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Sustainability ‘common sense’ when considering business improvement

Gordon Aluminum partners with WMEP to achieve long-term goals

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June 10, 2024

SCHOFIELD – Sustainability, A.J. Gordon – third-generation CEO of Gordon Aluminum – said isn’t a topic going away anytime soon, and it’s up to individual companies to figure out what it means to them.

Some businesses, like Gordon Aluminum, he said, are using sustainability as a tool for business improvement and growth.

“Everybody is an environmentalist if it gets them where they want to go,” he said.

A closer look

Gordon Aluminum – located at 1000 Mason St. in Schofield – was founded in 1958 by Alexander J. Gordon and his son, Jack Gordon.

It is an ISO-certified aluminum extrusion business providing extruded, fabricated, bent and finished aluminum parts for a variety of products, including:

  • Windows, doors and curtain walls
  • Industrial products
  • Commercial and theater lighting
  • Specialty vehicles, such as fire, rescue, military and delivery
  • After-market firearms market.

A.J. – who became president of Gordon Aluminum in 2004 and then CEO in 2011 – said aluminum, by nature, is a highly sustainable material and can be recycled an infinite number of times and with less energy input than other products of comparable strength.

He said Gordon Aluminum strives to continuously improve its production efficiency, which in turn lowers energy costs and produces less scrap material.

Today, 99% of Gordon Aluminum’s production scrap, A.J. said, is recycled and returned as raw material.

And though a commitment to sustainability has helped the company reduce costs and provide a stable, dependable source of competitively priced products, A.J. said, like any business, Gordon Aluminum had to start somewhere.

A different look

A.J. said it is important for businesses to tell their sustainability story.

Many North Central Wisconsin businesses, he said, are already working toward sustainability and don’t realize it.

That, A.J. said, was the realization Gordon Aluminum came to when it decided to partner with the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP) – a specialized, not-for-profit organization that provides targeted consulting services for Wisconsin manufacturers.

Gordon Aluminum services a wide range of industries, from building and industrial products to specialty vehicles and more. Photo Courtesy of Gordon Aluminum

WMEP, he said, works with hundreds of manufacturers each year, helping them become more profitable and valuable in their respective industries by helping them develop and implement effective solutions that address their business’ challenges.

“Gordon Aluminum’s sustainability journey is an excellent one for others to emulate,” Greg Gaspar, sustainability and certification services leader with WMEP, said.

A.J. said Gordon Aluminum’s relationship with WMEP began in 2011.

“LEAN manufacturing is what we had started (working) with them (on),” he said.

At the same time, Gaspar said WMEP was piloting its Profitable Sustainability Initiative and asked if Gordon Aluminum would want to participate.

Participating in WMEP’s initiative, A.J. said, catapulted the company’s sustainability success as it forced them to look at the business in new ways.

“We started running processes more efficiently,” he said.

For example, the company began running 2,000 pounds an hour rather than 1,500 pounds an hour of extrusion.

“You were getting, in a way, a 33% energy savings,” he said.

A.J. said the company also started holding weekly meetings and supervisors began talking more with employees on the floor to get their ideas on potential improvements.

“It’s a good way to engender a good vibe (when everyone has input),” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can focus on that don’t cost any money.”

A.J. said he encourages other businesses to have “an open dialogue with their employees” about their sustainability ideas.

“Let’s give people wins, so when a larger project comes along that requires a change, they will be on board,” he said. 

Gaspar said starting small and focusing on what made business sense for them has, for Gordon Aluminum, “translated into a transformational journey that is grounded in pragmatic, meaningful actions.”

“These efforts have also provided Gordon Aluminum with a differentiator they can leverage in the marketplace and also be used for recruiting prospective individuals who are interested in joining the organization,” Gaspar said.

Along the way, A.J. said Gordon Aluminum learned, “if you’re looking for the biggest gains in energy usage and sustainability… you’re looking at human efficiency.”

“Gordon Aluminum employees worked diligently to address material intensity, and this effort has yielded substantial results in its greenhouse gas reduction efforts,” Gaspar said.

A.J. said the company has also made some major investments that have aided it in its sustainability journey.

“In 2014, we bought a new extrusion press, which essentially made it possible for us to decommission two extrusion presses (that were from the 1950s and early 1960s),” he said.

Each day, A.J. said, Gordon Aluminum recycles 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of aluminum.

“So, if we use 100,000 pounds of extrusion billet, that’s our raw material (which is used to fulfill customer orders) – we produce aluminum scrap,” he said. “About 15% is endemic to the extrusion process… and then there are things we’re doing – cutting metal and fabricating it.”

The remaining scrap, A.J. said, is sent to Matalco, Inc. in Wisconsin Rapids to be recycled back into billet, which is then returned to Gordon Aluminum for reuse.

A.J. Gordon

“Aluminum can keep going and going – it never ends,” he said.

The installation of new billet ovens, A.J. said, has also contributed to Gordon Aluminum’s overall efficiency.

The old ovens, he said, were 60% efficient, while the new ovens are 85-90% efficient.

“The less scrap you produce, the more efficient you are,” he said.

Focusing on sustainability, A.J. said, has made work easier for employees at Gordon Aluminum.

The $15-million investment for the new extrusion press and full plant automation, he said, meant Gordon Aluminum went from three presses to two with greater output and more than 25% less energy consumption.

The $2-million investment to replace the billet furnace and other equipment on the older press, A.J. said, resulted in a 20% energy reduction.

It’s important, he said, for businesses to think practically about sustainability.

“I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do, and it also helps me produce my product better,” he said. “I approach it from a practical standpoint. For me, it’s simple common sense. If you can do this (produce a product) with less carbon, less fuel… it just makes sense.”

Today impacts tomorrow

In addition to WMEP’s Profitable Sustainability Initiative, A.J. said Gordon Aluminum also participates in the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s Green Masters Program – which focuses on cost-effective ways to advance and integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) actions across an organization. 

The Green Masters Program, A.J. said, has given Gordon Aluminum a way to start quantifying sustainability.

“The Green Masters stamp certifies (companies) have these processes in place,” he said.

For more information on WMEP Manufacturing Solutions, see

For more information on the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, visit

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