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April 2013
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Olympic Gets Wind of Savings

Olympic Steel’s “green” approach to business benefits the company, as well as the environment.

By Dan Markham, Senior Editor

Olympic Steel is a firm believer in environmental stewardship. All of its flat-rolled service centers are now ISO 14001 certified. When the company constructed a new facility in Winder, Ga., it earned LEED certification for its “green” building. But perhaps the most obvious example of the company’s commitment to the environment is also the most visible. In 2010, with help from state and federal grants, Olympic installed a wind turbine on site to help power the company’s headquarters operations.

“Suppliers, customers and employees are aware of your environmental impact. We have programs at each of our locations that address our impact on the environment and what we can do to minimize it,” says Ed Neimeier, corporate quality assurance and environmental manager at the Bedford Heights, Ohio-based service center company.

Olympic acquired the 100-kilowatt wind turbine through local manufacturer Ohio Turbines LLC at an installed cost of $550,000. To help pay for it, the company received a $200,000 grant from the state, plus a federal tax credit of $165,300, leaving about $185,000 for Olympic.

Olympic’s leaders—Chairman and CEO Mike Siegal, President David Wolfort and Chief Financial Officer Rick Marabito—approved the expenditure without hesitation. “They said it was a no-brainer,” recalls Dan Biddlecombe, facilities coordinator and manager of the wind turbine project. “People know we’re an environmentally responsible company, which is what Mr. Siegal wants.”

Being responsible to the environment and community is only part of the equation. With the wind turbine capable of generating 110,000-130,000 kilowatt hours annually, based on wind estimates, the company believes it will recoup its investment within seven years. The life expectancy for the turbine is 20 years, with only an annual maintenance check required.

“It’s not an immediate payback, but it makes a difference over 20 to 30 years. Like the building in Winder, it may cost more up front, but it pays back over time,” Biddlecombe says.

While Olympic’s Bedford Heights facility is a 24-hour operation, the turbine was built with the ability to return power to the grid, for a credit, if the company is generating more power than it’s using, such as on holidays.

Biddlecombe expresses some surprise that more companies didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that existed through the various grants and tax credits. “It was a triple bottom line opportunity, one that benefited economically, environmentally and socially, and the right thing to do,” he says. Since then, changes in energy policy have eliminated many of the opportunities that Olympic took advantage of to acquire its turbine.

Like other environmentally conscious service centers, Olympic has an effective scrap program and monitors its use of water, paper and electricity. Its recycling goes beyond scrap metal and paper, however. As it expands, it has made a strategic decision to reuse buildings.

The company set up five new operations in 2011-12—in Gary, Ind.; Mt. Sterling, Ky.; Streetsboro, Ohio; Roseville, Minn.; and Kansas City—and each was done by taking an existing industrial building and upgrading it to meet current demands. “We bought the buildings, upgraded them with new lights and energy efficiency. We think that’s probably a greener, more cost-efficient thing to do than building new,” says Neimeier.

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