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by Katie Kross

“Our lean and green manufacturing review produced enough opportunities for them to work on for two years. Three days of time [doing the assessment] yield two years’ worth of opportunities.” Anna Mangum, director of the E3 North Carolina Initiative at NC State University, can cite dozens of examples like this. In just two years’ time, the E3 program—which stands for Economy, Energy, and the Environment—has helped more than 33 NC manufacturers identify process efficiency improvements, waste reduction strategies, and lean manufacturing tactics. These efforts often have the triple benefit of saving money, creating jobs, and reducing impact to the environment.

Take Thermo Fisher Scientific in Asheville. “We helped them save ten percent on their energy bill immediately, based on the energy assessment,” Mangum says. “They are on the path to zero waste to landfill.  Their commitment to sustainability was one of the reasons their corporate office awarded them a new product line. Because of that, they added over 100 jobs at their facility.”

The E3 program, a federally funded program housed under NC State’s Industrial Extension Service (IES), brings together a network of economic development, business, and environmental partners to improve the efficiency of small and mid-sized NC manufacturers.  The process begins with a 5-part assessment that includes a “lean and green” manufacturing review, business excellence review, worker safety review, energy assessment, and carbon footprint analysis.  Some of the manufacturers pay for this service, while others receive the service free of charge through “scholarship” funding.  All, however, are expected to put some funds into escrow to pay for the implementation of recommendations.


E3 program results are measured and verified by an independent third party.  One manufacturer made improvements that resulted in a reported $10 million in economic impact last year. Nine manufacturers that have gone through the complete process and implemented E3 recommendations have already realized a combined $5.2 million in cost savings.  They include manufacturers from a range of industries—textiles, automotive parts, appliances, food products, and  furniture.


Learn more: NC manufacturers talk about their experience in this E3 video


Because E3 involves engaging not just the manufacturing, but local economic development partners and business support agencies, it is only available to manufacturers in designated “E3 communities”—currently North Carolina has 18 E3 communities across the state. “We especially want to work with rural counties,” Mangum notes. The NC Rural Economic Development Center is one of their funding and programmatic partners.

Mangum adds that there are also plenty of resources available to manufacturers beyond E3.  “Any small or mid-size manufacturer can get a free energy assessment through the Industrial Assessment Center,” she advises.

Looking long-term, Mangum envisions expanding the number of E3 communities and strengthening the support networks. She hopes to create regional sustainability councils in E3 communities, in which manufacturers can share best practices, resources, and ideas with each other.