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Conservation Efforts Help Turn Curtis Packaging 'Carbon Negative'



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Most environmentally conscious individuals and industries do whatever they can to reduce their carbon footprint.

Occasionally some attain carbon neutral status - achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference, according to Wikipedia.

Then there are the rare organizations that have achieved carbon negative status, removing more carbon CO2 from the atmosphere than they are responsible for creating.

One of those rare carbon negative industries is Curtis Packaging Corporation right here in Sandy Hook, which recently completed a $2.5 million investment that included natural gas conversion, installing energy-efficient HVAC and lighting systems, and a rooftop solar array.

Curtis Packaging manufactures high-end folding cartons for the cosmetics, liquor, health and beauty, confectioneries, biomedical, and sporting goods industries, supplying many famous brands including Estee Lauder, Chanel, Diageo, Brown Forman, Dr Perricones, Crabtree & Evelyn, Godiva, Medtronics, and Titleist.

The company has been manufacturing in Sandy Hook since 1845 on the same location and currently employs approximately 150 employees in its 150,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility.

Curtis's most recent energy project showcased the company's latest commitment to environmental stewardship, and helped flip the highly regarded international packaging design/manufacturer from being virtually carbon neutral into carbon negative territory.

Kerry Brown, Curtis's vice president of operations, recently invited The Newtown Bee in to discuss the achievement. He shared a number of details he also recently presented at the state capital in Hartford in support of the state's energy conservation efforts.

He said Curtis has long been committed to sustainable business practices.

"We were the first company in the packaging [industry] to be powered completely by renewable energy. We are 100 percent carbon neutral, 100 percent landfill-free, and we recycle 98 percent of all of the postproduction assets," he said.

Curtis stepped up its sustainable and socially responsible business practices in 2003 when it became the first company to produce packaging using FSC- and SFI-certified paperboard products, materials that have been sustainably harvested. A year later, the company started incorporating wind-generated power production into its portfolio.

Since 2008 Curtis has partnered with the Yale School of Forestry and the Yale School of Management, and each semester Mr Brown said he travels to New Haven to lecture Yale on how small businesses can be operated in a sustainable manner. In turn, every semester, Yale students come to work at Curtis's plant in Sandy Hook to help improve sustainability efforts.

He said one of the latest collaborations involved Yale forestry students updating global reporting requirements to Curtis' sustainability report.

During this time Curtis also became ISO 14001 (International Environmental Management Standard) compliant, ISO 50001 (International Energy Management Standard) compliant, and ISO 26000 (International Social Responsibility Standard) compliant.

"Through these efforts we have reduced our energy consumption by 40 percent between the years of 2012 to 2016," he said. "We also went from recovering approximately $3,500 of recycled material per month to recovering approximately $35,000 to $40,000 a month."

As the process of energy conservation evolved, the leadership at Curtis, including President and CEO Don Droppo, Jr, realized the company needed to make capital investments within the building infrastructure while recapitalizing the company for its printing, cutting, and finishing equipment.

"We needed a new heating system to replace the steam system that was installed in 1963, and we needed to buy a new printing press to replace one that was 20 years old and at the end of its life span," he said.

The printing press alone was estimated to cost $5.6 million, so the company found itself challenged to make it happen financially.

Setting The CPACE

Just as they were contemplating what to do, Curtis's leadership learned about the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (CPACE) program, which was presented at a Newtown Chamber of Commerce meeting. After the meeting, an engineer, Dave Stout from JK Engineering, approached Mr Brown and subsequently explained the program.

If Curtis qualified, it would require a zero-dollar outlay out of its pocket for the research of viability, and there would be no money out of pocket to get the project done.

The company simply needed to ensure the project would be cash positive in terms of energy savings, which would be estimated and engineered by JK Engineering.

Much to the delight of the team at Curtis, it was discovered the improvements the project delivered would increase the company's property value by $1.9 million on the $2.4 million dollar project.

"This meant we didn't need to touch any of our capital to buy the new printing press and it would give us more equity in the business," Mr Brown said.

The project at Curtis became the largest multiple energy project in the State of Connecticut at the time for the Connecticut Green Bank.

It involved the installation of a natural gas line between Newtown High School and Curtis and all new natural gas heating and cooling systems. Instead of using the compressors to cool during the cooler seasons, this "smart system" draws the hot air out from inside the plant, and then draws the cool air in from the outside requiring significantly less energy.

The system communicates to each of the units so Curtis plant personnel can clearly manage assets for the most efficient use.

Part of the project also involved converting all fluorescent tube lighting to LED lighting; replacing a 25-year-old compressor with a new compressor; and installing solar panels on the roof of the building that now generates roughly 210,000 KWH per year - approximately 25 percent of Curtis' annual electrical consumption.

Pressing For Savings

Mr Brown's next project is overseeing the installation of the incoming $5.6 million in printing equipment, which was en route to the plant by boat from Germany during The Bee's visit.

The press will further enhance Curtis's energy efficiency, consuming 40 percent less energy than its predecessor, and $1.5 million of the purchase was financed by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, as an effort to keep Curtis based in Connecticut.

"The CPACE energy conservation project, financed by the Connecticut Green Bank, has allowed us to put our money into the required energy conservation projects while still investing in the production equipment required to keep us competitive," Mr Brown related to legislators. "Both investments will make Curtis Packaging a stronger company and will help secure our future so we can continue producing high-end folding cartons and employing people within Connecticut."

Although most of these improvements are invisible to the public, Mr Brown said one of the most visible points of evidence is the company's towering smoke stack.

"This is the first year since 1845 that no carbon emissions have come out of that smokestack," he said.

Among other initiatives toward achieving and maintaining its carbon negative status, Mr Brown said Curtis has been investing in various US-based carbon sequester projects since 2006.

"We only invest in domestic projects that we can audit ourselves," he said. The company also owns a forest in Costa Rica, which was formerly barren farmland.

"It's nice to work here in Newtown knowing we have a 100 percent positive environmental impact," he said. "Our ownership, especially Mr Droppo, is committed to the local and global community. He is doing the right thing, and it shows because our suppliers compete to be here so they can claim affiliation with Curtis Packaging.

"And since we are a private company," Mr Brown added, "We are not required to do any of this."

Learn more by visiting curtispackaging.com/environmental-stewardship/

Kerry Brown, vice president of operations at Sandy Hook's Curtis Packaging Corporation, said after $2.5 million in energy efficiency measures that included a natural gas HVAC system, for the first time since 1845, no carbon emissions have come out of the company's prominent smokestack. The project also included installing energy-efficient LED lighting and a rooftop solar array. (Susan Brunts-Smith photo)
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