By Anna Mangum
In consulting with manufacturers across the state, I’m often asked by small and medium-sized manufacturers for advice about where to find sustainability guidance and technical assistance. North Carolina has some terrific free and low-cost resources to help manufacturers achieve better performance, improve efficiency, and adopt more sustainable business practices.
The following five resources are, in my experience, excellent starting points. I have heard from manufacturers who have taken advantage of these programs that they have provided true value. These resources help NC manufacturers uncover opportunities for improvement and create an action list of real steps they can take towards better performance.
1. INDUSTRIAL ASSESSMENT CENTER
Based in NC State University’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department, the Industrial Assessment Center works with manufacturers on energy solutions. Dr. Stephen Terry provides leadership to IAC, and he works alongside some of NC State’s best and brightest energy engineers (undergraduate seniors and graduate students). These students will go out into a manufacturing facility and identify cost-effective energy efficiency strategies. I’ve often seen them provide innovative, out-of-the-box strategies to help manufacturers save money at an attractive ROI. Their assessments—which are of no cost to small and medium-sized manufacturers—are thorough and comparable to those of many professional engineering firms.
2. NCDOL CONSULTATIVE SERVICES BUREAU
Many manufacturers are familiar with the NC Dept. of Labor for compliance requirements, but some have yet to develop a relationship with their Consultative Services Bureau (CSB). CSB has a wealth of health and safety professionals based across the state geared towards proactively helping manufacturers improve their working environment for their employees. They will come out to your facility and assess both health and safety conditions at no cost and give you recommendations for improvement. There are other benefits to engaging in a relationship with NCDOL. For instance, a manufacturer can be pulled off the random compliance checklist for up to two years through a working relationship with CSB. I encourage manufacturers to look on the NCDOL website, fill out a CSB request form and begin to develop a proactive relationship with NCDOL.
3. NCDENR’S ENVIRONMENTAL ASSISTANCE CENTER AND RECYCLING BUSINESS ASSISTANCE CENTER
NC’s Dept. of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) has two resources that I think are outstanding for NC manufacturers. The first is the Environmental Assistance Center (EAC), which provides businesses with advice and hands-on assistance with any number of environmental challenges. The second is the Recycling Business Assistance Center—particularly their NC Recycling Markets Directory. Compared to other states, North Carolina has a particularly strong program for helping manufacturers find recycling outlets for a wide range of solid waste materials. The directory is free and easy to use.
4. IES PROMOTING BUSINESS EXCELLENCE ASSESSMENT
NC State University’s Industrial Extension Service has a unique manufacturing business assessment that I think is best in class. Called Promoting Business Excellence, it’s based in sound manufacturing best practices from across the world, like Baldridge National Quality Award, ISO 9001, and many other accepted industry best practices. It is specifically designed to help manufacturers benchmark their performance against international peer companies. This business assessment really gets to the heart of where a manufacturer holds competitive advantage and where investments are needed. The business excellence assessment is a great benchmarking tool that only costs $500.
5. EPA‘S GREEN SUPPLIERS NETWORK
The Green Suppliers Network is a partnership between U.S. EPA and U.S. Dept. of Commerce to champion manufacturers across the nation who adopt lean manufacturing processes while also being environmentally and energy conscious. The network’s website has great tools and training modules that illustrate how a manufacturer can leverage lean methodologies to improve both environmental and energy performance. Through this network, a manufacturer can also access a Lean & Green Assessment for a fee, but the methodology and training resources on the website are free and I have seen them bring tremendous value to individual manufacturers. Some manufacturers, by implementing this methodology, have identified millions of dollars of opportunities for savings within as short a period of time as three days.
SUSTAINABILITY FROM MANY ANGLES
Sometimes, manufacturers think about sustainability simply in terms of environmental and energy management. I challenge manufacturers in NC to consider a more holistic approach to how they think about sustainability. Best business practices, safety, process efficiency, employee engagement, community engagement—these are all aspects of sustainability. We have tremendous resources in our state to help manufacturers with these issues, and I encourage manufacturers to take advantage of them.
Anna Mangum directs North Carolina’s Sustainable Manufacturing Program, E3: Economy, Energy, Environment at NC State University.
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