Bradley County’s largest employer, which is best known for pumping out premium cooking appliances throughout the North American continent, has been tagged with another local first — and Planet Earth, along with her gatekeeper Mother Nature, are thankful.
Whirlpool Corporation’s new, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant — a $200 million complex that spans 1.5 million square feet and includes a distribution center and testing laboratory — has been certified as a LEED Gold facility.
An acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED is an “... internationally recognized green building certification system providing third party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts,” according to a Whirlpool announcement.
It is thought the new Whirlpool plant, which is located on Benton Pike, is the first industrial structure in Bradley County to earn LEED Gold certification.
Richard “Dicky” Walters, plant manager and a longtime manufacturer whose Whirlpool career included leadership roles in Evansville, Ind., Oxford, Miss. and Tulsa, Okla., before coming to Cleveland about five years ago, credited the partnership between employees, the corporation and the contractor for making the LEED certification possible.
“Our workforce was a significant part of helping us obtain LEED certification,” Walters told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “Our employees participate in car pooling, public transportation and driving LEED-certified vehicles. All of this has helped us obtain certification.”
Throughout construction of the new plant, which launched production in March 2012, employees were involved in the LEED certification process by staying informed of the corporation’s goal and how they could assist.
“We have communicated the LEED certification in multiple ways to our workforce including newsletters, employee meetings and celebrations,” Walters said. “As we understand it, this is the first LEED Gold certified industrial building in Bradley County.”
Walters said Whirlpool Corporation, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Mich., has been long recognized as not only the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of home appliances, but also for the global company’s commitment to the environment.
Walters said he hopes other Bradley County companies, especially those building new facilities from the ground up, will strive for LEED certification.
“We were in a situation where we had the opportunity to obtain LEED certification as we built our new state-of-the-art facility,” he pointed out. “I would think most other businesses would consider it with any new construction, and I would certainly encourage them to consider it.”
Lee Utke, senior director, Global Real Estate, for Whirlpool Corporation, said earning LEED certification points to commitments by employees and employers.
“Our Cleveland, Tennessee facility is another example of Whirlpool Corporation’s commitment to, and investment in, America,” Utke stressed. “Receiving LEED Gold certification for the facility is a point of pride for our employees who believe in giving back to, and protecting, the environment in the communities Whirlpool calls home.”
Walters, who recently had a direct hand in helping the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce to complete a record membership campaign, praised the efforts of his local manufacturing team and the “go green” mindset of the corporation.
“Whirlpool has always been recognized as an environmentally friendly corporation and this [LEED certification] just shows Whirlpool’s commitment to doing so,” he stated.
Achieving LEED certification was no accident and it wasn’t a decision made overnight. It was a process, one that began with a preliminary concept, an architectural design, a commitment by the facility’s builder and designer Gray Construction to follow through on planning details, and then it required the buy-in of the Whirlpool Cleveland Division workforce.
According to a Whirlpool Corporation statement, sustainable features and practices incorporated into the local facility included:
n Minimized heat island effects: Highly reflective roofing materials were installed to reduce heat island effects and increase the efficiency of the HVAC systems. High solar reflective index concrete pavement was also installed to minimize the heat island effect and eliminate the generation of greenhouse gases and pollution.
n Use of low-VOC materials: Low-volatile organic compound (VOC) materials, paints and caulks were used. Off-gassing in the interior environment was significantly decreased and the build surpassed the requirements for pre-occupancy indoor air quality testing.
n Low-flow plumbing: To reduce the amount of water the Whirlpool project would use, Gray Construction installed ultra-low-flow plumbing fixtures. The water usage is more than 40 percent less than a regular baseline building and no potable water is used for irrigation due to the process of rainwater reuse which helps conserve local and regional potable water resources.
n Construction material recycling: Construction waste was carefully managed to recycle or reuse materials as much as possible; more than 20 percent of the materials used to construct the building were recycled.
The plant’s design also took into effect interactive ways that employees could be directly involved in its environmentally friendly operation.
According to the Whirlpool statement, “To encourage [employees] to ride bikes, showers were installed. In an effort to decrease vehicle emissions, 72 preferential parking spots have been designated and provided for employees driving low-emitting, fuel-efficient vehicles and car poolers.”
The corporation statement added, “At Whirlpool, we focus our sustainability efforts on the key areas of reducing energy and water use, cutting emissions and waste, and supporting our employees and communities. And we apply those efforts to the broad view of the entire appliance life cycle — from manufacturing to home use to end-of-life recycling.”
The LEED rating system provides four certification levels for new construction: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The certification was established by the U.S. Green Building Certification Institute. Certification level is achieved by an accrual of points based on the successful design, and implementation, of environmentally friendly features like water and energy conservation, and several others.
Whirlpool Corporation’s sustainability strategy focuses on a “holistic approach including consideration for both new and existing facilities.”
One recent example of this mindset came at the company’s existing manufacturing facility in Clyde, Ohio. In 2011, the plant there piloted a real-time metering system — called Energy Online — that closely monitors energy, water and waste.
According to a company statement, “The monitoring has allowed the company to assess critical areas of the facility and its processes, thus identifying opportunities to create efficiencies in operations and minimize energy consumption. This builds awareness and a better understanding of the company’s use of resources, thus reducing greenhouse gases.”
The Clyde facility became the Whirlpool Corporation’s first facility to offer this type of real-time monitoring.
In its Cleveland operations, Whirlpool employs more than 2,000 employees. Some 1,500 workers are located at the manufacturing plant site, known as Whirlpool Cleveland Division, and at the engineering, technology and testing group which is known as the Global Product Organization. Some 500 are employed at Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center, a call center located on 20th Street.
Founded 100 years ago in Benton Harbor, Mich., Whirlpool Corporation employs 22,000 workers in the U.S., a number that leads the appliance manufacturing industry. More than 80 percent of Whirlpool products sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S. From 2010 through 2014, Whirlpool is investing $2.2 billion in U.S. research, development and innovation. In addition, the company spends more than $7.4 billion annually to operate and invest in nine U.S. manufacturing plants.
The Cleveland plant is the largest premium cooking manufacturing facility in the world. In Ohio, Whirlpool operates the world’s largest clothes washer, dryer and dishwasher plants.
Worldwide, Whirlpool Corporation’s annual sales in 2012 totaled approximately $18 billion. Globally, the company has 68,000 employees, and 65 manufacturing and technology research centers around the world. The company markets Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul, Bauknecht and other major brand names to consumers in nearly every country around the world.