Turning aspiration into action Featured

6:37am EDT November 30, 2010

In 2008, Joel Fruendt knew things had to change. Clarke, a global environmental products and services company where Fruendt served as general manager, made it a strong priority to build sustainability into the business in such a way that positively impacted the business.

“We were determined to change an industry that hadn’t changed in 50 years,” Fruendt says. “With the implementation of this major initiative, we integrated sustainable, fiscally sound practices in all areas of our business.

Because of this, Fruendt was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him about the dramatic shift, what innovation means to him and the importance of giving back to the community.

Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

The sustainability initiative was a major paradigm shift. My role was to ensure that this philosophy was integrated into everything we do, every situation we face. Together as a company, we identified the three passions that drive our business: innovation, sustainability and community.

From the launch of Natular, the first reduced risk product for mosquito control, to converting our corporate fleet to hybrid vehicles, Clarke has put aspiration into action. Through changes to energy use and system-wide green policies, we have set forth clear goals to reduce waste, tap renewable energy resources, drive sales of NextGen sustainable products as identified in our Clarke Eco-Tier™ Index  and reduce our carbon footprint. Introductory projects aimed at replacing paper-heavy processes not only significantly increased productivity and improved efficiencies, but generated a savings of nearly $100,000 in the first year.

A top-down and bottom-up initiative, Clarke has committed significant resources and staff hours to ensuring that sustainability is part of the Clarke corporate culture. A sustainability committee that includes front line staff and top management alike establishes clear expectations and accountability – including an annual report of progress – to ensure that all Clarke employees are empowered to “Be the Change.”

This radical departure from the status quo in public health programs has inspired significant changes for the company, its employees and the industry at large.    

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

In 2002, Clarke set out to build a new, green larvicide from the ground up. After six years and over 35,000 hours of development and regulatory review, Natular became the first larvicide to have five formulations OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) Listed, enabling them to be used in and around organic agriculture. In 2010, we received the highest honor of our industry – the 2010 U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. This award recognizes outstanding chemical technologies that incorporate the principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture and use. Natular is the fifth pesticide ever to be awarded this recognition and the first public health product.

Over the years, we have challenged ourselves to pursue new innovations and technologies. But with the development of Natular we set a goal higher than any we’ve ever tackled. By doing so, we’ve proven that we can create solutions that are not only scientifically and economically sound, but also help safeguard people and our environment. This award is a wonderful recognition for the development of a “Next Gen” chemistry for mosquito control that reduces the pesticide load two to 10 times lower than traditional synthetic chemistries and reduces toxicity as much as 15 times less than a commonly used organophosphate alternative. The projected adoption of Natular by local, national and international agencies will result in less pesticide load in the environment, cost and time savings in applications, and overall improvements to public health.

While product innovation is key to future success, my additional charge was to use innovation to reduce costs in sustainable ways. Our service operation, which serves municipalities and communities around the country, is primarily conducted from vehicles. Historically, pickup trucks mounted with gas-powered sprayers would perform adult applications, trucks would drive and idle through neighborhoods to treat storm drains with larvicide, and gasoline-powered backpack applicators would treat hard-to-reach areas.  Recognizing the overwhelming contribution of transport fuel to Clarke’s overall emissions, in 2009 Clarke began an overhaul of its fleet, replacing traditional vehicles with more efficient vehicles and electric hybrids, replacing gas-powered spray equipment with electric spray systems, and using electric-powered ATVs for off-road application.

Efforts to replace paper processes in Clarke’s service operations resulted in transportation related efficiencies and successes as well. Clarke replaced paper with an integrated software package (developed by Clarke’s IT and service operations staff) loaded onto hand-held devices that utilize GPS navigation and routing, mapping, intelligent scheduling, real-time tracking of crews, and up-to-the-minute reporting.

The project significantly increased productivity and efficiencies, and had a real financial impact as well. In 2009, Clarke reduced the miles driven by field operators by 36 percent, generating a significant savings for this service alone.

Development and implementation of custom sustainable technologies, including point-to-point navigation, has allowed Clarke to reduce its fleet size by 30 percent in one season.

Overall, fleet measures implemented in 2009 resulted in a 16 percent reduction of CO2 emissions from transport fuel, a significant contribution to Clarke’s goal of a 25 percent reduction of total carbon emissions by 2014.

In addition, we cut our wheels from four to two with bicycle applications for storm drain larviciding. Instead of spending hours in a truck, idling as they dropped mosquito larvicide into standing water drains, Clarke employees are now trained to do applications from bicycles – promoting good health as well as good stewardship, all while reducing emissions. In 2009, 33 percent of all street basin applications were performed by Clarke’s bike crew. In 2010, that number approaches 70 percent.

How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

Clarke’s public health initiatives are responsible for preserving the health and quality of life for millions of people around the world. Our mission is to make communities more livable, safe and comfortable and we work with community leaders to ensure that our role is not one of supplier, but as partner with a vested interest with the success of those communities.

As such, Clarke employees give back in these communities, with employee-led sustainability service projects including seed harvesting in Illinois prairies and community service days, providing volunteer labor at local food pantries and women’s shelters.

In 2009, Clarke provided 715 hours of volunteer service and committed additional resources and implemented policies to encourage 100 percent employee participation toward a goal of 2,080 employee volunteer service hours annually by 2014.  In 2009 we established the Clarke Cares Foundation, designed to provide relief from mosquito-borne disease in communities of need around the world. Through a partnership with The Carter Center, The Clarke Cares Foundation has raised funds to send 38,000 DuraNet, mosquito bednets to Kanke, Nigeria – enough for every man, woman and child to sleep safely underneath a bednet, preventing the spread of malaria and lymphatic filariasis.

With social responsibility as part of our corporate vision, we are committed to making an extra effort to help people within the communities we serve.

How to reach: Clarke Mosquito Control, http://www.clarke.com/

In October 2010, Smart Business and U.S. Bank recognized nine business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by Middleby Corp. Chairman and CEO Selim Bassoul, these nine leaders composed the honor roll:

Nancy Ruscheinski

Bill Skeens

Dave Brittsan

Amanda Lannert

Scott Morey

Joel Fruendt

Jason Beans

Jim Signorelli

Larry Neibauer