Taking the lead in green manufacturing

Mark Richey Woodworking and Design has always been an environmentally responsible company, but moving to a new location three years ago enabled it to surge to the forefront of green manufacturers in the architectural millwork industry.

President Mark Richey started building cabinets in the basement of his Malden, Mass., apartment in the early 1980s. As the business and the product mix grew, he moved to progressively larger shops in South Boston and Essex. When the business outgrew the 26,000-square-foot Essex facility, Richey relocated to a 130,000-square-foot building in Newburyport, Mass., in April 2005.

"Although it's a big building and it was in terrible disrepair and neglect, we thought it was an opportunity to reuse and renovate," Richey says. "We renovated it in a very environmentally conscious way." Mark Richey Woodworking occupies 80,000 square feet and leases the remainder so that it can incrementally increase its space as needed.

The impetus behind the green initiative was: How can Mark Richey Woodworking stay in Massachusetts, with its high cost of doing business, and be successful in the long term? "The answer is to find ways to cut costs and be efficient," says Greg Porfido, chief operating officer. "Generally, when you're looking at green initiatives, they fit into that principle.

"If we have the opportunity to do it green, we'll do it green, but at the same time we have a business to run," Porfido says. "We have to be competitive with international folks. There's a good, driving business principle behind it."

The physical plant

The green initiative started with the physical plant. After the cleanup, the company created a well-insulated envelope that was easy to heat, with comfortable work spaces. Natural light, combined with energy-efficient lighting, illuminates offices and production areas. An Ecogate dust collection system keeps the air clean.

A Mawera biomass furnace is the centerpiece of the energy-saving effort. Simply put, the Ecogate system collects dust and plywood waste throughout the production area and transports them to two silos adjacent to the building remnants from the previous owner that Mark Richey Woodworking had converted to its needs. The silos feed the biomass furnace, which burns the fuel to heat water that circulates to provide all the heat required for the plant.

Infrastructure and a hot water distribution system for the furnace were added. "Getting the biomass furnace wasn't easy, but we had a lot of determination to do it," says Porfido. "The Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency denied a permit at first because we were burning mixed fuel." The company added a bag house for air filtration.

The furnace installation took two years, at a cost of $500,000. "If we're lucky, it will pay for itself over the next 10 years," Richey says. "That's not great payback for an investment that large for a company like this. We did it because we know it's the right thing to do, but I wish there was some tax incentive out there to help us along."

The Mawera is an efficient, clean-burning furnace that reduces the company's carbon footprint, Porfido says. "We're out in front with the biomass furnace as a green company," he says. "We're one of the few architectural woodworking shops that are doing it."

Wind-generated electricity

The company plans to install a wind turbine that will supply electricity to the facility. The Massachusetts Technology Collective awarded a $500,000 grant for the $1.5 million project, which should be completed this year.

"With that support, the wind turbine project could potentially be as little as a seven-year payback, and that starts to be pretty attractive to companies like us," Richey says. "If we're really going to push green initiatives, those are things that have to happen."

Operations also lean toward green. "We use the most advanced technology in cutting and machining our products so that we're not throwing away material," Richey says. That equipment includes a Schelling panel saw and an SCM Routech Record CNC router.

The company uses low-formaldehyde, fire-rated and FSC-certified board products, as well as energy-efficient, variable-drive motors where possible. All packing materials are being converted to post-industrial recycled and non-petroleum-based product.

Efficient material use

The company meets with customers to discuss ways to use materials more efficiently. If a project calls for excessive solid wood, Mark Richey Woodworking will suggest a modified design or the use of veneer over recycled cores such as MDF and particleboard.

"Most importantly, though, as a manufacturer of wooden things, we need to look at how we make things and use processes that are less wasteful," Richey says. "It's good for your pocketbook and it's good for the environment. It's not just having the fanciest equipment, either. It's about how you look at things, how you engineer products."

Building products that last also is environmentally sound. "You don't want to have to rebuild things because they didn't stand the test of time," Richey says. He believes that all woodworkers have an obligation to protect the forests not only because they provide the wood products they rely on, but because the forests are an essential environment for our world.

"As woodworkers we need to promote and help develop the whole certified wood process," Richey says. "It's still in its infancy, but it's a very valuable process and we need to be part of that whole process, and encourage architects, designers and end-users to specify certified wood products and become part of that chain of custody."

Economic sense

"As strong as I feel about the importance of being a green company on a philosophical level, it has to make economic sense because we're in business, and if we can't stay in business, we're not going to do anybody any good," Richey says. "I hope that as time goes on, there's more support from state and federal laws and tax structures to help support the kind of green initiatives that we're doing here, so it encourages more people like us to take the steps because it is an economic challenge for anybody."

"We're already good and now we're green on top of that," Porfido says. "I'm hoping that in the end it's that little extra weight that goes on our end of the scale when customers are making the decision. We need every competitive advantage we can get."

It's a challenging time for Massachusetts manufacturers, especially with rising labor, energy, health care and other costs. "It's also a time when, through innovation and looking at problems in a new way, we can come through this with good results and even strengthen the manufacturing base here in Massachusetts," Richey says.

"All woodworkers and manufacturers in general need to look at their own process and become more green', as we are," he adds. "I hope that we can become a good example for our industry and encourage others to do the same."

Southern Pneumatics assists with green initiative

Southern Pneumatics, division of Joe Hill Co. Inc., Knoxville, Tenn., recently finished engineering, fabrication and installation of a pneumatic conveying system with fly ash baghouse for Mark Richey Woodworking and Design (featured in March 2008 FDM). The project enabled Mark Richey Woodworking to move forward with its green initiative of utilizing its silo storage complex and biomass furnace.

Initially, Southern Pneumatics installed the dust collection system, including engineering and fabrication, for the renovated warehouse in winter 2005. According to Tom Donahue, install manager for the project, completion was seven days ahead of schedule, despite record snows of more than 90 inches in Newburyport, Mass., where Mark Richey Woodworking is located.

That initial job system included a Flamex fire suppressor and muffler to control sound pollution.

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About the author

George Lausch was a staff writer and editor for FDM and CabinetMaker magazines. He wrote feature and news stories for the magazines.