
Lab Snacks Fuel Cyclists in Oregon
Our Lab Snacks serve not only as an enjoyable treat for many customers, but also took on an additional purpose for one research unit in Oregon by helping fuel their green transportation efforts.
A member of the USDA Agriculture Research Station Horticulture Crops Research Unit (USDA ARS HCRU) in Corvallis, Oregon, reached out to Alex inquiring about our Lab Snacks. She thought these unique goodies would be a great incentive for the 2013 Bicycle Commute Challenge in which her unit participates each year. The Bike Commute Challenge is a program run by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and involves participants tracking how many miles they commute via bicycle to work during the month of September. As an avid cyclist and supporter of not only our Thorlabs' sustainability initiatives, but those of others, Alex agreed to assist the Horticulture Crops Research Unit’s green transportation efforts by providing Lab Snacks.
The USDA ARS HCRU began participating in the Bicycle Commute Challenge as a team in 2007, with 14 bikers signed up and over 114 total trips logged, totaling 539 miles. The highest number of participants over the years has been 16 out of 65 potential participants. An initial sampling of Lab Snacks was sent to the team captain to help advertise the program for participants for this year’s challenge. The USDA ARS HCRU had five participants in the 2013 Bicycle Commute Challenge. All of the participants were rewarded with Lab Snacks for their participation and efforts to green their commute. We are thrilled that our Lab Snacks were used to support the USDA ARS HCRU’s participation in the 2013 Bicycle Commute Challenge and applaud their efforts to improve the environment for us all.