Sustainable Manufacturing Minimizes Environmental Impact While Improving Bottom Line
Department of Commerce leads Sustainable Manufacturing American Regional Tours to promote benefits for the environment and business.
by Slade Broom
Sustainable manufacturing seeks to profitably produce goods while minimizing a firm’s environmental impact, natural resource use, and energy consumption. Evidence shows that companies that use both environmentally and economically sound manufacturing practices can gain significant competitive advantages.
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|William G. Sutton, assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services, responds to press questions about the importance of sustainable manufacturing at the SMART event in Rochester, New York, on September 23, 2008. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
ITA’s Manufacturing and Services unit is helping to expand the visibility of resource-efficient and environmentally friendly processes that lead to cost-effective, competitive products through the Sustainable Manufacturing American Regional Tour (SMART). William G. Sutton, assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing and services, launched SMART on July 28, 2008, in St. Louis, Missouri. Participants at the launch toured Sunnen Products Company, a precision-machining systems manufacturer that uses energy-efficient technologies and recycles to increase profitability and competitiveness.
“Sustainability is integral to American manufacturing’s continued global leadership and growth,” Sutton noted. “SMART showcases U.S. companies that have become more competitive and profitable through sustainable production practices, helping other businesses learn from these successes.”
The September 3, 2008, SMART event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, featured tours of production facilities for Steelcase and Herman Miller, office furniture manufacturers; Rapid-Line, a metal fabrication specialist; and Cascade Engineering, a leader in engineered plastic systems and components. Practices exhibited by those companies covered a wide range of approaches toward sustainability, including groundbreaking investments in wind power and innovative heat and energy management techniques, as well as funding in eco-friendly design and ambitious recycling and take-back programs.
Tours of Eastman Kodak, Xerox, and Harbec Plastics highlighted the most recent SMART event on September 23, 2008, in Rochester, New York. All three Rochester-based companies have benefited from sustainable practices. Kodak has reduced its total energy usage by 36 percent since 2002. Xerox has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2012. Harbec Plastics has transitioned to all electric presses that have lowered energy costs up to 50 percent while increasing processing speed and cycle time. The practices illustrate a proud, long-standing culture of U.S. innovation that is both technological and process oriented, as well as a culture of environmental stewardship.
Developing Sustainable Manufacturing Metrics
While in Rochester, Sutton addressed the International Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing (ICSM), which was jointly sponsored by the Department of Commerce, the Rochester Institute for Technology, and the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.
ICSM provided further opportunities for companies to examine manufacturing sustainability and featured presentations from a range of domestic and international public- and private-sector experts. The forum is helping to develop sustainable manufacturing metrics for the automotive and consumer electronics sectors, and its aim is to provide industry with a means to benchmark products and production processes. An initial draft of the metrics is anticipated in early 2009.
“Being a good corporate citizen isn’t just the right way to operate: it is the profitable way to operate,” Sutton said. “The companies highlighted in SMART have shown that going green helps their image, attracts new customers, and boosts their bottom line.”
Slade Broom is an international trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Manufacturing and Services unit.