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Sustainability efforts help businesses see green

Building a sustainability program for a major business starts from the ground up. And at Colorbiotics, that’s a literal translation of their practices for mulch operations. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and producers around the nation, mulch is one of the easiest and most beneficials treatments a person can use for a variety of soil issues. Going well beyond a landscaping and beautification feature, mulch protects soil from erosion, acts as a barrier to weeds and conserves water – a benefit during extreme temperature swings.  

What’s more, the colorant used for Colorbiotics mulch is naturally sourced and formulated to protect everything it touches. As part of the testing and safety process, it was rated less toxic than common table salt.  

For Colorbiotics Vice President Kent Rotert and his team, creating a safe, sustainable mulch product starts in their warehouse with operational practices that have every aspect of the business seeing green.  

“A culture of recycling, sustainability — it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Rotert. “We started doing things in small increments and grew from there. At the end of the day, our work here is saving producers and customers money.”  

Rotert said an example of that is the use of reclaimed water throughout the process. In 2023, Colorbiotics boasted 1 million pounds of reclaimed water that went back into the process, instead of being wasted. That’s a water savings that benefits Colorbiotics, but then is passed along to customers.  

“We use a phenomenal amount of water,” Rotert said. “Recycling it within the plant is critical from a production standpoint. And that knowledge, those practices are then transferred over to our customers, and by using our equipment, can use a lot less water which then saves them money.” 

The use of water is inevitable within the mulch industry. Rotert said that knowing how important water is to their business, but the greater role it plays within the environment, is a constant reminder of their duty to be stewards of the land.  

“We have a product that needs water to make a rich colorant as a critical part of the mulch coloring process,” said Rotert. “But just as important is setting the tone throughout the business that we need to care for our environment. It’s not a new concept for us and we’re finding more ways to make sure everything we do has environmental benefit.” 

Beyond water recycling, Colorbiotics has done a great deal of work with local utilities and city entities to home in on cost-saving, planet-friendly practices. For example, they worked with their electrical company to find peak hours of energy usage for the community where the warehouse is located — Ames, Iowa. When they found those hours were 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., Rotert and his team shifted the plant operation hours to start production earlier in the day to mitigate usage at the same time as most of the community. 

Another easy practice has been to swap out existing lighting for LED lighting when they need to be replaced. It’s a bit-by-bit process, Rotert explained.  

“No one is looking to turn their plant upside down,” Rotert said. “Every business is different, and you have to do what makes sense for you and your business model. Start with one thing — maybe it’s more recycling or better waste management. Learn from best practices, get help from the organizations who oversee that type of thing and start making small changes. It’s an advantage to invite those experts in and let them help you.”  

Rebates, strong community relations and a sense of stewardship are just a few of the benefits Rotert has seen as Colorbiotics has taken an aggressive stance with their sustainability practices.  

“We started investing in this in 2020 and really drilled in in 2021,” Rotert said. “It’s at the forefront of our business and a high priority for us. Our ability to refine eco-friendly practices within our plant equate to a product that meets a high standard of quality and one that producers can feel good about buying and selling.”