FORMER BANKER CLEANS UP OREGON

Michael Wagoner bought Cantel Sweeping in 1993 thinking “how tough can it be?” Twenty-one years later, the company has grown from six to 17 sweeper trucks and from seven to 28 employees while becoming one of the top stewards of the environment.

STEWARDSHIP

Wagoner’s company primarily sweeps parking lots, which can see a lot of trash, including dirty diapers. “Whatever goes down the drain ultimately gets into the storm water system–our creeks and rivers,” says Wagoner. “If you can capture as many pollutants as you can, you can keep it out of the system. Municipalities are finding that it’s cheaper to prevent pollutants from getting into the system than to clean the water once it’s contaminated. Sweeping picks up paper and cups, but it also picks up particles which become pollutants that get into the system. Scientific studies have shown that consistent sweeping reduces these pollutants, thereby providing a cleaner system which provides cleaner drinking water. Everyone wants clean water.”

The guys at Cantel Sweeping take it a step further by separating the debris. “We built a specially designed, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality-approved, separating facility which keeps the sweepings and any contained water from getting back into the storm water system. The dirty water is sent to the sewer and kept out of storm water system. The left over dry debris is then separated through a tumbler of our own design. Trash is removed and the heavy dirt and rock is hauled off to a neighboring rock pit which is just a mile away. If we were to put those heavy items into the waste system, they would have to be hauled 182 miles away to a landfill. So, we are also reducing fuel usage. We take out the glass, metal and plastic bottles to recycle as well. In addition to being environmentally good, we are also saving money.”

Wagoner got to thinking that even though he is reducing the amount of debris and pollutants in our drinking water, his company still uses quite a bit of fuel each year, which he tracks on a spreadsheet. “The exhaust goes into our air, so we joined a local group called Friends of Trees to offset our carbon footprint. Their purpose is to plant trees in urban areas which reduces temperature, provides shade, and filters the air among other benefits to the environment. Each year, in addition to giving money to the organization, we go out and help plant the trees.” Since it’s inception in 1989, volunteers for the organization have planted more than 450,000 trees.

When the leaves fall each year in Oregon, Wagoner’s team brings the leaves back to the facility and picks out the trash by hand before sending the leaves off for composting. He goes to all of this trouble because he feels that, “God has directed us to rule over and care for the Earth. We are not to waste and destroy our resources but to care for them and use them in the service of God and man. Fifty years ago, if no one had cared about the environment, we wouldn’t be living in a good place. I want to ensure that future generations are taken care of. There are long-term benefits for being a good steward and long-term negatives if you don’t.”

Current laws require periodic sweeping of public streets. Wagoner envisions the extension of those laws to private places such as parking lots. “I believe people should be free to do what they want as long as they don’t adversely affect others. Water will run down your property to a neighbor’s property and theoretically you should control that water. It should be clean when it leaves your property. I wouldn’t be surprised to see laws requiring drain diapers in catch basins and regular sweeping to catch pollutants before they leave your property.”

BUILDING AND EXPANDING

“That first year in business was a mess,” says Wagoner. “My wife wondered what in the world I had done, but after that year I figured it out.”

Wagoner had gained great experience as an accountant for the biggest bank in Oregon before moving to corporate finance for 10 years and then to treasurer for a leasing company. “I made a lot of money, but after the leasing company shut down, I found myself out of a job. I wanted to be closer to the customer so I went looking for companies to buy.”

Wagoner has built his company through internal growth and aquisitions competitors. “Our customers began requesting more striping and I wanted to be a full service company,” says Wagoner. “With a good base of sweeping properties looking for us to do additional things like striping and power washing, it grew naturally. I also found that when you get into a new area, you need to have a champion within the company––someone who really wants to delve deep into that new area. We have a champion for striping and pressure washing. Some sweeper companies get into landscaping, paving and sealcoating, but that isn’t us. At this time, we don’t have a champion for those services.”

Wagoner adds that you need to go with what you know and do what you are best at doing. “The type of crews that we have, our equipment and expertise lends itself to striping and pressure washing. We do parking lot sweeping mostly at night. When you get into landscaping, pavement repair and other areas, it would be like starting a second business because it is difficult to interchange day and night work.”

STRIPING

“When I bought the company, they had one striping machine and a tiny trailer. Now we have seven Graco line lasers for striping and a large trailer. They work great.”

For paint, you have the choice between water-based and oil-based paint. “I like using oil-based paint because it dries much faster. Even though we are striping at night, we are trying to get the parking lot open quickly.”

SWEEPING

Wagoner takes his certification through NAPSA seriously. “As a NAPSA Certified Sweeper Company, and a member of the World Sweeping Association, we agree to follow certain ethics. Among those ideals is that business should be conducted with honesty and integrity. We agree to comply with all laws. You don’t dump your sweepings in a forest or on someone else’s property. We follow best management practices and take care of what we sweep up. In my case, I see us following those ethical ideals by using our debris separating facility and recycling what we can.”

When it comes to sweeping, Wagoner and his crew like to use Schwarze and Victory. “It’s like you’re either a Ford or a Chevy guy,” says Wagoner of his choice.

A new environmental technology, permeable pavement, has been developed and is seen in Oregon as a good environmental solution. Permeable pavement can be pervious concrete, porous asphalt or porous pavers. It is being tested by the EPA in New Jersey as a way to provide green parking lots. The idea is that storm water will percolate through the material which will also act like a filter. “It’s a great idea, but no one has come up with a good way to clean it. I’ve talked to engineers that designed it and they say it needs to be cleaned, but there isn’t a good solution. You can run a sweeper over it, but you need a way to clean into the crevices. I think once a good solution is developed, municipals will encourage properties to put permeable pavement in.”

Wagoner’s stewardship will help ensure not only the future of his company, but also our quality of life for future generations.

RESOURCES
Graco: http://www.graco.com
Schwarze: www.schwarze.com
Victory: http://www.victorysweepers.com

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