A conversation with Judy VanCleve of 7-SIGMA Inc.

South Minneapolis-based 7-SIGMA is a designer and manufacturer of innovative polymer and precision metal components with applications in the printer and copier, aerospace and med-tech industries. It was founded in 1974 by Jerzy Wryobek and is presently owned and operated by his son, Kristian Wyrobek.

Here are highlights of an interview with Judy VanCleve, building and facilities improvements manager at 7-SIGMA Inc.

Q: How has your business evolved over the years?

A: 7-SIGMA has maintained new product development capabilities that have not only served our existing customers but over the years have identified new technologies and trends in advanced polymer and silicone applications. Many of these new technologies have reduced or eliminated the hazardous properties of most of the compounds that we use in our manufacturing processes. Through the implementation of an externally audited environmental management system our company has instituted environmental practices that meet international standards.

Q: What does sustainability mean to 7-SIGMA? 

7-SIGMA has adopted the definition of sustainability established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “Sustainability ensures that we have the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.”

Q: How has 7-SIGMA become more sustainable over the years? 

In 2001, our environmental management program began with an in-depth review of our solid waste management practices. Through re-use and recycling, our organization is able to monitor and control the solid waste that goes to a landfill. 

In 2002, 7-SIGMA addressed the issue of building expansion by conducting a space-utilization inventory and determined that through workcell organization and housecleaning our shipping and receiving facility was the only area that required expansion. 

In 2005, our company’s president, Kristian Wyrobek agreed to construct an exterior stormwater management system in the new shipping/receiving apron and employee parking lot because he believed that the rainwater gardens adjacent to the 7-SIGMA facility would establish a precedent  for addressing the problem of pollution from stormwater run-off contributing to the pollution of the Mississippi River. Our facility is 100 percent compliant in its stormwater management practices and in 2010 we received a certificate for a No Exposure Exclusion from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Q: How does sustainability fit into 7-SIGMA’s business model? 

Our company has learned over the years that sustainable management practices very often produce cost economies. The most obvious areas for sustainable savings are in energy reduction, monitoring and management of solid and hazardous waste streams, and purchasing. Through the infrastructure provided by our environmental management system, 7-SIGMA has experienced these cost-savings while seeing reductions in energy usage, material consumption and re-use and recycling of materials generated from our production and shipping/receiving processes.  The support and ongoing partnership that we have experienced with our Longfellow neighbors in our sustainability efforts is proof positive that a local manufacturing company can exist side by side with a residential neighborhood and provide good jobs within the city.

Q: Are you using any sort of tracking methodology to measure your progress on sustainability goals? 

7-SIGMA’s environmental management system has been ISO 14001:2004 certified by SGS since 2006.  This certification requires an annual outside audit to be performed by SGS to ensure that our environmental management system is compliant with the international ISO standard.  Our 2014 audit by SGS produced no findings of non-conformity and that is quite an accomplishment!

Q: What have been your greatest challenges? 

I think that we face the same challenges that most businesses have faced since 2008.  Where is the money needed to maintain continual improvement of sustainability practices?  Is our time properly allocated to maintain existing EMS practices while seeking opportunities for continual improvement of the EMS?  Can changes in personnel knowledgeable in the management of the EMS be quickly accommodated by re-assignment of management personnel?

Q: What sustainability goals do you have in the future? 

Our corporate goals for sustainability have been consistent:  To do more with less in order to maintain and enhance our environmental policy.  Our environmental policy is:  Prevent pollution; maintain legal compliance; and, seek continual improvement in our environmental programs and practices.

Q: What one thing would make it easier for you to achieve your sustainability goals? 

That’s easy—unlimited resources! However, in reality, the information and expertise that are available locally and on the web are outstanding.  Our organization is fortunate to be pursuing its sustainability goals in Minnesota.  Minnesota is on top of the issue of sustainability and there is so much support for what we and other organizations are doing.

Sustainability in the City is a monthly column that features Minneapolis-based business owners’ views and efforts on sustainability.  If you would like to be considered for future articles, please contact Craig Wilson at [email protected].