Burnaby-based Alpha Technologies has had a big couple of years. The company listed as #6 in the Top 100 Biggest BC-Based Tech Companies by Business in Vancouver was the BC Export Award winner for Advancing Technology & Innovation in 2013, and was awarded Business of the Year at the Burnaby Business Excellence Awards.
Its leadership continued to be recognized in 2014 by earning the highly coveted Frost & Sullivan Award for Strategic Leadership in DC Power and was recognized at the City of Burnaby Environmental Awards as a winner in the category of Business Stewardship.
The Burnaby Board of trade was happy to have the opportunity to ask Alpha Tech’s Director of Quality and Continuous Improvement, Andrea MacIntosh, a few questions regarding their sustainability initiatives.
BBOT: When did sustainability become a consideration for your organization?
Andrea: Alpha has always had in interest in sustainability arising from our involvement in the power sector. However, it has really taken off in recent years, when some of our key customers and more importantly, our employees, started asking for more information about our sustainability initiatives.
BBOT: How did you choose what you should tackle?
Andrea: We had several volunteers who were keenly interested in certain areas, and they quickly coalesced into three targets that we focus on today: energy use, employee transportation, and waste/recycling. We also made a commitment to pursue ISO 14001 certification which provided an overall structure for our program.
BBOT: Are there any particular sustainable initiatives that have impacted your organization?
Andrea: We’ve had several “wins” we’re very proud of: finding several areas to significantly reduce our electricity use (new factory lighting, air compressor), completely removing foam packaging going to the landfill (where we previously often had dumpsters largely full of foam), recycling our waste wood, getting high participation in cycling to work (we have around 20 employees who cycle to work year-around), and re-launching our carpooling program (with more spots dedicated for carpoolers). Many of these had the extra benefit of saving the company money as well. In support of ocean awareness Alpha donated the wall space and paint to enable a local artist to transform one of their Alpha facilities in Burnaby into a large mural supporting ocean sustainability.
BBOT: Has sustainability had a favourable (or any other kind of impact) on your organization?
Andrea: We have received favourable feedback from our customers, who themselves are working to become more sustainable. Several customers are requiring us to show action and would not give us business otherwise. We did achieve ISO14001 in 2013. And we were recognized by the City of Burnaby with an Environment Award for Business Stewardship.
BBOT: They say that organizations who undertake sustainable measures are at the beginning of a long process or journey. Are there next steps or goals for Alpha Tech in terms of objectives?
Andrea: Certainly. For instance, we have stopped foam packaging from going to the landfill, but our tougher job is not using it at all, either from our vendors to us, or from our company to our customers. We can also reduce the amount of air freight and employee air travel we do. And we can further reduce the energy needs of our IT equipment. We are also exploring the opportunity to utilize renewable energy sources to reduce our dependency on traditional power sources.
BBOT: What obstacles or barriers have you encountered and how did you overcome them (or how are you overcoming them)?
Andrea: One difficulty was finding the money for capital investments, knowing that the payback can take some time. It sometimes took one or two years to budget for an expense. Another difficulty was being locked into multi-year agreements with waste and supply companies that were not accommodating our initiatives.
With a large company, different shifts, and in some cases temporary workers, it has sometimes been hard to get procedures followed – e.g. with waste sorting. With a consistent message, waste audits, and “friendly reminders” at the waste sorting stations things have improved. We have also tried to keep the signage refreshed so that we catch people’s attention.
Lastly, we’ve struggled with getting Translink to provide adequate bus service to the Big Bend region. Progress has been very slow in this area, and not kept up with the pace of development. There are many employers in this area that struggle with this challenge. We are hopeful that improved bus service will soon be forthcoming.