recycling, sustainability, landfills, subaru, office waste Photo of a waterfall flowing in Yosemite National Park. Photo of a waterfall flowing in Yosemite National Park. Photo of a waterfall flowing in Yosemite National Park. Photo of a waterfall flowing in Yosemite National Park.

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Applying Subaru's factory lessons to national parks

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How much do you think about reducing, reusing and recycling over the course of a day?

If you answer "not much," Denise Coogan has some choice words: "It costs you too much not to be thinking about it."

Coogan, environmental partnership manager at Subaru of America, recently spoke to a packed room about the automaker's sustainability commitment at the first-ever Eco Week at Chase's campus in Wilmington, Del.

Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. is recognized for having the country's first zero-landfill automotive assembly plant—meaning less than 10 percent of waste from its Indiana plant goes to a landfill. In fact, the plant hasn't sent waste to a landfill since 2004.

How did it get there? By starting with little changes, Coogan said. Subaru began with soda bottles, cans and newspapers 15 years ago. Then it asked front-line plant employees where they saw waste, and figured out how to trim it.

It pays off over time

Going green can sound cost-prohibitive, but being sustainable can save money in the long run, she says. The first few years Subaru had to invest in infrastructure such as recycling containers and compactors.

"But after that, it took off," Coogan explains. "The savings were amazing."

The company generated a $10 million benefit over the last five years of the program and saved millions of dollars reusing polystyrene.

From the plant to the park

Last year, a record number of visitors helped the National Park Service celebrate its 100th birthday. However, each year, visitors to our national parks generate over 100 million pounds of trash.

As a partner of the National Park Foundation, Subaru offered to share its knowledge of zero landfill practices with the National Park Service to help reduce landfill waste from the parks.

Beginning in 2015, along with the National Parks Conservation Association, the team began testing zero landfill practices in three iconic national parks – Yosemite, Grand Teton and Denali. The goal is to significantly reduce waste going into landfills from all national parks.

The automaker also provided grants to the three pilot parks to provide infrastructure, such as composting equipment, bear-resistant recycling containers and standardized labels, as well as educational support for park visitors, employees and the gateway communities.

Everyone can make an impact

We can all reduce, reuse and recycle—in that order—Coogan says.

Continually look for ways to reduce your footprint, she says, challenging the crowd to question why processes are in place, and to make them greener when possible.

"Usually your low-hanging fruit is whenever you say, 'We've done it this way for years,'" she explains. "That's where you should look to start reducing."

You can learn more about the Subaru Zero Landfill Initiative here.

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