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Abt's Power of Green!

Micah Materre, Reporter / Pam Grimes, Producer / Steve Scheuer, Photojournalist

September 21, 2009

CHICAGO - Abt Electronics in Glenview, one of the largest, single, electronics stores in the world, is once again pushing the power of green. In addition to an on-site recycling center, they've added solar panels and windmills. And as WGN-tv's Micah Materre reports, now YOU can too.

The atrium of Abt is known to shoppers for it's vaulted glass ceiling, fountains,and plants. But, let your eyes follow the sign's arrow up, and you'll see a couple of recent additions.

"They're called urban windmills cause don't look like big fans. They're simple spires", says Mike Abt, the oldest Abt son. Yes, Abt is a name, not an abbreviation. Mike is the biologist in the family and leads the green team. "Chicago's a pretty windy place and if you get 'em up high they produce enough power to light a few rooms. They're really neat looking. They're kinda like a sculpture and they actually do something, create power."

Newly installed solar panels on the roof of West School in Glencoe, came from Abt.

"I want to make sure I can knock on a door if something isn't working right," says West Principal Dave Rongey. He purchased the panels from the nearby store after winning a state grant. They're not producing a lot of power. But, it's the educational opportunities for third and fourth graders that fire him up.

"They're working beautifully! You can click on the little sun at the top of our web page and see just how much electricity is being generated. "The idea is to inspire that through technology, we can make a difference."

Mike Abt says, "Anytime people can go more green... I'm excited!"

Abt started recycling it's own waste 23 years ago. But, during better economic times and cheaper gas, Mike Abt says people didn't want to hear the green message. They do now.

"There's something called Energy Star. And we've always tried to educate people on what that means and how you can save money in the long run by buying a product that costs a little bit more money now, but it's worth it cause it will save them energy later. This has been popular in Europe, but the United States has yet to embrace that, but now we're starting to."

Greater interest, combined with bigger and better manufacturers of renewable energy equipment, are allowing Abt to branch out. They've now added solar panels and windmills to their product lines for both residential and commercial use. Wondering what to do with old tvs, computers, and appliances? Abt's on-site recycling center is open to the public.

Abt's Director of Operations Bob Taylor, shows us around. "Everything that's brought back, we're trying to find a way to recycle it. These are our corrugated cardboard bales. They weight about 2500 pounds. And it comes from our appliances when we deliver it to the home. We produced basically two tractor trailer loads a week which adds up to about three-and-a-half million pounds or cardboard per year that Abt's recycling. This is one of the new machines we've just put in the recycling center. It recycles styrofoam which takes about a thousand years to degrade in a landfill."

A 53 foot truck load of styrofoam now fills a bag about the size of a desk. Instead of going into a landfill, they're shipped overseas as raw material for picture frames and plastic woods. Com-ed is currently offering rebates for people who responsibly recycle their working refrigerators. And watch for the cash for refrigerators program coming soon that's part of the President's economic recovery plan. Abt also uses natural gas to create it's own power with two very loud, locomotive engines. Bob Taylor built that too. "During the day between 9:00 in the morning 'til 6 at night, we produce our own power. That's when Com-ed usually has high rates for commercial customers."

He says the generator room paid for itself in four-and-a-half years. Those are the big energy savers. But, Abt also has little green practices. Old batteries and small electronics get recycled in boxes scattered throughout the store. Caterers bring food in, so employees don't have to go out for meals. And warehouse lights automatically dim when no one is working there.

MIKE says, "A lot of companies only look at Earth day as the green day...and it really is every day."

Mike Abt believes businesses with bigger budgets should be the pioneers, taking the financial risks and testing earth friendly practices and products that will pave the way for their employees and customers to become green. There is so much more about Abt's own successes as well as a few mis-steps righter here at Wgntv.com. And, we'll be happy to send the video link for this story to your phone if you text the word "Cover" for Cover Story to 97999.

© 2009, WGN-TV