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Celebrating Earth: How Made in America is Good for the Planet
This Earth Day we’re taking a closer look at the sustainability benefits of American manufacturing.
When Chris and Sara Fortune purchased Madison bike rack manufacturer, Graber products, in 1989, they did so with a mission: to continue to make goods right here in Wisconsin. Over the last thirty years we’ve remained steadfast in our commitment to American manufacturing. For Saris, Made in the USA is more than a business philosophy - it's who we are.
For Earth Day, we’ve looked beyond the top-of-mind benefits of American manufacturing to explore the environmental impact of our business philosophy and taken a deeper dive into how made in the USA is good for the planet too.
Let’s take a look.
Curbed Carbon Emissions
Did you know that over 90% of our vendors are located within 120-miles of Saris? It’s true, and we’ve been sourcing local materials since the day our doors opened.
By sourcing product material as close to our manufacturing facility as possible, we not only see a faster turn-around time, it also means reduced carbon emissions compared to those who do business overseas.
A reusable gaylord transports Bones bike rack straps to our facility in Madison.
For example, let’s take a look at our best-selling Bones bike rack. One-hundred percent of the Bones rack materials are sourced from within a day’s drive of our facility. The biggest component of this rack are the injection-molded arms and legs, which account for approximately 80% of the total parts of the rack, and are molded at a nearby supplier’s facility.
Once complete, these key Bones rack parts then travel for less than an hour in reusable gaylords to our Madison facility for assembly, boxing and shipping to your local bike shop.
A day in the life of a Saris Bones rack.
Taking all materials into consideration, what are the total added miles in manufacturing the Bones? About 200 miles – that’s it. Compare that to a product that’s been made overseas and you’re looking at an additional 7,000+ miles. That means we’re saving over 140 times the carbon emissions!
Less fuel, a significantly reduced carbon footprint, faster delivery and a boost to the regional economy? For us, this choice has always been clear.
Injection-molded Bones trunk rack arms and legs safely arrive in Madison after their short journey.
When it comes to manufacturing, there are a few schools of thought. Here at Saris, we’ve been committed to one since our inception: just-in-time manufacturing. Its self-describing name allows us to build product when it’s needed and is an efficient way to manage inventory.
When Saris was a young company, our just-in-time philosophy was a necessity to survive. Over time, the benefits have been realized over and over and have snowballed. We can invest our resources in our products, and as we explore the environmental impact of our business, we recognize that this choice is earth friendly, too.
This stack of raw metal will soon be transformed into the horizontal bar for the SuperClamp EX.
One of the principles of just-in-time manufacturing is the reduction of WIP, or Work in Progress. This WIP is considered excess and can lead to increased waste: the more WIP you have, the more inventory is tied up on your factory floor waiting for the next step in the manufacturing process.
WIP equals risk. It can slow or prevent any product changes, updates or process improvements from taking place without scrap. Inherently, as a “just-in-time” manufacturer, we have reduced amounts of WIP, both in our facility and with our suppliers, because the manufacturing flow happens continuously, making parts when needed and not in advance of the demand.
Buckles are sewn to the straps that the Bones bike rack to a car as their needed, which in our case is every single day.
Additionally, having a dialed in just-in-time process, we eliminate “double handling” of parts and goods. We do not touch any of the parts unless it is ready to move seamlessly through the manufacturing system. Every touch of a part adds value to it, and the efficient movement of these parts eliminates wasted time and resources from our manufacturing system.
We can’t operate like this alone. Which is why we work together with our local partners daily to ensure we have the parts needed to build. Our demands impact their inventory too, which is why it’s essential that we work together to manage inventory, which also parlays into how we all account for excess (or lack thereof). The cycle works together, and we build on each other to maintain its balance - and its impact.
Finished Saris Bones racks make their way down the line to be boxed and shipped.
The golden rule of conservation is, “1) Reduce; 2) Reuse; 3) Recycle.” One of the ways we’re able to hone in on #1 is through, you guessed it, our local suppliers.
Let’s revisit those reusable gaylords we mentioned earlier. Made of hardy plastic, these nifty boxes boast a longer shelf life and replace traditional, cardboard gaylords. Part of the reason we’re able to utilize reusable containers is because we’re building new racks on the daily. In fact, we have our own Saris truck that is dedicated to doing what are called “milk runs” to specific suppliers every day we’re operating.
Through these planned runs, we’re able to transport reusable containers filled to the max with Bones arms, in addition to staying on top of inventory and on schedule for just-in-time production. And because the distance between us is so short, that “max” number is a lot higher than if the Bones arms required a longer journey.
Saris Bones rack arms and legs are stacked to the max in reusable gaylords for their brief trip back to Madison.
Think of it like moving across town versus across the country. The more miles to move your possessions, the more packing materials required. Bubble wrap, boxes, shrink wrap and padded blankets are all needed to keep your goods safe during transport. Conversely, move to the other side of town and suddenly you can move your entire closet in the backseat of your car – no box necessary.
The same concept applies with transporting cycling accessory parts. In this example, our trip to our regional supplier is a short 50-mile jaunt. There’s little risk of products being damaged in shipment, which requires less protective packaging material, meaning we can fill the gaylords up with little risk of loss and reduce packaging waste along the way.
And while we’re not completely free of cardboard shipping containers, we work with our partners to find a way to file these gaylords under the “reusable” column, too. Again, we look to a nearby supplier for an example: they receive raw resin in these cardboard gaylords, and once the finished part is molded, the parts and reused gaylords are sent our way.
Reused cardboard and plastic gaylords containing parts for the Bones bike rack are purposefully arranged on our production floor.
Behind our Civil-era farmhouse, a manufacturing facility the size of nearly two football fields awaits. And because we are much, much more than a receiving dock and warehouse, our grounds are large enough to provide space for dual-purpose employee enjoyment.
For instance, in the spring of 2017 we laid five raised beds to create the first ever Saris employee garden. Working together on teams, the garden yielded buckets of tomatoes, batches of basil, bushels of cucumbers, zucchini and lettuce, and even a few fall squash. Through the garden, we were able to provide a sustainable food source within our corporate campus.
A few Saris employees getting the gardens ready for a season of harvest.
And that’s not all. Venture behind the back of the plant, and you’ll be met by a rolling mountain bike trail. Designed, sculpted, ridden and maintained by Saris employees, our MTB trails are a favorite feature. Here we can connect to the outdoors, the inspiration of our work and dedication to the bike.
Saris Mechanical Design Engineer, Jimmy, hits the MTB trails located in our backyard.
As you can see, there are inherent Earth Day benefits enjoyed by our employees, our partners and our customers because of the simple decision we have made time and time again to invest in manufacturing our products in the USA.