I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Larry O’Connor, the CEO of Other World Computing, http://eshop.macsales.com/green/ . I came away with a stronger realization that leadership is arguably the largest factor in an organization’s environmental performance.
Under Larry’s leadership, OWC has achieved sustained business growth, profitability and environmental excellence.
Larry’s environmental philosophy is not driven by public pressure, customers, ordinances, NGOs, investors or meeting some third party standard. The philosophy is elegantly simple: doing the right thing for the most effective utilization of natural resources makes for good business.
And for a small firm, OWC has made a big environmental difference.
Larry O’Connor (r), Founder and CEO of Other World Computing (OWC), discusses the roll-out timing of some of the company’s new SSD (solid- state drive) products with Grant Dahlke, brand manager. Behind O’Connor are racks of bundled recyclable shipping/paper products which are used by local processors to produce new shipping/packaging materials. Behind Dahlke is one of the firm’s refuse compactor containers. The company so effectively recycles/reuses materials that OWC only “takes out the trash” once every ten months.
OWC has been providing quality hardware products and support to the computer industry since 1988, started by Larry at age 14.
OWC provides peripherals for MACs and PCs. Increasingly, the company has begun to focus on higher-performance, more energy-efficient solid state drives to give computer users faster, more responsive systems with battery life approaching that of today’s popular tablet computers such as the Apple iPad.
With its strong founding in the Apple user environment, OWC has also focused on developing and providing a very broad family of iPhone and iPad accessories and products to meet the need of the rapidly growing mobile device community.
Innovation in Everything
Since the beginning, OWC has focused on developing innovative products that also meet the organization’s environmental concerns.
How has this enlightened leadership philosophy translated into specific actions? Here are some examples.
When designing a new 37,000-square-foot headquarters and warehouse building in 1998, OWC chose to utilize the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] design criteria.
OWC was an early adopter of green building concepts. As the design evolved, the pragmatic elements of ecofriendly design became more apparent. LEED awarded OWC their top tier certification, Platinum.
Larry O’Connor (l), OWC CEO, explains that the company is concerned with internal and external conservation to Dan McCaleb, of the Northwest Herald. The parking and exterior paving uses a unique Bio-Aquifer Storm System technology that captures water from landscaping, store runoff and rooftop diversion that directs water through multi-layer bed rock/gravel to the limestone aquifer for complete natural filtration without putting a strain on the city’s drainage/processing system.
OWC uses porous pavers instead of asphalt or nonporous concrete. This allows rainwater to recharge groundwater and eliminates large retention basins. The property is now available for future development, rather than storm water management.
Use of natural light has led to lower energy use and better employee morale. The headquarters building houses the product development and customer service/customer support teams, keeping the jobs in the United States.
The attractive work environment has undoubtedly allowed OWC to attract top talent.
“Could we have made the strides without this focus?” O’Connor asked rhetorically. “Possibly; but by giving our people the best we can in an environmentally friendly environment, I believe it motivates them to find better solutions, better products.”
To eliminate the need for single-use water bottles, OWC installed a high-performance water filtration system. The high-performance carbon mesh/media filter lasts for years removes chemicals, toxins, odors, chlorine, organics, etc that be in the water. The system doesn't waste water and the water coming out is as good or better than bottled water.
Jeff Pringey, OWC’s Information Technology Manager, agrees, ”Employee morale went through the roof when we moved into the new facility. When people pull into the parking lot, you know that this company is committed to stay at this facility and be part of the community for the long-term. It gives employees a sense of security and pride in the company they work for.”
In a world of knock-off, me-too products OWC has developed one of the broadest product lines in the iPad, iPhone market that is growing more than 80 percent per year.
With a strong history of working with Apple and the company’s customers, OWC has moved aggressively to add a unique and benchmark leading solid-state drives that are also used in Windows-based PCs and notebooks.
“We run a little counter to Apple’s and other computer manufacturers’ focus of developing new systems so folks move up to the newest, sexiest,” O’Connor said jokingly. “We also develop a great family of storage upgrade solutions that economically give you the speed, performance of the newest offerings.
“I really like the new systems I’m seeing but I also realize people need to/want to conserve their money,” he added. “These new products allow them to have the best of both worlds.”
O’Connor explained that environment is also reflected in the way the company deals with and interfaces with the company’s dealers and customers. He pointed out that the company made a conscious decision to have their own customer support/customer service team at the firm’s headquarters, rather than farm it out overseas.
He said he believes the environment helps them have a positive and cooperative attitude when customers call in with an issue or a question.
“Sure, we hire smart and invest a lot in training these support people,” he commented, “but we think by giving them an environment that cares they work just a little harder to help the customer get the right OWC product, get the best out of that product and have them get off the phone knowing we’re the kind of people they really want to work with and be associated with.”
Ground Up Savings – Environmentally friendly from the ground up, OWC’s facilities incorporate eleven heat pumps that use the earth’s natural geothermal energy to heat/cool the facility. The system cycles a 60 percent fresh air mix (twice that of commercial HVAC systems) to provide employees with a dust- and allergen-free work environment. Large, low-emissivity windows and sunshades provide optimum natural lighting while still providing a comfortable work environment for employees. In addition, a smart lighting system inside and outside the facility provides energy efficient artificial lighting when needed.
The company’s geothermal heating, ventilation and air conditioning system lead to lower long-term operating costs. The system uses water rather than Freon as a heat transfer agent and the constant temperature of the earth as a heating and cooling source.
The water is pumped through a series of pipes in the ground and a heat exchanger in an air handling system to transfer heat.
Building layout and smart construction materials make OWC a desirable place to work. The headquarters building houses the product development and customer service/customer support teams, keeping the jobs in the United States.
Jen Soule`, a member of the product development team, says, “OWC has used ecofriendly products and systems to make this the healthiest building possible. I have allergies; but when I come into this building my symptoms disappear and I can focus on my work. When I bring visitors to our facility, they are amazed with the steps OWC has taken to provide a pleasant work environment.
“We’re always looking for the right thing to do,” she added, “like recycling and water conservation. We have a sense of family and connection.”
OWC has installed a 500 kilowatt wind turbine to meet all of their present and planned power needs.
In 2009, OWC was the first company in Illinois to install its own clean power source wind turbine. The turbine reduces by more than double the company’s current 24/7 operational requirements. Surplus electricity is sold back to the local power providers. In addition to two backup power sources on-site, OWC can draw power from the local utility if necessary.
Absolutely: payback in 10-14 years, a hedge against escalating energy costs, an assured long-term self-sufficiency energy supply using a renewable energy technology. Good long-term business strategies and eliminating the reliance on fossil fuels.
And, according to Jeff Pringley, it’s good for morale. “We all signed the blade of the turbine as our commitment to the community and our green philosophy. The windmill is also a landmark we use to direct candidates to our site. This is unique and sets us apart from other employers.”
OWC doesn’t rest on its laurels but rather looks for ways to continually improve its environmental performance.
As an example, OWC recently completed upgrading the efficiency of its conveyor system, its largest power user. The upgrade is projected to yield a 70 percent reduction in energy usage and increase product throughput.
Optimized Automation – OWC recently upgraded its distribution conveyor system to reduce energy consumption by roughly one-third that of conventional conveyors. The high-speed system operates at half the db noise level and is installed with the optimum operator working height.
Something for the Kids
During the conversation, I kept coming back to ‘Why? What was driving this desirable business behavior?’ Larry summed it up. “At the end of the day - we work to do as much right as we can for all concerns. By being long-term, we can look at the long-term win-wins for both conserving our resources and with a competitive long-term cost benefit as well.
“As I had said,” he continued, “very arguably, if there isn't a long-term cost benefit to a technology in the current time, there is likely something to question about the real net conservation benefit of the technology as well.”
“The environmental investments are also a little selfish,” he continued. “We have a growing community of very loyal customers that we serve and it’s our responsibility to not only give them the best products we can develop and produce, but also give them something they want and need…a better tomorrow.
“I also have four kids of my own and want them to not only be proud that their dad did more than simply build a company,” he added.
Enlightened leadership: it’s a beautiful thing.