The Toronto distribution centre for Cintas, a business supplies provider, became Canada’s second facility to earn TRUE Zero Waste certification last fall. The 60,000-square-foot Mississauga facility achieved its zero waste goals through innovative vendor partnerships, the dedication of its green team, and complete engagement among its 56 employees, or “partners” as they are referred to within Cintas. A combination of large changes to overall processes and individual partner actions contributed to the distribution centre’s success, lending itself as an excellent example of how a zero waste strategy can be implemented in any type of organization.
The result of this work was a TRUE Gold certification, which acknowledged the distribution centre’s work in diverting 93.59 percent of waste from landfill. It is one of five Cintas facilities so far to achieve TRUE Gold certification in North America, with more planned in the near future.
The TRUE Zero Waste program is part of a suite of certification and professional credentialing services administered by GBCI Canada, launched in February 2018 as a new joint venture between the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) and Green Business Certification Inc. With the goal of the program being to divert all solid waste from the landfill and incineration, TRUE-certified projects must meet seven minimum program requirements, including achieving an average overall waste diversion rate of 90 per cent or greater over the most recent 12-month period, and having a zero waste policy in place.
The following case study provides a closer look into the strategies, challenges and specific actions involved in Cintas’s achievement at its Toronto distribution centre.
Committing to environmental stewardship
Environmental stewardship is a priority at Cintas, which has integrated sustainable solutions throughout its operations. This includes the use of recycled plastic water bottles to create suits that customers can find for purchase within the Cintas catalogue, modernizing facilities to incorporate environmentally friendly practices, and forming a team to provide a centralized sustainability strategy.
Cintas’s company-wide zero-waste-to-landfill initiative includes the following steps:
- Assessing the internal waste produced to better understand the amount, nature and composition of the waste generated;
- Assembling teams and champions dedicated to the program;
- Engaging employees and making it easy for them to get involved with efforts and in identifying ways to reduce, recycle, reuse or repurpose waste; and
- Developing a plan to provide direction and help the organization achieve its goals.
These actions laid the foundation for Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre’s zero waste strategy and decision to pursue TRUE certification, giving the facility a workable plan to address its specific challenges.
Overcoming challenges in waste diversion
It’s often said that people are an organization’s greatest resource; as such, a successful zero waste strategy often depends on tapping into the strengths and insights of employees who are committed to sustainability. While implementing changes to existing procedures can be a complex process, Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre took a common sense, partner-led approach to its TRUE Zero Waste certification, coming up with simple, yet impactful solutions that could be easily integrated from day one.
The challenge: Determining what to do with different kinds of waste
The strategy: Assessing the internal waste produced
The solution: Work with new and existing suppliers and corporate office to assess and strategize
Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre distributes five kinds of business supplies: entrance and logo floor mats; restroom supplies such as hand soap and toilet paper dispensers; first aid and safety items; corporate apparel direct sales; and uniform rentals to commercial and industrial customers.
With the distribution centre handling such diverse products and services, a key concern was streamlining where the different types of waste generated by the business lines and partners during the normal workday should go.
The facility worked with the company that serviced its garbage and recycling needs, Waste Connections, to analyze its waste and provide recommendations on more ways to recycle. Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre also privately contracted Waste Connections to recycle its plastic and cardboard, receiving credit in return and thus generating additional cost savings.
Given the company’s large focus on garments, finding a way to recycle waste fabric proved to be a particular struggle for the distribution centre. After several years of searching for a sustainable solution, staff from Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre spoke with H&M Canada, which suggested that the facility contact GFL for fabric recycling.
Cintas’ corporate office also recommended reaching out to Wiseman Export as another way to deal with the discarded textiles. This resulted in a synergistic relationship in which Wiseman Export takes garments disposed of by Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre, shreds the fabric and then repurposes it as rags and to make mattresses.
The challenge: Getting partner buy-in
The strategies: Assembling dedicated teams and engaging partners
The solution: Frequent messaging and working with champions in different departments
Resistance to change in existing practices can often be a barrier in implementing new standards, and this was the case at Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre as well. Education about its zero waste program was a key tool in tackling this issue, with the centre’s green team providing frequent opportunities to learn about what they were trying to accomplish.
The team held a weekly show-and-tell during the first month of the switch to demonstrate which receptacles to use for each kind of garbage. Instead of providing disposable supplies at monthly partner events, they asked staff to bring in their own reusable plates, cups and cutlery. As well, the sustainability team now works with departmental waste champions to identify issues around incorrect waste sorting, gather data, and weigh collected garbage to monitor in- and outbound waste.
Cintas partners were empowered to bring their own waste reduction ideas to the table, which led to some great solutions. One partner recommended repurposing the filler paper included with garments and other packages to stuff other boxes being shipped out, a move that has also resulted in cost savings.
In addition, the facility’s green team devised opportunities for partners to incorporate zero waste strategies into life outside of the workplace, including annual events at the distribution centre to bring in old electronics for recycling and personal papers for shredding.
The challenge: Finding new ways to reuse and further reduce waste
The strategy: Developing a plan to provide direction
The solution: Rethinking existing processes around shipping
Along with the idea to reuse shipping paper and have fabrics recycled, Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre made other changes to its processes as part of its efforts to decrease waste. The facility breaks down damaged pallets to create new ones, and it has reduced its usage of cardboard boxes by switching to plastic containers where possible or reusing boxes from previous shipments. It also purchased a new machine that has halved the amount of plastic shrink wrap used in comparison to manual usage.
Achieving zero waste goals
Cintas’ Toronto distribution centre owes much of its success in reaching its diversion targets to its green team, which meets monthly and brainstorms fresh ideas to engage partners in waste reduction efforts. As well, it works with the facility’s social committee to make monthly events greener.
More broadly, the initiative at Cintas showcases how organizations can easily get started in achieving their zero waste goals, shrinking their carbon footprint, increasing efficiency and supporting sustainability. The TRUE program provided a simple blueprint for the Toronto distribution centre to follow to become more resource efficient, transforming its upstream policies and practices both organizationally and at the individual employee level.
To learn more about TRUE Zero Waste certification, visit the GBCI Canada website.
Mark Hutchinson is the vice president of green building programs at the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).