Sustainability: Buzzword or Buzzworthy?

By Anna Mangum.

Sustainability can be described as an elusive and vague term or even a buzz word in industry. However, many companies have embraced the concept with action. To most, sustainability is associated with the triple bottom line approach of people, planet profit. Much like continuous improvement, sustainability is an ongoing mindset to set goals and promote improved performance. So how does a business get started on a more sustainable path? There are endless metrics to consider, tools for tracking, assistance programs and even certifications. Sustainability will look different for every business, but the first and biggest step is to make the commitment to change and begin a shift in culture.

Many U.S. manufacturers have started their sustainability journey by participating in the E3 initiative. E3: Economy, Energy, Environment is framework which leverages federal, state and local resources to simultaneously increase the sustainable practices and profitability of manufacturers. The initiative began in 2009 through the partnership of five federal agencies: Environmental Protection Agency, NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Department of Labor, Department of Energy, and the Small Business Administration. E3 provides manufacturers with assessments to evaluate their performance relative to the triple bottom line as well as resources and support of implementing an improvement plan.

The E3 North Carolina initiative is one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has enlisted industry advocates from across the state to pool their resources and expertise to impact individual manufacturers and communities. Manufacturers who enroll receive a suite of technical assessments which include: business excellence, process improvement, environmental stewardship, energy efficiency, and worker safety. As an output of their assessment activity they are provided a road map to improvement performance. Communities use the program as driver for economic development and a platform for sharing industry best practices. In short, E3 North Carolina provides technical assistance and drives smarter government to serve and support manufacturing.

Early results have indicated success for E3 NC. Individual company results include a 67% increase in production output, creation of new recycling streams, immediately reduced energy bills and improved employee engagement.