Having spent over a year at their new green facility, Equator – the Belt Factory have made great strides in both their technical and operational sustainability interventions. In 2018, Equator was featured in S&V for committing to a long-term sustainability journey. A journey that is holistic and systems-based in its approach. One that is forging innovation, setting industry benchmarks and is far more authentic than the sustainability “window dressing” that is often used illegitimately for competitive edge.

The Durban based factory, which manufactures belts and designs other accessories for top local and international brands, is currently targeting a Four-Star rating (Existing Building Performance) certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa. A long-list of technical and operational interventions have already been implemented in the factory’s pursuit to be more sustainable, alongside a set of plans for future improvements. “It is essential to see the process of a sustainability journey as one that has no end, “ says Andre Harms, Equator’s sustainability consultant. “There is always the ability to be better tomorrow than we were today. That is a concept I am happy to see Equator deeply committed to.”

 

Equator’s most notable interventions and operating practices at the new facility include:

  • Educational programmes and employee engagement
  • Ethical sourcing and innovative product development
  • Smart metering
  • Energy efficiency
    • through passive design principles (like double glazing)
    • using a hyper efficient heating and cooling system and
    • installing natural lighting, LED lights and lighting controls
  • Water saving
    • through rainwater harvesting and
    • water efficient ablutions and tap fittings
  • Greener procurement practices
  • Recycling, organic waste management and landfill diversion practices

 

Educational programmes and employee engagement: A green team has been formed and launched in order to have a focused team dedicated to pushing sustainability, inspiring all staff to get involved and communicating progress and goals to the entire team.

Smart metering: A smart metering system has been installed in order to track the consumption of electric energy and water on a centralized platform. This information will be used specifically by the green team to establish trends, set targets and hopefully reduce consumption at the factory.

Energy efficiency: When it comes to the actual moderations of the factory building and the installation of systems, energy efficiency was at the heart of decisions made. “Often companies go straight to plastering solar panels all over their roofs,” says Buhr. “But what we have learnt is that this makes little sense if energy efficiency and reducing energy use is not considered first. That’s not to say we won’t be installing panels in the future, we have readied our electrical installations, smart meters and our roof structure for PV panels but sustainability is about more.” A number of other energy efficiency measures are in place such as the use of efficient equipment and appliances, equipment run-time schedules and automatic door closures.

Saving water: Equator’s 40 000l rain water tank, which has been designed for future expansion, collects and stores rainwater from the factory roof. On average, a total of 480 000l of municipal water can be saved annually. That’s the equivalent of 3.2 million cups of coffee! In the rainy months 90% of the factory’s water demand can be supplied by the rainwater capture and storage system on site. The factory has also been fitted out with low-flow tap fittings which are 75% more efficient than the average tap. The toilets make use of a flush-to-hold mechanism ensuring that the water stops flowing as soon as you let go of the handle.

 Greener procurement practices: During the fit out of the new facility the office furniture and finishes were responsibly selected and procured to be made of sustainably sourced wood products. In some cases, second-hand furniture was repurposed and some canteen cupboards were made from pallets. Low VOC paints and adhesives and other locally sourced materials were used in order to avoid carbon emissions related to shipping and travel and ensure the health of employees through better air quality.

Recycling and organic waste management: A carefully planned waste separation strategy has been enforced at the Equator factory whereby recyclables, organic waste, production offcuts, electronic waste (e-waste) and general waste are separated into clearly marked bins. Staff are also encouraged to bring their e-waste from home to be easily and conveniently disposed of by the company via certifiable channels. All offices and factory floor areas have been equipped with marked bins to improve separation at source.

Future Plans: What drives home the authenticity of Equator’s commitment is the fact that they are:

  1. Clear that this journey of sustainability is for the long-term and
  2. Continuously on the look-out for ways to improve themselves as a better business for both people and the planet.

Equator have started to investigate ways of eliminating single-use plastic items such as the plastic sleeve, hanger and loop lock (the piece of plastic that holds the price tags on the belt). “So far we haven’t solved all those issues, but every day we get a step closer”. They have also recently found a new sticker technology to replace the desiccant sachets that are required to keep moisture out of the package their belts are transported in. “This will result in a great deal less waste,” says Buhr. “Our engagement with both suppliers and retail-partners shows everybody is working hard at making real difference. There aren’t solutions yet in all spheres, but with the strong momentum we are witnessing new developments daily in various fields from raw materials to packaging.”

Equator’s new facility has recently been successfully audited for compliance to manufacture for leading brands including Polo and VF Corporation. Equator is also SMETA certified.