Federal Initiative Focuses on Helping Small Manufacturers Implement Sustainable Practices

June 21st, 2011 | Category: Industry News

Like so many others, manufacturing companies in the glass and fenestration industries are continually searching for ways that they can reduce their costs. While lean manufacturing is one effort that has helped many companies become more efficient in their production, sustainability and environmental efforts are also become increasingly important areas of focus. Five Federal Government agencies—the Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Dept. of Labor and Small Business Association–have jointly created the E3 Initiative (Energy, Economy, Environment) that is focused on helping manufacturers implement sustainable manufacturing practices. The E3 initiative is designed to harness the collective programs and competencies of the five agencies to create locally run, green economic initiatives nationwide.

According to Tom Murray, Pollution Prevention Division, with the EPA, the unique aspect of E3 is that it is a collaborative framework that brings together a variety of resources and expertise to create a collaborative effort on manufacturing, particularly manufacturing in communities.

“On the federal side, its agencies working together, all of whom have been focusing on one part of sustainability or one part of manufacturing that are now working together,” said Murray. “It’s focused on the needs of communities [and] on bringing together resources at the community level,” he added, explaining that it targets small to medium sized manufacturers.

The program has been in existence for about a year and half and Murray says it has a lot of benefits for manufacturers.

“What we’ve seen so far is that there has been significant cost-savings on the part of the manufacturers involved in this framework,” he explained. “It is also providing access to technical and financial resources that they might not have known were available.”

Murray talked some about what goes into the framework on-site. He explained that the team visiting the facility is typically made up of representatives from the local DOC’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, a DOE Industry Assessment Center (when there is one nearby), as well as an environmental engineer. He noted that the SBA, DOL and EPA are usually not on-site. “Especially the EPA since facilities don’t particularly like the idea of EPA walking into their facility and we recognize that,” he said.

The assessment is usually a two-three day exercise and day one is about education and training on what they will see happening in their facility.

“We’re looking at the particular processes that could benefit from an assessment, profiling the plant … a lot is collecting basic information and training,” said Murray. “Days two and three are when the real work starts. The team works with the facility and goes through different exercises, data collection, value stream mapping, etc.

“About four weeks later the team comes back with its final report—all of the recommendations, estimates on improved benefits, etc. are given together so it’s all about amplifying results and coordinating efforts,” said Murray.

“The companies focusing only on lean manufacturing and not on some environmental considerations are leaving a lot of cost savings on the table,” he added.

He also addressed the costs involved, noting there is no congressional appropriations for the program at this time, so they are leveraging existing resources.

“We have several projects going on now and they are basically funded through existing grants,” said Murray, explaining there are grants from the DOE, some EPA grants as well as MEP grants, among others.

“We’ve also reached out to foundations, many are interested in the E3 start ups and sometimes it’s local authorities interested in the program. In most cases the facilities themselves chip in some money to be part of the program.”

He added that E3 is run differently in almost every location, explaining that in some areas there is almost no cost at all to the facility, as the companies may receive different contributions, while in other parts of the country the facilities pay about $3,000 to get into the framework and then once they have reached a certain level of implementation local utilities reimburse them the cost; in other areas companies pay the full $3,000.

But Murray notes, “Typically, by contributing that much they are getting back the value just in technical assistance services.” He added, “The reason is that some services are actually free, so for very small amount companies can see a quick return on investment and considerable costs savings.”



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