Ideas built...

A View Downstream – Building a Sustainable Platform

The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind....William James

The most significant phenomenon of the sustainability/green era is witnessing the world’s collective consciousness and attitudes of mind shift in unison to address a common threat to earths existence...ourselves. The urgency in pace needed to develop new sustainable standards and practices dealing with environmental issues such as global warming, packaging recyclability, water and air quality, is a constant reminder of how foreign and evasive we have become to the natural order of things.

Acumen Visual Group Inc., recognized immediately that the principals of sustainability were not solely driven by the merits of accreditation leading to commercial rewards.

In order to alter our attitudes of mind after decades of “unconscious consumption” means first, as human beings we must assume culpability in our errant social and business practices. Secondly, we must attain a business ethos built on a hyper sensitivity of maintaining a fine balance towards a.) fulfilling our material needs, with b.) The protection of the natural environment and c.) an acute awareness of our personal “carbon footprint”. These streams of thought need to converge in order to slow the” real time” metamorphosis and unravelling of earth’s fabric that is taking place before our eyes.

Acumen Visual Group Inc., recognized immediately that the principals of sustainability were not solely driven by the merits of accreditation leading to commercial rewards. Those idealisms are fleeting once the rules of business engagement are removed. Rather, we believe sustainability is a conscience awakening of an “earth comes first” philosophy with principals rooted in a strategic commitment to altering our attitudes of mind, as well as our social and business practices.

Also as a design fabricator, the disposal of residual waste became the greatest opportunity area in regards to developing a sustainable platform. Since the signage industry use of materials is predominantly metals, comprising 50% of the operating total, finding a suitable partner with the resource and expertise to handle material waste was a key factor to our success.
Attar Metals Inc. seemed to be the perfect” blue box” solution for Acumen Visual Group Inc.

Embarking on its 19th year of operations Attar Metals Inc. is an industry leader in full service metal recycling worldwide, predominantly throughout North America, Europe and China.

With headquarters in Mississauga, ON, Attar Metals Inc. specializes in the purchasing, grading, handling and processing of all ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metals from the manufacturing, dealer and service industries.
When approached with the concept of building a sustainable platform for the signage industry, Attar Metals Inc. embraced the idea of playing a role in developing an ethically responsible platform for Acumen Visual Group Inc. and a model for others in the design fabrication industry to follow.

The first impression of the scrap metal industry is that the term “scrap” seems to be a misnomer, a tag that conjures images of “back ally peddlers of refuse”, seemingly in contrast to a progressive company with bright university graduates occupying key positions within the company, Attar Metals Inc. is a family affair, owned and run by three brothers. Alan Attar admits that sometimes he has had a hard time explaining his profession to his fellow MBA graduates who have moved on to the hygienic world of corporate business. However, this issue quickly goes away. Five minutes observing this sophisticated operation, reminds anyone that Attar Metals Inc. is more that the sum of its reclaimed parts. The process and methodology executed in this 5 acre 75,000 sq ft total indoor processing compound is a testament to the classic saying “waste not want not”.

A tour of the processing plant provided a clear view as to how sophisticated the recycling business has become. It all started with a quick refresher on the periodic table of elements in order to identify the two main areas for sorting metal: Ferrous, (Latin for “iron”) i.e. steel, and non-Ferrous (“not iron”) i.e. copper, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel. Sophisticated hand-held portable alloy analyzers provide instant information as to the exact elemental composition of metal samples just with the touch of a button.

Once identified, scrap materials are weighed, sorted, bailed, processed, packaged and shipped to larger processing companies and foundries as local as Dofasco (in Hamilton Ontario) to overseas (India, China). All have insatiable appetites for raw materials. Attar Metals Inc. plays the perfect middle man to supply these needs. As Alan Attar states “it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly these days to recycle scrap material than to mine for iron ore”.

The view of the processing yard seemed like a surreal lunar landscape littered with 25ft high piles of scrap material which seemed skeletal in composition (stripped of the burnish of brand packaging and retail gloss, and picked apart with deft efficiency by equally high cranes, equipped with mechanical mandibles used for grappling, sheering, cutting, pulling and separating the piles of metal detritus).

As much as I was awed by the efficiency of Attar Metals Inc., I was also overwhelmed by the view downstream.

The range of reclaimed matter was staggering in scope, diversity of shapes and textures: from a classic 1979 Lincoln Continental Town Car (license plate “RECYCLNG”) that has since been reclaimed and brought back to life as Alan Attar’s personal mode of transportation, to pop cans, car rims, aluminum siding, TV antennas, school lockers, and yes piles of discarded barbeques (providing the answer to the mysterious overnight curb side disappearances conducted as we sleep by independent entrepreneurs who immediate identify value in the things we do not).

As much as I was awed by the efficiency of Attar Metals Inc., I was also overwhelmed by the view downstream. It was a stark reminder that with every “flush”, unconscious discard of curb side waste, or a business platform without the foresight towards a renewable strategy, the tributary of matter will overflow its banks even with the contribution of companies such as this. It a reminder that we all have a part to play and it starts with recognizing that ethical platforms are seldom built with the speed of overnight ad campaigns promoting the arrival of newly found sensibilities towards the environment. Indeed, great platforms and reforms are carefully constructed small steps that ensure marketing perception matches ethical intent.

The speedy rate of adoption for sustainable causes by consumers and manufacturers alike is cause for hope. Companies like 3form’s 100 PERCENTTM post consumer recycling program, Aveda’s reclaimed packaging, Wal-Mart’s packaging reduction platform, or Project Red corporate efficacy program, are great examples of sustainability platforms. They represent the classic phrase “practice what you preach”.

As members of the signage industry, our story has just begun ...stay tuned.

Author: Keith Francis, Acumen Visual Group Inc.