Economy, energy and environment initiative might help manufacturers become more efficient, competitive and sustainable

Nov. 15, 2010
Paul Studebaker, CMRP, editorial director, says put your government to work for you.

Sustainability is simple in concept: Just leave the world for the next generation as you would have had the previous generation leave it for you. But it can be complex to implement, especially within the priorities and constraints of the industrial environment. Facilities and maintenance professionals can easily identify a multitude of opportunities to save energy, reduce waste, protect the environment, and preserve jobs while improving long-term viability and profitability. But which should be done now, which later and which perhaps not at all?

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Improving sustainability quickly becomes a task of calculating costs vs. benefits, determining feasibility, setting priorities and gaining approvals. Converting a plant full of possibilities into a rational plan can be a challenge, especially with the limited resources of small- and medium-sized companies. Add in the potential for multiplying the benefits by involving neighboring facilities and the community, and the challenge can be overwhelming.

Your government would like to help. In September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in signing a memorandum of understanding in support of the Economy, Energy and Environment Initiative (E3 Initiative). Its stated goal is to assist small- and medium-sized manufacturers become more efficient, competitive and sustainable through public-private partnerships.

In pilot programs during the past year, the federal agencies worked with local utility companies to strategically coordinate and target concrete assistance, including:

  • Plant-specific assessments to identify and prioritize opportunities to reduce costs and waste, improve productivity and efficiency, and measure greenhouse-gas emissions
  • Training for partners to prevent pollution and reduce toxic chemical use
  • Recruitment, screening and referral services to help employers hire skilled workers
  • Assistance in making adjustments to business and strategic plans to incorporate assessment recommendations
  • Tailored information on available financial resources and training
  • Pre-participation financial stability assessments of potential E3 participating companies
  • Ongoing opportunities to report progress and network with others about benefits and challenges.

The initiative already has successful pilot projects underway in Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Now it’s poised to help your facility. “Working together, the signatories to the E3 agreement offer a holistic, integrated and practical approach to tackling a range of sustainability issues, saving time, building off of each other’s strengths and reducing complexity for manufacturers seeking to lower their energy costs and sharpen their competitive edge,” according to an announcement by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

DOE’s participation in E3 is being coordinated through EERE’s Industrial Technologies Program (ITP). In addition to offering tools and resources for use in E3 projects, ITP is engaging the DOE-sponsored Industrial Assessment centers to provide E3 partners with on-site energy assessments. The energy assessment program has been in place for years and offers a treasure trove of energy-saving best-practice case histories accessible from the ITP site.

Other programs involved in the initiative include EPA’s Green Suppliers Network and Climate Leaders Program; DOC’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership within the National Institute of Standards and Technology; DOL’s Employment and Training Administration; and SBA’s Small Business Development Program.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the initiative is that each project works with a range of experts and stakeholders at the state and local level, including state pollution-prevention programs, state energy offices, mayors and local county executives, utility companies, manufacturing enterprises and universities. These resources may help you and your plant to recognize and implement opportunities that extend beyond your fence and into the local community, such as center-of-excellence, recycling, waste-to-energy and district energy projects.

To get started, see the E3 fact sheet. If the strong whiff of bureaucracy doesn’t daunt you, take a look at the project charter template. Then e-mail or call the listed contacts.

What have you got to lose?

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