Monday, August 24, 2009

Rosie's Girls Tour the Vetrazzo Plant

By Karen Righthand, VP of Marketing

Recently I had the opportunity to lead two factory tours to groups from Richmond’s “Rosie’s Girls” Camp. Rosie’s Girls is a three week camp for girls entering 6th-8th grades that encourages participants to develop and strengthen their capacities and confidence and helps them expand their perception of the range of educational and career options that are attainable in an atmosphere that is fun, supportive and positive. Needless to say, I was honored when the camp officials requested that I lead the tours. They want the girls to experience work environments that are somewhat non-traditional for women and to meet women in leadership roles.

Of course, the name of the camp hails from Rosie the Riveter, the fictional World War II icon who represented the women who went to work in the shipyards and factories to fill the shortages left by the men fighting overseas. When the first tour arrived and the bus doors opened I was surprised to meet two actual Rosies, women that had worked right here in Richmond. Also accompanying them were rangers from the National Park Service who are a partner in the Richmond camp and a driving force behind creation of the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historical Park.
The permanent home of the Rosie the Riveter museum will be here at Ford Point where the Vetrazzo factory is. It is fitting that our historic building, once the manufacturing site for Ford cars and the assembly plant for tanks and Jeeps during the war, now houses a new type of manufacturing; manufacturing of green building materials. This is what the girls came to see. Instead of blue collar jobs we are creating green collar jobs and transforming millions of pounds of local waste glass into gorgeous and green countertops.
If you read my previous blog on the Vetrazzo Victory Garden you know this was a trend during the war. As we started our tour the ranger asked if our garden could be part of the Home Front Festival coming up October 3rd where Victory Gardens will be featured. I guess I better plant some Fall veggies! I think the older Rosies were the most surprised by our product and process. One told me, “I’m really glad the glass is being kept out of the landfill and put to good use.” “We saved everything back in those days but I guess we threw away bottles.” Everyone was surprised to learn that glass doesn’t decompose in a landfill.
My dad was a WWII veteran and my mom a nurse in the Army (where she met my dad) in the Korean War so it was special for me to have these Senior Rosies in our factory and show them what we do. They made a huge contribution to the war effort and to how women are perceived today. I felt proud and hopeful to share our green technology with these promising young women who are the Rosies of tomorrow. We must do everything we can to educate, empower and support our youth. They will be in charge some day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vetrazzo's Newest Glass Source

For Senior Designer Melissa Hawkins, some glass recycling programs just don't go far enough. An avid thrift store shopper, Melissa noticed a surplus of glassware that, if unsold, would end up in the landfill. "Due to concerns of contamination, municipal recycling programs only want bottle and jar-container glass. Container manufacturers buy the cullet, (crushed glass) from the recycling programs to remelt and mold into new containers. Contaminates, especially porcelain, can cause expensive equipment damage," explained Hawkins.
Inspired to recycle the multitude of “contaminates” or non-container glass, such as Pyrex cookware, dishware, and vases, Hawkins contacted several of the larger thrift store organizations. Phillip Arca, Executive Director at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Oakland California, was willing to set-up a test program at their sorting facility.

Now thanks to The St. Vincent de Paul Society and Vetrazzo, chipped or otherwise unsellable glassware is collected in blue barrels for bi-monthly pick up. The quantity is relatively small but it is another example of the community, and creativity, supported by Vetrazzo in effort to keep recyclable glass out of the landfills.

On a side note, I have the pleasure of carpooling 4 days a week with Melissa, also known as Vetrazzo's Sustainability Officer or Waste Cop, if you will. At least one ride a week Mel will start to brainstorm a new way she thinks Vetrazzo can step up its game and cut down its waste. I'm not kidding when I say due to her passion we have barely avoided a number of fender benders when she gets on a roll... or sees a tire tread on the side of the freeway she could turn into art.
Trafficology Pendant Lamps by Melissa Hawkins

Recently with the help of Vetrazzo VP of Manufacturing, John Sabol, Melissa was able to work out a partnership to recycle a previously un-recyclable by-product of the Vetrazzo manufacturing process. Their efforts will save Vetrazzo money and keep our manufacturing waste out of the landfill. More on this and the rest of the Vetrazzo path to sustainability through responsible manufacturing in an upcoming blog...

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Vetrazzo Victory Garden

This blog entry comes from Vetrazzo's Vice President of Marketing and resident gardener extraordinaire, Karen Righthand. She proves that if she can grow produce here, she can grow it anywhere:

One bright morning earlier this spring, I strolled out of the Vetrazzo plant after a production staff meeting and the sun hit me square in the eyes. As I squinted looking out the door of the plant at the parking lot, I imagined corn growing in between the parked cars. I don’t know how it came to me but contained in that very moment was the seed of inspiration for our current garden.
You see, I’m a gardener. I love to grow my own delicious fresh food, eat it and feed it to others. It’s so satisfying. And one thing is true of every gardener. No matter how great their garden is, or how much they grow, they always want more. For me, I live in a hilly, tree-laden landscape so finding open, flat, full-sun plots of land where corn could grow is rare. Why not turn a useless parking lot median into a food-producing oasis, I thought.

How fitting is it to have a Victory Garden at Ford Point? As many of you may know, during World War II the Ford Plant was converted to Tank and Jeep assembly. This is the birthplace of “Rosie the Riveter”. “Rosie” and the Victory Gardens so many Americans planted, were symbols of everyday Americans’ patriotism and support for the troops. All across the country, everyday people managed to grow 40% of the fruits and vegetables consumed on the homefront in Victory Gardens.
I ran my idea up the flagpole all the way to the developer of the Ford Point building and he approved it. As a matter of fact, they started putting in irrigation and landscaping around the entire back of the building shortly after I made my request. I met with the foreman and told them what area I’d like to plant and inquired how the irrigation would be done. Turns out they weren’t planning on irrigating the parking median, but only the plots closest to the building. The median was slated for rock mulch…
I met with the production staff to share the garden idea, and asked if anyone had anything in particular they wanted to grow. Alberto asked if we could grow lemons! Why not? So we decided to plant citrus trees in the median. We’d have to water by hand until the trees were established, but at least they would bear fruit, be evergreen and once established they’d be pretty carefree. They were planted mid-June and luckily they are still alive. I must admit, I didn’t count on the stiff breeze blowing off the bay on our little babies all day long. That’s gardening, you learn as you go.
After we decided to go for the garden, several things happened. Juli started some seeds at home in containers saved from our takeout lunches. I brought in some seeds and a growing tray one Friday and many fingers poked seeds into the soil. Even our CEO James’ mom sent some of her favorite seeds to cheer on our project.
Every big idea has its dark side and there were two things I didn’t really factor in. One, how much time it would take to till up the cement-hard clay of this former superfund site and two, I already had my own pretty demanding garden at home tugging at me. Oh and of course, we have a business to run. But the plan had already been set in motion; there was no backing out now.

We broke ground first in the median for the trees then later that week we mixed some compost into the area around each irrigation hose and planted our seed starts. We have a collection of squash, tomatoes and peppers. Also some beans and corn. Under our sign we planted dwarf sunflowers and the Cosmos that James’ mom sent. I was pretty shocked to see the bean, corn and sunflower seeds we direct seeded actually germinate. It’s always exciting when seeds sprout. It’s extra exciting when you weren’t sure the soil you were planting them in could sustain life.
I don’t think we’ll have much more than a token harvest this year, but each season we work the soil, it will get richer. This is where compost comes in! I compost at my own home. I bring the compost bucket from the office home and dump it in my backyard bin. The plan is to bring some of this rich amendment back to use in our Vetrazzo Victory Garden.
The plant staff have been terrific stewards, making sure the garden stays watered. I hope they enjoy watching it grow and I hope there will be some food for them to harvest and enjoy. It will really be a sweet day when we pick our first lemon. I think I’ll have to give it to Alberto.