While “Sustainability” has become a buzz word in recent years the concept has always been around: be good to your people, fiscally responsible and mindful of your environment. Silver Star has embraced the notion that in order to be truly successful, we must be strong in all three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.
Although they might not have used the term, sustainability was at the heart of why a group of ranchers and farmers started the first telephone company in Star Valley, the company which a few years later became known as Silver Star. The founders realized that staying abreast of telecommunications technology was important if their small rural community was to thrive and be a place that the children of the community would return to raise their own families. Even before Silver Star established an official sustainability program in April of 2008, the company had been reinvesting back in the communities it served through sponsorships, scholarships and donations and had a reputation for its sense of responsibility towards its employees and customers.
As a company, we felt that in order to truly change our operations to focus on the three crucial areas of sustainability, we would need to make concerted effort to change our culture and create a sense of accountability in our team.
Silver Star enrolled in UnCommon Sense, a sustainable business operations leadership program of the Yellowstone Business Partnership. Over the two-year program we systematically examined every area of our business operations, established baseline data and tracking systems and created policies to take the changes in to the future. We have incorporated community participation and support of our sustainability initiatives into our job responsibilities. This program is around for the long-term and will continue to evolve as the technology around us changes. This is now simply how we do business.
Areas of Concentration
We initially analyzed our waste by “dumpster diving” to identify areas where we could reduce waste by reducing, reusing or recycling. From this effort, we expanded our recycling program company-wide and incorporated cell phones, electronics, packaging, copper, and more.
- Reduced the amount of disposable paper and plastic kitchen products we tossed by replacing them with reusable kitchenware.
- Created an awareness campaign replace print magazine and catalog subscriptions with digital versions when possible, utilize duplex printing, use the backsides of paper for printing if duplex is not an option, and to recycle.
- Replaced all loose paper towel holders in bathrooms with hard roll to reduce waste.
- Experienced a net savings of 63% in paper expenses over the first four years of tracking with the amount spent on paper having gone down every year from 2007-2012.
We began by writing a preferred purchasing policy outlining that we should use environmentally-friendly products with the least shipping distance, whenever possible and reasonable.
- Replaced 100% virgin copy paper with 50% post-consumer waste paper.
- Replaced tri-fold 100% virgin paper towels with 40% post-consumer waste hard roll towels (in most locations)
- Purchase refurbished ink toners
- Replaced toxic chemical cleaners with environmentally-friendly alternatives
- Replaced 100% virgin toilet tissue with 60% post-consumer waste tissue.
This is one area where we had already started working to conserve. To date, with rebates from one electrical co-op, Lower Valley, we have replaced all of our florescent lighting with an energy-efficient equivalent. With recent upgrades in some of our telecommunications equipment, historically very energy intensive, we have been able to install more energy-efficient options. We are testing energy consumption used by computers, of which we have many as a technology company, and other electrical sources throughout our company as we look for additional ways to use less energy.
- Installed small windows in 18 garage doors in Driggs location, allowing for natural rather than electric light.
- Replaced all florescent lights in all offices, warehouses, and equipment huts.
- Installed switches with timers in shop spaces where people are in and out so that lights don’t inadvertently get left on when no one is using them.
- Installed an energy management system called Control 4 in our Executive offices.
This is an area where we have not been able to gather as much useful data as we would have liked, as we are on wells in most locations. Without a well monitoring system, we are using the data we have from one of our larger locations that is on City water to find areas for improvement.
We identified irrigating our landscaping as a major source of water usage and have been able to reduce the frequency and duration of watering. We also have anecdotal evidence of education and awareness among employees making a difference – for example if the sprinklers come on now when it is raining, someone will go turn them off.
The nature and geographic reach of our business means out vehicles are driven extensively – to commute between offices, visit customers and to build and maintain equipment.
- Installed a video conference system, eliminating much of the traveling between Star Valley and Teton Valley for meetings.
- Encouraged employee carpool and summer bike commuting with a personal incentive programs.
- Purchasing fuel efficient vehicles as we replace our pool cars and encouraging use of a fuel-efficient vehicle for non-technician travel.
- Invested in on-board GPS for vehicles as well as fleet management software to help optimize vehicle use in terms of weight, gas mileage, task being performed etc.
Internal Social Investment
Silver Star has always taken pride in its competitive pay, rich benefit program and focus on developing its employees. Our sustainability program takes our investment in our team a step further by analyzing what is truly important to our employees and finding ways to improve in those areas.
- Surveyed employees to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement
- Created action items to improve in areas of weakness
Strong, healthy communities have always been a focal point for the company. In addition to our continued support of local nonprofits through the Caring for Community donation program, we added company-wide community service teams. Usually day-long project, these have been very well-received by employees and have contributed to a sense of community, breaking down barriers between departments.
- Completed multiple community service projects in Jackson, Soda Springs, Star Valley, Swan Valley and Teton Valley. Read about these projects on our community blogs.
- 100% employee participation in 2011
- 63 grants were given to Star and Teton Valley nonprofits between 2010 and 2012.