Thanks to Sarah Bills at Vestas for today’s blog post!

Last year, 12 employees from Vestas, the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines, participated in NWEI’s Sustainable Systems at Work discussion course. The group was so inspired by the program that they decided to apply the concepts discussed throughout the eight-week course to a project within their own company. After identifying several areas for possible action, they decided on one key project to reduce waste.

Each Vestas turbine tower section travels from the factory to the wind farm site by way of train, truck, boat, or any combination of the three. Blue tarps stamped with the Vestas logo cap each end of the tower sections to prevent dirt and debris from blowing into the tower section during transport.

Tower sections leaving the factory in Pueblo, Colo.

With two tarps per section, four sections per turbine, an average of 55 turbines per project and with more than 20 projects on the books for 2012, Vestas was looking at a lot of scrapped tarp. When the employees aimed to reduce the amount of landfill space taken up by these tarps, the “Blue Tarp Project” was born.

The first and most important step for the team was figuring out how to make the tarps reusable. The current design required the tarp to be cut to fit the tower section onto transportation equipment. Once at the wind farm site, the tarp was cut again to remove it. The team worked with the tarp supplier to create a design that allowed the tarp to be installed and removed without damage. Once removed from the towers, the tarps could be returned in supply containers already scheduled to return to the factory.

Vestas “blue tarp bags” upcycled from used tarp material.

Previous to the redesign, tarps might find their way to area farmers who would use them to cover hay bales or farm equipment. More often, the wind farm sites paid to have the tarps sent to the landfill. The project team rescued some of these tarps by sending them to local upcycler, LooptWorks, which created and manufactured “blue tarp bags” for each employee at the Vestas North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon.  Employees received a bag on their first workday in the new headquarters. (In fact, the new building itself is an upcycled item – a former Meier & Frank warehouse transformed into a beautiful office space designed to obtain LEED Platinum certification later this year.)

On top of the positive environmental impact, reusing the tarps will increase cost savings with each reuse — a win for Vestas, their clients, and the environment.

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