Ever wonder what all those engineers, research scientists and industrial professionals end up doing once they retire from their day jobs? Fifty of them are volunteering with Waste Reduction Partners, an organization that supports sustainability efforts in our community. These retired professionals work one-on-one with institution and business managers, sharing strategies on becoming more efficient, cutting utility costs and reducing environmental footprints.
As our region is confronted with increasing energy costs, drought, landfill-capacity stresses and other environmental challenges, WRP engineers and scientists keep delivering their technical assistance to businesses. They offer energy-efficiency strategies and water-conservation measures, as well as advice for diverting industrial byproducts for recycling and helping municipalities achieve their environmental requirements and objectives via preventive approaches.
Since 2000, these baby-boomer volunteers have assisted more than 700 Western North Carolina businesses, industries and institutions. Their assistance has reduced utility costs by $23 million. In concert with these cost savings, organizations have substantially reduced their environmental impacts—cutting electrical usage by 64,000 megawatt-hours and reducing water use by 220,000 gallons annually. WRP volunteers have collectively contributed more than 111,000 hours in technical service and consultation.
WRP volunteer scientist Dr. Elaine Marten says, “I became a chemist because I love chemistry. I didn’t stop loving it just because I’d retired.” Marten has worked on projects ranging from the development of innovative construction products using recycled coal ash to creating biodegradable plastics using milk whey and proteins. Like many of the program volunteers, Marten follows her own interests and time schedule on these projects.
Tom McCullough, a retired textile executive, leads the WRP team in solid-waste reduction and recycling outreach. McCullough has a running list of about 40 businesses and industries that he’s helping to optimize their solid-waste-management strategies, while reducing operating costs. He has helped businesses divert more than 164,000 tons from industrial and sanitary landfills. “It takes time to find the right recycling market and processors,” McCullough explains. “Every facility has their unique issues and unique solutions,” he says as he prepares to meet a client.
In recent years, the WRP team had been expanding its energy-management strategies, as North Carolina implements its 2007 renewable and energy-efficiency portfolio standards and its own state-utility saving goals. Through a recent grant from the State Energy Office, WRP Energy engineers completed 110 on-site energy efficiency audits, recommending more than $5.4 million in annual cost savings. Retired plant manager from Brunswick Corporation Wayne Rumble says, “Our follow-up studies have shown that clients are implementing almost half of our audit recommendations. That’s pretty good, since we don’t provide any funding to them [other than] a cost/benefit analysis.”
WRP clients may be interested in how to “go green,” track their carbon footprint or meet corporate cost-reduction and sustainability goals. “No matter what the driver, our objective is to show practical, cost-effective efficiency opportunities,” says Russ Jordan, WRP energy services manager. Jordan estimates that CO2 offsets from his clients’ efforts are equivalent to removing 8,010 vehicles off the highways each year. “We’re seeing a ramping up of all these kinds of requests,” he reports.
Waste Reduction Partners is a program of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, with staff support by the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance. Its grant-funded technical assistance is offered at no cost to non-residential organizations in WNC. For more information on services or volunteering, go to http://www.landofsky.org/wrp.
Terry Albrecht, PE, is the director of Waste Reduction Partners. He can be reached at or at (828) 251-6622.
By the numbers
WRP’s achievements in 2008:
• Number of volunteers: 48
• N.C. counties served: 26
• Organizations assisted on-site: 133
• Technical assistance provided: 18,166 hours
• Projected energy savings: 10,860,000 kWh
• Projected water savings: 3,068,000 gallons
• Solid waste diverted from landfills: 21,061 tons
• Total client cost savings (2008): $1,852,000