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W.Va. company lauded for environmental approach

August 15, 2000

W.Va. company lauded for environmental approach



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


BARDANE, W.Va. - Norm Thompson wants the business world to know that it can be environmentally conscious and profitable.

The clothing apparel company, which won a national award earlier this year for its environmental efforts, held a reception at its plant in Bardane Tuesday afternoon to showcase its recycling programs and energy reduction efforts.

Norm Thompson produces four catalogs that sell a variety of clothing, outdoor gear, gifts and food.

The catalog orders are processed at the company's plant in the Burr Industrial Park and then mailed to customers. The plant has gone from 80 employees to 200 employees since the company decided to move its distribution plant from Portland, Ore., to Jefferson County seven years ago. The company brings in about $175 million in revenues annually, company officials said.

It's environmental programs range from the simple to the complex.

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Workers at the local plant have been able to find ways to cut energy costs and recycle on their own, company officials said.

Employees decided to turn off lights in merchandise rows that were not being used, a move that has saved about $8,400 annually in electric costs, said Derek Smith, sustainability manager for the company.

Three employees were honored Tuesday for taking a large number of reports regularly produced in the plant and posting them on the plant's computer system. The reports were typically photocopied for distribution, but posting them on the computer system cut expensive toner costs by half, Smith said.

The company used to throw away small pieces of material left over when hemming pants, which contributed to landfill costs, Smith said. Now the material is sent to Able Inc., a North Dakota operation that turns the material into quilts and other garments, Smith said.

"It just goes to show that if we put our minds to it, there are solutions all around us," Smith told workers during an outdoor reception.

The more ambitious efforts include phasing out cotton that is raised by conventional means in favor of organically grown cotton, said Becky Jewett, president of Norm Thompson.

When cotton is ready to be harvested, fields are sprayed with herbicides, Jewett said. The herbicides cause the cotton plants to break open, increasing the yield, she said.

The problem is herbicide residue is very difficult to wash out of cotton clothing, and it is passed onto consumers with residue, she said.

"The cotton we're wearing is toxic and can cause cancer," Jewett said.

Norm Thompson plans to phase-in organic cotton in its clothing over the next five years, despite the expensive cost of making the switch, company officials said.

The company is anxious to test the market to determine if consumers are willing to pay more for organic cotton products in return for safer apparel, Jewett said.

"We've got to figure out how to convince farmers to make the transition," she said.

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