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Abt Moves Green-Speed Ahead

By: Wendy Altschuler | October 26, 2011

In 1936, Abt Radio opened its doors in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago with an $800 familial loan and three employees. Since then, this small electronics shop has turned into one of the leading single-store companies in the country. Abt Electronics currently operates on 37 acres on Milwaukee Road in Glenview.

Part of what makes Abt a flourishing and innovative business is the emphasis placed on green initiatives. Eco-consciousness, sustainability and reducing the negative impact on the environment have been in the forefront of Abt's objectives.

Abt created its own on-site 8,000-square-foot recycling center that recycles 3.5 million pounds of paper and cardboard, 240,000 pounds of Styrofoam, 10 million pounds of appliances and 3 million pounds of electronics per year.

"Styrofoam takes 1,000 years to biodegrade. We recycle it, and plastic decks and pictures frames are made. It's a great recycling story," said Bob Taylor, the director of operations at Abt. "Recycling is economically viable. Styrofoam is being reused for products, and it's kept out of the landfill. That's direct recycling."

Recycling the Styrofoam has become a revenue source, according to Taylor.

"Waste Management came in to look at our machine because they don't do it," Taylor said.

Due to its ambitious recycling efforts, Abt has reduced the need for a garbage pick-up on a daily basis to just three per week. Store displays are made in-house from recycled materials.

"We've paid for the recycling center in two-and-a-half years by what we've made recycling," Taylor said. "You have to spend money to make money. We're doing good things for the environment and it's good for the pocket book."

The recycling center is free and open to the public. Abt has taken measures to make sure it does recycling properly.

"We don't want to take our pollution and push it off to someone else," Taylor said.

Abt's delivery fleet goes on 9,000 service calls per week and 64 of these trucks run on bio-diesel fuel, which is better for the environment. All used oil, oil filters, coolant and batteries are recycled. Abt has its own car wash and impressively, even the used water is recycled.

Taylor is currently working on moving toward using cleaner fuel for some of Abt's smaller delivery trucks and vans and possibly having a natural gas station.

"It's 80 percent cleaner for the environment," Taylor said.

Abt has made great measures to improve and modernize the building. An energy-conserving, natural-gas-burning generator powers electricity for several hours a day, which is cleaner than burning coal. Motion activated fluorescent lights and energy efficient, extra large fans are in the warehouse. Urban windmills and solar panels reside on the roof, harnessing wind and solar resources. Last year, a 30-foot vertical wind turbine was constructed right outside of the building to create more energy.

"I try to find things that make economic and ecological sense for things with Abt," Taylor said. "Our owners are not afraid to spend a few dollars for these programs.

Abt extends the benefits of going green to its customers. As part of Abt's Trade in Program incentive, customers can trade in their old electronics and receive Abt gift cards to use online or in the store. Customers are encouraged to bring used batteries into the store to recycle them. The employees at Abt diligently educate customers on how to make better and more responsible ecological consumer choices and conservation guidance is available on the website.

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