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Sustainable Business Practices Highlighted in Visit to Seattle Plants

This July, a nationwide facilities tour of leaders in sustainable business practices was launched in Seattle, Washington. The kick-off event and subsequent tours will highlight the importance of using practices that bring environmental and economic benefits.

by Matthew Howard

On July 13, 2009, the importance of sustainable manufacturing and supply chain practices to companies’ bottom lines was highlighted at a Seattle, Washington, tour called "Sustainability 360: An Aerospace Supply Chain Event." Mary Saunders, acting assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, launched the first of this series of 2009 tours throughout the country.

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Mary Saunders (second from left), acting assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, at Tyee Aircraft in Seattle, Washington, July 13, 2009. She was leading the Department of Commerce’s Sustainability 360: An Aerospace Supply Chain Event, which showcased the benefits of sustainable business practices in an aerospace manufacturing supply chain. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
Mary Saunders (second from left), acting assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, at Tyee Aircraft in Seattle, Washington, July 13, 2009. She was leading the Department of Commerce’s "Sustainability 360: An Aerospace Supply Chain Event," which showcased the benefits of sustainable business practices in an aerospace manufacturing supply chain. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)

 

Sustainability 360 showcased the benefits of sustainable business practices in an aerospace manufacturing supply chain. It began with a presentation at Puget Sound Energy, a local utility, and continued with site visits to Tyee Aircraft, Goodrich Aerostructures, and Boeing Company.

“When suppliers become more sustainable, the benefits extend throughout the supply chain,” said Saunders. “It decreases risks and costs for the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] because components can be made more efficiently, with fewer hazardous materials and often at a lower cost. Supplier competitiveness then translates into OEM competitiveness.”

Sustainable Manufacturing

The Department of Commerce defines sustainable manufacturing as the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts; conserve energy and natural resources; are safe for employees, communities, and consumers; and are economically sound.

Recently, interest in sustainable manufacturing practices has grown because companies have realized that they can incorporate manufacturing processes that are both environmentally and economically sound. Firms can then gain a competitive advantage through cost savings, lower costs of compliance with environmental and health regulations, and potentially increased marketability for their products and services.

Today, manufacturers face many pressures to become more environmentally sustainable. For example, many retailers, OEMs, and consumers now demand more sustainable and cost-competitive products. Also, government regulators often require more environmentally sound and safe products. And manufacturers face internal cost pressures from rising energy and materials costs and competition.

Industry’s Influence and Role

The environmental impact from U.S. industry is significant, although many advances in natural resource efficiency and pollution prevention have been made in recent decades. Today, industry uses around one-third of all generated energy in the United States, and it consumes many natural resources, including 9 percent of U.S. water withdrawals. Therefore, as energy and materials costs grow, so do the potential benefits of sustainable manufacturing practices to U.S. global competitiveness and firm profitability.

The Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative

In 2007, to enhance U.S. competitiveness and firm profitability, the Manufacturing and Services unit of the International Trade Administration created the Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative (SMI). Its goals are to identify U.S. industry’s most pressing sustainability challenges and to coordinate public- and private-sector efforts to address those challenges. (See sidebar.)

SMI has worked to achieve its goals by conducting regional facilities tours similar to Sustainability 360. In 2008, such tours were held in St. Louis, Missouri; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Rochester, New York.

Typically, each of the events has drawn approximately 30 local business and government representatives, who were able to see the benefits to U.S. companies. For instance, those benefits come from incorporating cleaner, more resource-efficient technologies and product life-cycle approaches in companies’ manufacturing processes.

SME Focus

SMI has been particularly successful in getting small and medium-sized enterprises to tour facilities in a given regional supply chain that use sustainable manufacturing or business processes—or otherwise encourage the use of those practices. The tours give participants an opportunity to ask questions and to see real-world demonstrations of how sustainability practices have helped firms compete.

“The event was a great networking opportunity to hear about what our peers in the aerospace industry are doing to become more sustainable and ultimately more competitive in a market that is becoming increasingly difficult due to the entrance of foreign firms,” remarked Rachel Kosmin of Avtech Corporation, a participant in the Sustainability 360 tour. “You often hear about companies who have implemented lean practices, but seeing them in action helped me see how we could integrate these ideas into our daily processes.”

Matthew Howard is team lead for industry competitiveness and outreach in the International Trade Administration’s Manufacturing and Services unit.

 

 

The Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative

In 2007, the International Trade Administration’s Manufacturing and Services unit identified a need for U.S. government involvement in sustainable manufacturing. It then conducted extensive consultations with public- and private-sector stakeholders to develop its Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative (SMI). SMI is a unique program that supports and encourages manufacturers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to implement practices that lower costs and improve the environment.

Apart from organizing tours of manufacturing facilities, SMI has done the following:

• Established an interagency task force on sustainable manufacturing to formulate comprehensive sustainability solutions for U.S. businesses.

• Created a central online clearinghouse of U.S. government programs and resources that support sustainable business practices. (A preliminary clearinghouse is currently available on SMI’s Web site. A more expansive and searchable site will be available in fall 2009.)

• Initiated a study within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to establish an internationally accepted framework and toolkit of metrics for sustainable manufacturing that would help businesses measure the cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits of sustainable business practices.

For more information on SMI, visit its Web site at www.manufacturing.gov/sustainability.