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The Green Manufacturing Scene

By: Sara Garretson

July 31, 2007

The Cost of Going Green
In a May, 2007 article in Industry Week, Jonathan Katz reported that U.S. manufacturers are shouldering almost two-thirds of the expense of complying with new green regulations, at an average cost of $4,850 per employee.

The risks of going green can create challenges but they can also be rewarding. Companies that seize the initiative and implement new processes or develop green products will quickly gain competitive advantage while controlling their costs. Manufacturing industry expert, Nabil Nasr, Director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology recommends a strategy of embracing green technology as a marketing advantage and warns against simply "chasing compliance."

The Economic Advantages of Going Green
Market development strengthens the economy and delivering new green products to new green markets is no exception. Job creation fosters economic growth and an investment in green manufacturing is therefore an investment in our economy. Right now, New York City, government is funding a series of initiatives to support the growth of an environmentally friendly building industry and economic development organizations are helping local firms to adapt to an emerging business opportunity. Spec It Green: The Contractor's Advantage is a series of workshops designed specifically for building professionals sponsored by the New York City Council and hosted by two economic development groups, the Industrial and Technology Assistance Corporation (ITAC) and the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN). The series has helped local contractors better understand and manage sustainability issues. It has also created a community of small manufacturers who are sharing their knowledge and experience as they pioneer new manufacturing techniques. Some have developed new green products together and others have worked together to become suppliers or distributors of these new products.

Because going green affects everything — the development of products, processes and materials — it can be very challenging for small companies. At the same time, market changes are creating unprecedented opportunity. Companies that know they need to adapt quickly and are able to seek help to support their efforts, can develop innovative green products and dramatically increase business.

One example of an early green adaptor is Visual Graphic Systems, a manufacturer of architectural and food service signage. The company's CEO, Joyce Healy, had been exposed to green manufacturing at a breakfast presentation a year ago. At about the same time, some progressive clients started asking questions about environmentally friendly products. In order to change the thinking and product approach of the staff, Joyce asked ITAC to create and deliver a series of workshops in the plant. ITAC, with Jacquie Ottman, principal organizer of Design Green the Eco-Design Educational Initiative and author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation, jointly trained 20 VGS staffers, from sales reps to the paint and printing plant supervisors, in two four-hour sessions with homework in between.

One homework assignment was to determine the environmental impact of one of the company's products and report back on it the following week. This exercise gave attendees a better sense of the impact they could have on the environment and generated lots of enthusiasm. Subsequently, VGS implemented a recycling program that increased their recycling rate to a dramatic 80% in a single month! They have also started their own sustainable materials "library," making information about green materials readily available to their designers; and, they have begun to improve the way they package products for shipping, reducing their amount of material waste.

Several custom projects for large clients are now underway and the design team has already developed a new brochure to market a green product line. "Going green made sense environmentally but it also made sense economically," says Healy. "It's a great bonus to create a competitive advantage while doing the right thing."

Resources for Local Manufacturers
Many resources — both government and private — are available to companies who want to reduce their environmental footprint and/or develop green processes or product lines. Too often, however, companies in need of these resources aren't aware that they exist or don't know how to access them. Navigating through this complex maze of loans, grants, tax incentives, research partnerships and access to product analysis and testing isn't easy. What small companies need is a way in.

These local businesses need special matchmakers, connecting them to the resources they require to become more environmentally friendly or to respond to other market changes. Economic development organizations with an eye on green growth can provide access to this information and can also act as advocates for small businesses because they are intimately involved with these companies and their markets. Whether a company needs material testing, process improvement, waste management, recycling assistance or product planning--whether it needs to identify new markets, purchase machinery or solve a technical problem, assistance is available. Often, this help is government subsidized or provided at very reasonable rates by organizations that exist to ensure that small businesses survive and thrive.


Sara Garretson is the President of Industrial and Technical Assistance Corporation (ITAC), serving small business in NYC since 1987.
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