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'It's not about hugging trees. It's business'

Walking on sunshine: Shoresh sandals factory converts to 100% solar energy

Company says it created its own mini-grid with solar panels everywhere and switched its fleet to all-electric, as other firms also eye ways to go net zero on carbon emissions

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Yoram Gill, founder and chairman of Shoresh/Source sandals, welcomes Energy Ministry Karine Elharrar and dignitaries at the production plant in Tirat Carmel in northern Israel, September 22, 2022. (Liron Cohen Aviv, for Shoresh/Source)
Yoram Gill, founder and chairman of Shoresh/Source sandals, welcomes Energy Ministry Karine Elharrar and dignitaries at the production plant in Tirat Carmel in northern Israel, September 22, 2022. (Liron Cohen Aviv, for Shoresh/Source)

Shoresh, a maker of beloved local sandals that are de rigueur for post-army trekkers, has become the first manufacturing company in the country, and one of the first in the world, to go off grid and become totally dependent on its own solar energy.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar described the move to sustainability as “pioneering in the full sense of the word,” when she visited Shoresh’s 8,000-square-meter (86,000-square-foot) factory in northern Israel in September.

Company director Yoram Gill, who goes by Yoki, told a climate solutions conference Wednesday that the microgrid model developed at the factory set an example for small to medium companies to transition to zero emissions in just three years.

Founded by Gill and his wife Daniella when they were young trekkers in 1989, the distinctive sandals-in-a-bag firm, known internationally as Source, now has annual revenues of NIS 250 million ($71.3 million) and employs 300 people at its Tirat Carmel factory.

According to Gill, the factory was consuming a million kilowatt hours of electricity each year. (One kilowatt hour is the amount of energy used when a 1,000-watt appliance runs for an hour.) Company vehicles were using 30,000 liters (nearly 8,000 gallons) of gasoline annually and 150 tons of waste were being sent each year to landfills.

All this was generating almost a million kilograms of global warming gases, Gill said, and costing the company more than NIS 1 million ($285,000) a year.

Working with the Heschel Center for Sustainability and the office of the Energy Ministry’s Chief Scientist, which provided half the funding, Shoresh converted to a microgrid model — a small-scale power grid that operates independently.

The company installed photovoltaic solar panels on every possible surface and  bought solar batteries to provide power whenever the sun doesn’t shine.

Yoram ‘Yoki’ Gill, founder and chairman of Shoresh/Source, the first off-grid company in Israel powered totally by the sun, at an event attended by Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and current and former Knesset members, at the factory in Tirat Carmel, northern Israel, on September 22, 2022. (Liron Cohen Avivs for Shoresh/Source)

He replaced all company vehicles with electric ones and installed solar-powered charging stations.

And he ensured that waste is separated at source and that as much as possible is sent for recycling.

Whatever cannot be recycled is to be ground and stored in the hope that the company will get permission for an onsite waste gasification facility.

Yoram ‘Yoki’  Gill, founder and chairman of Shoresh/Source sandals, welcomes Energy Ministry Karine Elharrar and dignitaries at the production plant in Tirat Carmel in northern Israel, September 22, 2022. (Liron Cohen Aviv, for Shoresh/Source)

Gasification is a chemical process in which trash is heated in a low-oxygen environment to break it down into a gas called syngas. Gill wants to use this to generate electricity during the winter.

The factory also monitors energy use to keep it to a minimum.

“Our emissions have dropped from 100 to zero percent, and we’ve saved a lot of money,” Gill said at the conference, which marked the Environmental Protection Ministry’s launch of Zero Hour, which it says will help companies plan and implement strategies for reaching net zero carbon emissions.

Net zero refers to a situation in which a country or a business reduces its carbon emissions as much as possible and offsets what it does emit. This can be done by investing in projects that reduce emissions or that sequester (absorb) carbon dioxide from the air and either use it in industry or convert it into a form that can be buried for a long time.

Adam Ajzensztejn, director of environment and sustainability at Teva Pharmaceuticals, said that his company decided two years ago to put more emphasis on climate action and resilience to climate change.

As part of this, it became the first company in Israel to set science-based targets to cut carbon emissions,  Ajzensztejn said. Emissions within its plants and from its energy suppliers are to be reduced by 25 percent by 2025 and 46% by 2030, compared with a 2019 baseline. Emissions from its supply chain are to be lowered by 25% by 2030 compared with 2020.

Trucks drive in front of Teva Pharmaceutical Logistic Center in the town of Shoham, Israel, on October 16, 2013. (Dan Balilty/AP)

The company has also aligned its reporting on environment, social and governance issues with the Task Force on Financial Disclosure. Spearheaded by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney and chaired by Michael Bloomberg, it sets out the types of information that companies should disclose regarding their exposure to climate-change-related risk.

“ESG and climate change is no longer on the fringe,” Ajzensztejn said. “It’s a business-critical activity and it’s important to just get started. You’ll see it’s a lot easier than you think and Zero Hour will help companies to get going.”

The Dizengoff Center, awarded a Green Globe in 2015 by Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for Israel’s green not-for-profits, was represented by Dan Pilz, co-owner and co-CEO. The center, which opened in Tel Aviv in 1977, was Israel’s first mall and is its most sustainable one today, according to Pilz.

Dan Pilz, co-owner and co-CEO of the Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv. (Guy Hamoy, for the Dizengoff Center)

The firm cut its global warming gas emissions from 7,274 tons in 2014 to 2,591 in 2021, and is aiming to become net zero by 2028, Pilz said. Among the steps it has already taken are replacing all old electrical equipment, moving to natural gas, and composting half a ton of organic waste on site every day.

Solar energy will enable the mall to reach net zero, he went on, adding that emissions were being offset by planting trees — 13,000 to date. Trees absorb carbon dioxide when they photosynthesize.

Cutting emissions was saving Dizengoff Center NIS 1.5 million ($430,000) annually, Pilz said. “It’s not about hugging trees. It’s business.”

A guide explains how crops can be grown hydroponically (in water, without soil) on the roof of the Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv. (Center Park, Dizengoff Center)

The state’s National Transport Infrastructure Company, known as Netivei Israel in Hebrew, has meanwhile completed the tender stage for using the land in and around three highway interchanges for solar panels, according to Adi Gamliel, the company’s director of sustainability development and ESG, and chairman of the Forum for Sustainability ESG Directors in Government Companies in Israel.

The first one will be built in Gedera, in central Israel, with two others to follow, at Beit Kama in the south and Yagur in the north.

Architect’s impression showing how land in and around a large junction in Gedera, central Israel, is to be used for solar panels. (Netivei Israel)

Netivei Israel has also piloted integrating ground rubber from old tires into asphalt in two roads in the Hadera area in central Israel. Gamliel said that after a winter and a summer, the rubber enhanced surface had proven to be more elastic and more resilient to extreme temperatures than regular asphalt. Repaving would be needed at longer intervals, helping to lower maintenance costs, he added.

With no green road standards in Israel, the company adopted an American one to build the country’s first accredited green road, Route 77 from Tel Kashish to Ramat Yishai in northern Israel, Gamliel went on.

Gamliel told The Times of Israel that he was working with the Environmental Protection Ministry to develop an Israeli standard for green roads.

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