SC Johnson, manufacturer of some of the most iconic household products in America, has just powered up a gigantic wind power installation at its Waxdale, Wisconsin plant. In a cosmic bit of sustainability coincidence, electricity from the wind turbines will help to produce the aptly named Windex cleanser along with Scrubbing Bubbles and Glade.
The installation is also a good reminder that sustainability is often more of a process than an end point. SC Johnson's product line includes a raft of household brands that are pretty far removed from the sustainable ideal (say, on the order of lemon juice and vinegar), but in terms of the manufacturing process, SC Johnson has made some impressive strides and the new wind power installation is just one in a long list of examples.
The scale of the installation is consistent with the Waxdale facility, which is the size of 36 footballs fields.
Despite its size, the addition of the wind turbines means that the Waxdale facility will produce about 100 percent of its electrical energy onsite. The turbines alone will provide about 15 percent of the facility's needs. The remaining 85 percent comes from two cogeneration systems installed a few years ago, which are powered both by methane gas harvested from a landfill and natural gas.
Other measures mentioned by SC Johnson are the use of waste palm shells and rice husks as a substitute fuel for diesel, a growing number of solar projects, and a plan to become landfill-neutral by 2016.
Some of the company's other activities covered here at Triple Pundit include a test-market of refillable Windex containers that will use 90 percent less plastic than their conventional bottles and a commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil.
That dovetails with a new study undertaken by the wind turbine company, Vestas, which demonstrated that more consumers prefer to buy products manufactured with wind power.
When you take these two items together, wind power (and other forms of renewable energy) acts like a kind of bridge that enables consumers to change their behavior by taking a big but practically invisible step: instead of changing products, they start by changing energy.
The followup step can be far more difficult, and that would be to get consumers to accept more sustainable formulas or packaging in their favorite brands, or to accept new, more sustainable product lines.
However, by introducing and publicizing sustainable manufacturing projects, companies can at least ensure that their mainstream customers become more familiar with the need to change behavior, and the benefits of doing so.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.