Case Study: Cintas Toronto Distribution Centre

Case study on a TRUE Zero Waste certified project, prepared for the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) / GBCI Canada.

A comprehensive, employee-led strategy leads to one of Canada’s first TRUE certifications

Location: Mississauga, Ontario
Certification level: Gold
Per cent of overall diversion achieved: 93.59 per cent
Certification date: October 2017

When Richard (“Doc”) and Amelia Farmer founded business supplies provider Cintas in 1929, the Great Depression was just beginning and they were out of work. Doc Farmer came up with a plan to collect, launder and reuse soiled shop rags from local factories, a simple green idea that started a rich heritage of environmentally sustainable practices still continuing nearly a century later.

Click here to download PDF of the full case study.

The Cintas Toronto Distribution Centre (DC), which became Canada’s second TRUE certification in October 2017, traces its roots to that humble beginning. The 60,000 sq.ft. Mississauga facility achieved its zero waste goals through innovative vendor partnerships, the dedication of its Green Team, and complete engagement among its 56 employees, or “partners” as they are referred to within Cintas. A combination of large changes to overall processes and individual partner actions contributed to the distribution centre’s success, lending itself as an excellent example of how a zero waste strategy can be implemented in any type of organization.

The result of this work was a TRUE Gold certification, which acknowledged the distribution centre’s work in diverting 93.59 percent of waste from landfill. It is one of five Cintas facilities so far to achieve TRUE Gold certification in North America, with more planned in the near future.

The following case study provides a closer look into the strategies, challenges and specific actions involved in Cintas’s Toronto DC’s achievement.

A commitment to sustainability

Environmental stewardship is a priority at Cintas, which has integrated sustainable solutions throughout its operations. This includes the use of recycled plastic water bottles to create suits that customers can find for purchase within the Cintas catalogue, modernizing facilities to incorporate environmentally friendly practices, and forming a team to provide a centralized sustainability strategy.

Cintas’s company-wide Zero Waste to Landfill initiative includes the following steps:

  • Assessing the internal waste produced to better understand the amount, nature and composition of the waste generated.
  • Assembling teams and champions dedicated to the program.
  • Engaging employees and making it easy for them to get involved with efforts and in identifying ways to reduce, recycle, reuse or repurpose waste.
  • Developing a plan to provide direction and help the organization achieve its goals.

These actions laid the foundation for Cintas Toronto DC’s zero waste strategy and decision to pursue TRUE certification, giving the facility a workable plan to address its specific challenges.

Overcoming challenges in waste diversion

It’s often said that people are an organization’s greatest resource; as such, a successful zero waste strategy often depends on utilizing the strengths and insights of employees who are committed to sustainability. While implementing changes to existing procedures can be a complex process, Cintas Toronto DC took a common sense, partner-led approach to its TRUE certification, coming up with simple, yet impactful solutions that could be easily integrated from day one.

  • Challenge: Determining what to do with different kinds of waste
    Strategy: Assessing the internal waste produced
    Solution: Work with new and existing suppliers and corporate office to assess and strategize

    Cintas Toronto DC distributes five kinds of business supplies: entrance and logo floor mats; restroom supplies such as hand soap and toilet paper dispensers; first aid and safety items; corporate apparel direct sales; and uniform rentals to commercial and industrial customers.

    With the distribution centre handling such diverse products and services, a key concern was streamlining where the different types of waste generated by the business lines and partners during the normal workday should go.

    The facility worked with the company that serviced its garbage and recycling needs, Waste Connections, to analyze its waste and provide recommendations on more ways to recycle. Cintas Toronto DC also privately contracted Waste Connections to recycle its plastic and cardboard, receiving credit in return and thus generating additional cost savings.

    Given the company’s large focus on garments, finding a way to recycle waste fabric proved to be a particular struggle for the distribution centre. After several years of searching for a sustainable solution, Cintas Toronto DC spoke with H&M Canada, which suggested that the facility contact GFL for fabric recycling. Cintas’s corporate office also recommended reaching out to Wiseman Export as another way to deal with the discarded textiles. This resulted in a synergistic relationship in which Wiseman Export takes garments disposed of by Cintas Toronto DC, shreds the fabric and then repurposes it as rags and to make mattresses.
  • Challenge: Getting partner buy-in
    Strategies Assembling dedicated teams and engaging partners
    Solution: Frequent messaging and working with champions in different departments

    Resistance to change in existing practices can often be a barrier in implementing new standards, and this was the case at Cintas’s Toronto DC as well. Education about its Zero Waste program was a key tool in tackling this issue, with the centre’s Green Team providing frequent opportunities to learn about what they were trying to accomplish.

    The team held a weekly show-and-tell during the first month of the switch to demonstrate which receptacles to use for each kind of garbage. Instead of providing disposable supplies at monthly partner events, they asked staff to bring in their own reusable plates, cups and cutlery. As well, the sustainability team now works with departmental waste champions to identify issues around incorrect waste sorting, gather data, and weigh collected garbage to monitor in- and outbound waste.

    Cintas partners were empowered to bring their own waste reduction ideas to the table, which led to some great solutions. One partner recommended repurposing the filler paper included with garments and other packages to stuff other boxes being shipped out, a move that has also resulted in cost savings.

    In addition, the facility’s Green Team devised opportunities for partners to incorporate zero waste strategies into life outside of the workplace, including annual events at the distribution centre to bring in old electronics for recycling and personal papers for shredding.
  • Challenge: Finding new ways to reuse and further reduce waste
    Strategy: Developing a plan to provide direction
    Solution: Rethinking existing processes around shipping

    Along with the idea to reuse shipping paper and have fabrics recycled, Cintas Toronto DC made other changes to its processes as part of its efforts to decrease waste. The facility breaks down damaged pallets to create new ones, and it has reduced its usage of cardboard boxes by switching to plastic containers where possible or reusing boxes from previous shipments. It also purchased a new machine that has halved the amount of plastic shrink wrap utilized in comparison to manual usage.

Engaging partners with a Green Team

Cintas Toronto DC lends much of its success to its Green Team, which meets monthly and brainstorms fresh ideas to engage partners in waste reduction efforts. As well, it works with the facility’s social committee to make monthly events greener.

The Green Team members who led the TRUE certification were:

  • Maria Lukasiewicz, Production Supervisor
  • Antonietta Montagnese, Administrative Assistant
  • Aftab Shamsudeen, Production Manager

A simple way to make a ‘true’ impact

Cintas’s Toronto DC’s initiative showcases how organizations can easily get started in achieving their zero waste goals, shrinking their carbon footprint, increasing efficiency and supporting sustainability through the TRUE program. By transforming upstream policies and practices both organizationally and at the individual employee level, Cintas’s Toronto DC is a great example of how TRUE provides a simple blueprint aimed at helping spaces become more resource-efficient.

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