Ductmate Industries moves ahead with sustainability measures

Michael Bradwell
Observer Reporter

When Ductmate Industries made a commitment a decade ago to get its employees to think about sustainability on the shop floor, company officials knew they were fomenting a major cultural change in attitudes about material and energy waste at the plant that makes metal ductwork for commercial and residential applications.

“Everybody buys into this, and everybody takes a road to get there,” DMI Director of Operations Doug Gudenburr said Thursday.

The company’s local plant sits in Forward Township, Allegheny County, directly across the Monongahela River from Monongahela. Its corporate headquarters are in Charleroi, and its 250 employees hail mainly from Washington, Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

The effort began with figuring out ways to reduce, recycle or reuse scrap from production operations and later evolved into other facility-wide applications such as moving to energy-efficient lighting, installing solar panels, programmable thermostats, energy-efficient air compressors and even eliminating employees’ space heaters and replacing them with blankets and sweaters.

The payoff, according to DMI CEO Ray Yeager, is that the company discovered along the way that achieving significant sustainability and profitability goals can coexist.

“We found we can (be sustainable) and still be very profitable,” Yeager told area legislators who toured the 225,000-square-foot plant as part of an event sponsored by DMI and Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance.

In addition to learning about DMI’s sustainability programs, legislators, including state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll, also heard DMI and KEEA leaders discuss how energy-efficiency policies keep energy prices low for consumers. According to KEEA, since its passage in 2008, Act 129 helped Pennsylvania homeowners and business owners save more than $750 million by taking advantage of incentives for residential and commercial electricity customers who invested in energy-saving products to reduce their utility bills.

“Act 129 energy-efficiency programs are a win-win for Pennsylvania’s businesses and workers,” said Eric Miller, policy counsel of KEEA. “By purchasing DMI’s products, businesses save money while supporting local manufacturing jobs for Pennsylvanians.”

According to material from KEEA, Washington County has more than 1,500 clean-energy jobs. Statewide, the number of clean-energy jobs currently stands at almost 70,000.

Yeager explained DMI Companies are actually five different units, with the Forward Township Ductmate site being the largest. In addition to the 250 people working in Forward and Charleroi, DMI has 200 employees at facilities in Portsmouth, Va., Lodi, Calif., and Wagner, Okla.

Collectively, DMI companies are North America’s largest producer of HVAC solutions. Yeager said most of the company’s products go to HVAC and mechanical contractors in the United States for both commercial and residential construction projects. DMI’s ductwork produced at its Virginia facility can be seen in the ceiling of the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. According to Yeager, the company also exports products to Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Lisa Paven, DMI’s sustainability and environmental compliance manager, noted the company has an ultimate goal of sending no materials to a landfill. In 2013, it sent 94.4 tons, but in 2017, its goal is 24 tons, and next year it will be 10 tons or less.

She said, in addition to looking for ways to reduce waste internally, the company seeks recyclable packaging from its vendors. Any materials such as work gloves or rags that can’t be recycled or reused are sent to an area plant that converts them from steam to energy.

As for energy savings, Paven said DMI’s Forward Township plant is set to achieve a 15 percent reduction in energy costs over 2016, while its Charleroi site should see a 7.58 percent reduction in energy costs. The total equals an annual savings of 520,000 kilowatt hours.

She noted DMI’s program to purchase new energy-efficient lighting and other equipment cost $100,000, but it received a $32,000 rebate for the outlay as a result of the Act 129 incentives.

Company officials stressed embarking on a sustainability and energy-savings program doesn’t necessarily produce savings immediately, but becomes apparent over time.

Yeager added DMI’s energy-efficient products and its efforts to save energy in the process have an impact beyond its plant walls.

“We produce products in Pennsylvania to help other companies use the products to save energy themselves,” he said, noting that the money saved from its sustainability programs can be put back into making additional improvements.