Firm Earns New Ecology Honors

    WYOMING — A leading West Michigan supplier of decorative hardware to the auto industry was recently honored for reducing waste from its metal finishing process for the third time in as many years.

    And the company has raised its desire to reduce waste to another level.

    Electro Chemical Finishing Co. was one of eight firms in the state recognized last month by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their stellar ecological performance.

    Six of the eight won silver awards, the highest handed out this year. But the Wyoming company was the only area winner and the only one in the state to win a pair of silvers from the National Metal Finishing Strategic Goals Program (SGP).

    Electro Chemical picked up a silver for its plants at 2610 Remico St. and 379 44th St. Last year, the 44th Street plant won a silver.

    A firm receives a silver SGP for reducing 66 percent of its metal finishing waste from its process.

    A bronze award signifies a 33 percent reduction, while gold represents a 92 percent reduction and automatically designates a company as a Michigan Clean Corporate Citizen. 

    All three awards reflect national standards for waste reduction. No golds were handed out this year or last year.

    But 2002 marked the third consecutive year Electro Chemical was honored. Last year, the firm picked up its first silver award. Two years ago the company won a bronze.

    “The benchmarking data is a little bit different (this year). But it’s the same type of thing. We’ve reduced the water discharge, the sludge generated, the chemical emissions and those types of things,” said Steve Hulst, director of safety, environmental and laboratory services for Electro Chemical.

    From the beginning, it was a hit-and-miss process for the firm to get to where it is today.

    The key for Electro Chemical was lowering its use of electricity and water in relation to the amount of manufacturing waste the firm produced.

    According to Hulst, achieving those goals meant buying new equipment, changing some of its work methods and altering its rinsing process.

    In addition, Electro Chemical substituted some less hazardous and more costly materials for cheaper and more dangerous ones in its metal-finishing procedure. Employees also attended seminars on how to cut waste and how to make a safer environment.

    Business benefits have followed the awards.

    Electro Chemical reports having saved money in its production costs over the years.

    Too, it has been able to leverage its waste reduction honors into a positive marketing campaign that has brought the firm new customers who are interested in dealing with an environmentally sound manufacturer.

    On top of those perks, Electro Chemical’s SGP award has helped it generate good public relations with its Wyoming neighbors.

    “People see what we’ve done and they’re not so scared having a facility next door that has some potentially hazardous things on hand. We try to bring jobs to the community and put out a good product. But at the same time, we want to be a good neighbor,” said Hulst.

    Hulst gave credit for the firm’s track record of successful waste reduction to the company’s president, Terry Volmer, and his executives.

    Other silver winners were Bronson Plating, Howard Finishing in Madison Heights., Lansing Plating, and Tawas Plating & Powder Coatings in Tawas City.

    KC Jones Plating in Hazel Park and the Wolverine Plating Corp. in Roseville won bronze awards.

    A technical review panel mostly made up of members from the DEQ and EPA verified the awards.

    Michigan and 20 other states participate in SGP. Companies get involved in the program on a voluntary basis and Electro Chemical has done so for the past six years.

    “It’s not only part of the Strategic Goals Program, but we’re making it into a company culture,” said Hulst of the firm’s commitment to reducing waste.

    “Not only the things that you think normally of as waste environmentally, like sludge and chemicals, but also reducing waste in packaging and waste throughout the plant. It includes (eliminating) wasted space and wasted time,” he added. “Across the board, it’s just eliminating waste in general.”

    Electro Chemical has 220 employees and produces decorative brass, chrome, gold, black pearl and physical vapor deposition finishing for the automotive industry, along with the door hardware and plumbing fields.

    Electro Chemical has been in business since 1978.

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