My work in the roofing industry takes me down any number of different paths, and over the last six months or so I have been focusing on operational efficiencies and auditing various services to root out cost savings. Nearing the end of the project for one geographical area I am now in the middle of what I call “dumpster diving for dollars.”

You would not think that distribution of roofing and building products would generate all that much waste. Unlike roofing contractors, we do not consume the materials. We are not involved in the tear-off process of the job, so we do not have tons of old roofing to discard. But on any given day, a lumberyard or roofing supply yard “breaking bulk,” as we call it, can generate enough waste to cost a small fortune and make a significant contribution to the local landfill. We toss pallets, dunnage, banding, strapping, wrapping and boxes. And, despite the computer age, we still manage to go through an awful lot of paper.

I discovered back in the 1990s that we could recycle cardboard to save a few bucks and do the right thing by the planet. At the time we could only recycle cardboard and there was only one market where it was available. In the process of trying to “right-size” a lot of dumpsters, I have discovered that our recycling options have expanded.

We now have “single stream” recycling available in several major metropolitan markets. That is, we can send cardboard, paper, metal and plastic into one container for recycling. Recycling does two things for our enterprise:

  1. Saves money. Recycling containers are not free, but may be less expensive than conventional trash collection services.
  2. Adds to our sustainability story. For a lot of customers it simply does not matter, but that is changing.

As to No. 1, saving money equates to making money where I come from, and that is always a good thing. As to No. 2, investors are asking a lot of questions these days about the habits of their trading partners. True, roofing is a small industry made up primarily of privately held enterprises, but we deal with all of the large companies, many of which are publicly held. And the questions are coming all the way back through the chain of suppliers to ask about how they treat their people, their community, and the environment.

I would not normally point out things that Apple, Inc. does unless it was an app for doing something related to roofing. But look at all the attention that has been focused on their business as investors demanded answers on their treatment of employees at a vendor’s factory in China. Not Apple employees, but a contractor’s. And not in California, but in China.

So, building your own sustainability story (call it green or earth-friendly if you like) is a good thing, even for smaller operators. Rather than wait for the day to come when an important prospect asks you questions about your practices, start building your own story by studying ways to operate both more efficiently and with a smaller impact on the planet.