How a product synonymous with childhood is made with generations in mind. 

The iconic yellow and green box is a fond memory of the American childhood and still a reality in our households today. What many may not know is that since Crayola’s founding by Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith in 1903, environmental responsibility has come with the package. The first box of Crayola crayons, in fact, was produced using a hydraulic system. Over 100 years later, Crayola has been growing greener in areas of logistics, alternative fuel and recycling.

In a recent interview, Pete Ruggiero, EVP of Global Operations for Crayola, explained the creativity involved in coming up with the initiatives and bringing them to life 

“We ask the question ‘what if?’” he explained. “In terms of our long-term legacy, what if we can have a cleaner environment?  If the environment is polluted, that’s counter to what we are trying to accomplish: keeping creativity alive in kids.” 

Ruggiero goes on to share that green initiatives can be profitable, but that’s not the only criteria a business should consider in implementing them. “If we weren’t focused on sustainability,” he said, “we wouldn’t be pursuing some of our break-even or marginal-return projects. It’s just the right thing to do, and it sets an example.”  

The Logistics of Wax & Wood – from Pennsylvania to Brazil

Logistics is a key area of environmental sustainability for Crayola. The company shifted its use of a particular paraffin wax supplier from one located on the Gulf Coast to one located in Pennsylvania, significantly closer to its manufacturing facilities in the same state. This saved substantial rail miles.  

Crayola also consolidated its global wood supply for colored pencils into one supplier – this time much farther from home on the plains of Brazil. The 37-square-mile pine plantation, located outside of the tropical rain forest, is carbon negative, putting more oxygen back into the environment. For every tree that’s cut down, more than one is planted. Forest animals thought to be extinct are even reappearing. “This was a big win for us,” Ruggiero said. “Beyond the major savings to the environment, we don’t have to worry about supply scarcity.” 

An additional consolidation was made in distribution. Crayola merged its three distribution centers for Crayola products into one closer to its manufacturing facility. Crayola products are now inventoried and distributed from an 800,000-square-foot center located 15 minutes away from their manufacturing plants instead of an hour and a half away. It’s like a shorter commute for crayons and markers that saves 100,000 gallons of truck fuel annually. 

Turning Farmland into a Solar Farm 

The road to solar at Crayola began at Walmart’s Sustainability Summit in 2007. Ruggiero was in attendance. Inspired, he came back with a challenge to his engineers to come up with the best options for using renewable energy. 

The result was a solar farm developed in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and local utilities that offer renewable energy branches - PPL Corporation UGI Energy Services, Inc. Crayola has a 25-year power purchase agreement which Ruggiero believes will protect the company from rising utility costs in the market over time. 

Thirty acres were pulled for the solar initiative from the farmland surrounding Crayola’s world headquarters and major manufacturing facility in Forks Township, Pennsylvania, located in the Lehigh Valley. Thirty-three thousand solar panels were installed over three phases. Efficiency improved dramatically with each phase, with less panels needed for the same power. 

Phase Three was completed in February 2012, supplying a total three megawatts of power annually, which represents 20-25% of the company’s annual use of electricity. 

“When it’s hot and sunny, the solar panels are really humming,” Ruggiero explained. “On those days, we’re running our corporate office and two manufacturing plants purely on solar.” 

Annually, Crayola produces one billion crayons and 700 million markers with the power of the sun. 

Recycling – from the Office to the Classroom

Just three years ago, Crayola was recycling only 65% of its own office waste. “It was bothering us that we were still filling up dumpsters with plastic,” Ruggiero shared. In response, Crayola pulled all the recycling and garbage bins out of individual offices, creating centralized locations so employees would get up and make a conscious decision to trash or recycle. 

The 737 pounds a day formerly sent to landfills was reduced to 126 pounds a day immediately. Across 1,000 employees, that’s a pound per employee per day saved from a landfill. As of October 2013, Crayola became a zero landfill business in the US.  

The company has expanded its recycling efforts into the classroom through the ColorCycle program. Any school can participate. They collect their used markers, and Crayola provides pre-paid FexEx labels for sending them to the recycling facility. 

To off-set any inconvenience to teachers and parents for collecting markers, Crayola provides free standards-based lesson plans on environmental topics. So far, the most popular lesson plans are “A Paper Relief for the Coral Reef” and “Camp Treasure Box.” 

Initially, Crayola’s challenge with recycling markers had to do with child safety – the risk of breaking them into smaller parts. Through extensive research, the company not only found a partner that could recycle whole markers, but also recycle them directly into clean-burning liquid fuel. 

Eighteen-hundred schools are currently registered in the ColorCycle program, and about 12,000 boxes of markers have been converted into clean fuel to date. Just one box of markers supplies enough energy to cook an egg, brew a pot of coffee or make a slice of toast.  

“The program is in its infancy,” Ruggiero said. “It’s costing us right now, but we’re looking to expand while uncovering more cost-effective logistics strategies.” 

Reducing the Use - & Spreading the Word

In addition to Crayola’s key green initiatives in logistics, solar and recycling, the company has committed to continually reduce its water and energy consumption across its manufacturing operations. Through investments in new equipment, for example, annual water usage has decreased from 22 million gallons to 16 million gallons over the last five years. Those six million gallons saved are enough water for 120,000 baths . 

The company seeks to continue to spread its own ideas about sustainability to its suppliers, raising the bar and setting new standards. 

“Like our other green initiatives, solar was largely about setting an example to suppliers and other businesses that sustainability can be done,” Ruggiero said. “We believe the best way to start any green effort is simply to begin – trying, expanding and showing others what’s possible.”