With a collection of airplane engines spanning several decades, the Pratt & Whitney Hangar Museum in East Hartford is a monument to the company's—and Connecticut's—manufacturing past.

"Amelia Earhart was in this building," Pratt & Whitney vice president Lisa Szewczul said Nov. 17 as she welcomed 150 people to the museum for the Connecticut Sustainability Conference.

Sustainability conference: Pratt & Whitney's Lisa Szewczul
"We're here to talk about the future, not the past." Pratt & Whitney's Lisa Szewczul.

"If you think about it, it's just kind of awesome, the history we have in front of us.

"But today we're here to talk about the future, not the past."

For Connecticut businesses, that future involves applying sustainability practices to every aspect of their operations—moves that simultaneously save money and protect the environment.

"The demand for sustainable change is coming and it's coming from businesses," Szewczul said.

"Businesses like ours can be the leaders for the next sustainable wave of activity. That's a good thing because business does really need to lead the way."

For nearly four hours, a rapt audience listened and engaged with speakers whose topics included water, waste and packaging, and energy—all with an eye toward sustainability.

'Everybody is a Stakeholder'

Environmental attorney Elizabeth Barton, a partner at Day Pitney LLP, moderated a discussion on water that featured Peter DePasquale, director, government affairs for Nestlé Waters NA, Larry Smith, senior vice president for manufacturing and engineering at Bridgeport Fittings Inc., and Jeff Ulrich, director of supply operations for Aquarion Water Co.

All three agreed that everyone—business, industry, municipalities, and individuals—is responsible for being stewards of our water systems.

"Water is an example of a resource where everybody is a stakeholder," Barton said.

Ulrich spoke of the 2016 drought and how it forced Aquarion, which produces drinking water for more than 600,000 Connecticut residents, to work with its customers to lower their usage.

Ulrich oversaw adjustments that extended the supply, and helped roll out a conservation program in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, and Darien that reduced daily demand by 850,000 gallons.

He got people to voluntarily cut the number of times they watered their lawns each week.

"Once we showed people data on the amount of water used on lawns, they understood," he said.

For Nestlé Waters NA, water is their business, DePasquale said.

Day Pitney's Elizabeth Barton with panelists
"Everybody's a stakeholder." Day Pitney's Elizabeth Barton with Aquarion's Jeff Ulrich, Nestlé Waters' Peter DePasquale, and Larry Smith from Bridgeport Fittings.

It's one reason that Nestlé Waters works closely with local and state regulators to ensure everyone’s water supplies are protected.

"Water is our raw material and the product we sell," he said. "Demand for that product is growing at historic levels.

"But as demand grows, supply has to grow. And when we're looking at sourcing in the Northeast, it's a challenge.

"It requires a company like ours to operate with a lot of sensitivity, a lot of science, and a lot of engagement with our local communities."

Smith said that for Bridgeport Fittings, water is vital.

"For us, a guaranteed water supply is probably the foremost thing," he said.

"We actually take that for granted. We open that tap and we think that water's going to be there every time that we want it."

But it takes a company-wide effort to protect that water and keep costs down.

"It has to be a culture," Smith said. "If you're not embracing continual improvement or lean methodology as a company, that is the first change you need to make as a business owner."

The Sustainability Generation

Sustainability is driven not only by the bottom line but by a desire, especially among younger workers, to protect the planet.

"This generation of employees coming in really cares about these things and they're attuned to the details," Szewczul said.

"They watch things like, 'Does the water fountain make it easy to fill reusable water bottles? Do we have enough charging stations for electric vehicles? And in the cafeteria, 'Do we have composting bins along with the trash bins?'

"There's a lot of change going on, and it's really very exciting."

Brian Paganini is vice president of Quantum Biopower, a Southington-based company that converts food waste into energy. It's only one of about a dozen such facilities in the U.S., although there are many similar operations across Europe.

We've had this culture where it's throw it away and forget it. Now it's a recovery mindset.
— Quantum Biopower's Brian Paganini
Paganini noted that 10 years ago, only about 100 Fortune 500 companies embraced sustainability. Now, about 400 of them have corporate sustainability missions.

"The roles that private industry is taking in diverting materials and recognizing package products and other things that can be created into value, like what we do with food waste, is prevalent," Paganini said.

"It's being driven by regulation, by financial bottom line, and by the desire to achieve a better use for the materials that are created."

Paganini said society's attitude is changing when it comes to waste and the environment.

"For years we've had this culture where it's throw it away and forget it," he said. "Now it's a recovery mindset."

Don't Mandate, Educate

Panelists agreed that while local and state government should do more to educate the public on the importance of recycling, it should not place any additional mandates on business or industry.

"There are definitely some good reasons why there should be some recycling mandates but, ultimately, the free market must rule," said Eric Albert of Albert Bros. Inc., a fourth-generation metal recycling business in Waterbury.

The more the government does stay out of our way on this, the better.
— Albert Bros. president Eric Albert
"We're in business, we provide jobs, and we provide economic support to the community. The more the government does stay out of our way on this, the better."

Albert said it's important that with any new product, the material be recyclable.

"There's not enough discussion about creating products with recycled materials, and not understanding on the consumer basis of what's involved," he said.

Energy Breakthroughs

In the third session on energy, John Connelly, chief engineer at AMGRAPH Packaging in Baltic, spoke of the company's success using fuel cells to power its operation.

AMGRAPH underwent a complete financial analysis before adopting the fuel-cell technology, which has resulted in a positive cash flow, Connelly said.

Michael Perry, associate director for electrochemical systems at United Technologies Research Center, discussed the breakthrough flow-battery technology at the center. A flow battery is a rechargeable fuel cell that converts chemical energy to electricity.

Perry said the goal is to develop a flow battery system as big as the building that houses the Pratt & Whitney museum to negate the need for power plants and transmission lines.

"Right now, what's happening is there are [power] plants that are just idling, waiting for the grid to go up and they come on," Perry said.

Thinking about how we can change our behavior is what it's about.
— Pratt & Whitney's Dave Smith
"Why do they idle? Because they can't respond that fast. A battery responds instantaneously."

While we are far from having flow-through batteries the size of a building, they day will eventually come and improve energy storage and distribution, Perry said.

The closing speaker, Dave Smith, senior director of global environment, health, safety, and sustainability for Pratt & Whitney, declared the conference a success.

"Changing the thinking and thinking about how we can change our behavior is what it's about," Smith said.

"It's about integrating sustainability in all we do."