by Heidi Martin, MCCN staff writer

While business increases for Four Seasons Produce, Inc. of Ephrata, PA, energy costs decrease. In fact, in the past few years, the company has reduced its annual CO2 emissions by 1100 tons, saved 1,600,000 gallons of water, eliminated over 740,000 truck fleet miles and contributed to waste reduction through recycling. It’s no wonder Four Seasons will be recognized for its second Energy Star award by the Environmental Protection Agency in September.

Four Seasons, a full service wholesale company, began in 1976 by David Hollinger. It ships about one million cases of produce each month to various restaurants, hospitals, universities, independent retail stores and other wholesale businesses. The current distribution center is 262,000 square feet with nearly three quarters of that space dedicated to refrigerators.

Nelson Longenecker, Vice President of Business Innovation, says the push for sustainability within the company began five years ago, just before “green” practices became popular. Four Seasons moved to one large location with one large electric bill and members of the company became aware of their overall impact on the environment quite quickly. Longenecker took his current position four years ago with goals to focus on business driven initiatives in sustainability.

Longenecker, along with coworker Randy Groff, began a group within the company called “Gaining Resource & Energy Efficiency Now!” also known as the G.R.E.E.N. Team. This team is made up of a member from each department and meets once a month to share information and create sustainability goals for the future.

“Using “Now” with an exclamation point shows a sense of urgency,” says Longenecker. “We are business driven and in a fast-paced environment and we know the impact on world climate change.”

The G.R.E.E.N. Team pushed the company’s ability to recycle to a higher level, sponsoring a monthly drawing for a free car wash to employees who bring in used motor oil. Four Seasons uses this motor oil to help heat the truck garage in the winter months.

“We also challenge each other to do things personally at home, such as changing shower heads to save hot water or using energy-efficient light bulbs,” says Longenecker.

The company’s most successful programs focus on energy efficiency. Initially, Four Seasons worked toward creating a smaller electric bill in 2010 than 2005. Even with an increase in electricity rates in 2010, the company will achieve this goal. In the future, they hope to reduce costs in diesel fuel.

Practicing sustainability has been beneficial to Four Seasons in many ways. Green efforts have made the company more competitive in general and increases credibility with current and potential customers. Longenecker believes the overall reputation of the company has also increased.

“Though I can’t prove it, I like to think that people feel good when working for a company that is having a positive impact rather than a negative one,” says Longenecker.

For Longenecker, the impact reaches much further than healthy work environments and environmental impact to spirituality.

“We certainly are not perfect in how we do things,” says Longenecker. “This is a different message than what is often heard {from the church}. Practicing servant leadership and apologizing for mistakes attracts people to Jesus and is not intimidating.”

One of the challenges for Longenecker is to continue to stay on the cutting edge and, at the same time, implement projects that have a viable payback for the company.

“So much is happening in the scientific and business area that it is tough to keep up and stay current,” says Longenecker, “especially during an economy like this when we keep trying to grow the business as well.”

This does not discourage Longenecker who says:  “As believers, we have a great opportunity to be driving this – to be leaders that set an example, not followers.