Upfront Q&A with Vic Firth
At one point during our recent (June and July 2012 MMR) two-part feature speaking with MI operations that have made significant commitments to adopting “green” approaches to the manufacture and distribution of product, we conceded that, “Everybody has a story to tell on this subject (and no doubt we left out some good ones, for which we apologize in advance).”
Case in point: Vic Firth.
The iconic drumstick manufacturer (as well as brushes, mallets, et cetera – they’re also a respected name in salt- and pepper-grinders!) has long embraced techniques which cut down its carbon footprint. Whether it’s actually creating drumsticks, heating the facilities, or packaging and transporting product, Vic Firth is about as “green” an operation as you’re liable to find, in any industry.
We recently chatted with Vic himself to get the scoop on how and why the company that bears his name has been so committed to being environmentally conscious.
MMR: Vic Firth was ahead of the curve when it comes to “going green,” having enacted a number of environmentally friendly practices well before it was trendy to do so. Can you talk about the underlying philosophy behind that?
Vic Firth: I have been the catalyst for most of the ongoing changes throughout the history of the company. I’ve always been concerned with the company’s impact of waste on the environment and encourage all employees to make suggestions to reduce the waste flow.
MMR: Back in ‘92 when you switched up stick packaging from plastic to the now industry-standard paper sleeve, what was the motivation? How difficult (or easy) was that? What was initial industry response?
VF: Philosophically costs have had no effect on our decision to go “green.” This is a good example. When the plastic sleeves were eliminated we removed a million sleeves from the waste stream. The sleeve was made from recycled paper and printed with soy ink, making the sleeve biodegradable and environmentally clean. At first this increased assembly time and costs, but the team learned new methods to use the new sleeves eliminating the cost increase over time. We also packaged the 12 pairs in cardboard boxes at that time. Wanting to remove all these boxes from the waste stream we developed a method to strap the sticks together with a plastic band. Today the same 12-pair bricks are only shrink-wrapped to eliminate the plastic band as well.
MMR: Can you discuss the evolution of the “environmentally-driven” initiatives up through to the present day – including water and sawdust filtering and recycling, burning wood (and not a fossil fuel), et cetera? How difficult was the process of conversion of production techniques to reach the current set-up?
VF: Water is used to cool the grinders during stick production. The large volume of water used was a concern so we developed a tank and filter system, which is still in use today. There are a lot of wood pieces and sawdust as a result of making drumsticks. Since we use a boiler to heat the kilns utilized to control the moisture content in our wood, as well as to heat the plant during the cold New England winters, using the wood and sawdust as fuel was an easy decision. The result is that the plant burns much less fossil fuels with this change.
MMR: Talk about the use of wind-power at the factory: when did that begin, what processes does it cover?
VF: Unfortunately the initial usage study to build a windmill at the factory came back negative. The plant is next to a lake, meaning it is on low ground. There was not enough wind at the site to make this plan a reality. We are continuing to evaluate options to use wind and solar power.
MMR: Overall, comparing the costs of conversion and construction which have made VF such an environmentally responsible operation to the current operating costs, do you feel that, in the long run, “going green” has saved the company money, cost money, or ultimately runs about “even” with traditional manufacturing techniques?
VF: Again, philosophically costs have had no effect on the decisions to go “green.” Some changes have cost more short term, but have evened out over time. Using less fossil fuel will help us reduce the amount of energy required to run the plant.
MMR: You’re actively partnered with – and frequently honored by – the state of Maine and environmentally minded organizations within that state and around the country. How important is that to Vic Firth and what sort of upsides (or downsides?) has it afforded the operation?
VF: We reach out to organizations that have the best expertise in this area and can help us learn more about alternate ways that will have a positive impact on the environment. The upside is we are always learning new possible techniques and technologies to improve our energy conservation.
MMR: What further advancements (if any) are on the horizon for VF when it comes to going green?
VF: The process never stops and we strive to do things better and cleaner.