In today’s litigious and media-driven landscape, in which a disparaging article can cause boycotts and potentially destroy businesses, companies in all industries need to stay ahead of the curve. It’s no longer about global warming, it’s about climate change. Paired with this, it’s no longer enough to do just enough to remain compliant, you need to show that you are a leader in your field.

Over the years, we have looked to highlight the risks of noncompliance, discuss the increased media focus on an ever-consolidating paint industry, explore the questionable-yet-creative ways activists and attorneys are attacking compliant businesses, and offer advice on how you can affordably control pollution at your plant.

Today, however, we would like to take a step back and explore one of the most talked-about concepts in the manufacturing industry today: Sustainability.

Sustainability in Manufacturing

While not a new concept for manufacturers, sustainability has reemerged as a hot topic on the National Association of Manufacturers’ website. This, of course is a good thing—manufacturers across industries are taking steps to show a commitment to improvement that doesn’t require increased regulation.

However, it does require businesses to rethink the way they work and find ways to increase sustainability while maintaining profitability. It may feel like the cost of being a trailblazer is steep, but remember, it pales in comparison to the cost of compliance (or worse, noncompliance).

80% of Manufacturers Have a Sustainability Plan in Development or in Place

Whether it’s in the form of plans to reduce energy consumption, increase recycling or recyclability of products, decrease water use, or minimize emissions, a variety of strategies exist to increase organizational sustainability. A recent NAM study discussed this sustainability movement, noting that

“Manufacturers will continue to lead by minimizing their environmental footprint, reducing air emissions, conserving critical resources, protecting biodiversity, limiting waste and producing safe products and solutions so others in the economy can do the same.”

This study explored a variety of topics, but found that 80.2 percent of NAM member companies are either developing or have a corporate responsibility or sustainability policy, program and/or goals (71.9 percent current, 8.3 percent developing).

While driven by “very large” organizations (more than 5,000 employees), even small and medium manufacturers are moving to do something—50% of small manufacturers (fewer than 100 employees) and 68.1% of medium manufacturers have implemented or are in the process of setting responsibility and/or sustainability goals.

This makes sense, as it’s often harder for small manufacturers to identify energy-saving opportunities and sustainability strategies, and even harder to bring in a dedicated corporate social responsibility person to a small firm.

How Firms Can Start Their Path to Sustainability

The journey of a thousand miles all starts with a single step. Small and midsized organizations are rarely considered “part of the problem” by activists, but even a step in the right direction could help your firm look good and prepare for cost of compliance if a bill or regulation does come into play.

No matter what sized organization you are, understanding where to start, what you or others are already doing, and setting realistic goals are all important to the long-term success of your sustainability initiatives.

Know What Others Are Doing

The NAM Study looked at some of the tactics and strategies manufacturers of all sizes are taking to increase their sustainability, noting that many companies are doing the following:

  • 8% of Manufacturers track energy usage
  • 3% have a recycling program in place
  • 3% track water usage.
  • 2% track waste generation (driven by small manufacturers)

Set Baselines

As discussed in the previous point, a majority of organizations are already doing something—even if they don’t have a dedicated sustainability employee or program in place. In fact, some of the smallest respondents were among the most likely to place importance on tracking waste generation (92.9 percent), energy usage (78.6 percent) and recycling (71.4 percent).

By understanding your industry, your processes, and your company itself, you have a starting point. From here, you can begin to take steps to create a documented program, setting goals and ultimately planning next steps.


Once you have identified a baseline for your company, it’s time to create a scorecard to track success. To help with hard numbers, look into your company’s bills for the last 12 months to begin seeing the big picture on where you may be falling short and where potential cost saving opportunities may be present.

Define Sustainability for Your Organization

What does sustainability mean to you? What does it mean to your clients, your investors, or your community? There are many ways to incorporate sustainable operating practices into your business that aren’t just a commitment to being green.

Part of Your Business Model

For some, sustainability is a smart business model—finding ways to reduce air pollution could include finding an innovative or affordable way to decrease the cost of pollution abatement.

Many companies realize that they may be able to save money by switching to regenerative thermal,  catalytic oxidation or by also using a rotary concentrator. Others recognize that their current air pollution control product has become inefficient to run. If sustainability saves you money, it’s a good argument—62% of respondents considered their own business model as a leading reason they moved to sustainability.

Market, Consumer, or Customer Demands

Going green is good marketing. Sustainability is even more so. If you feel that your commitment to sustainability is going to increase revenue, there is an argument to be made for using this as your goal. A simple change in packaging, a commitment to recycling, or a publicly available document discussing your initiatives could go a long way in making your company look better to consumers or end users.

Preparing for Regulations

As certain politicians get more aggressive, it’s only a matter of time before the political landscape shifts and regulations change with it. Regulatory shifts are inevitable, and the supply of companies able to help you meet them is limited. Preparing to be compliant now is much more affordable than scrambling to fix your processes later.

Set Goals

What do you hope to accomplish by the end of next year, five years from now, or even further out? Even a one percent reduction to water usage, emissions, or energy intensity demonstrates a reasonable commitment to sustainability. Paired with this, you could focus on reducing spills, minimizing hazardous landfill waste, or increasing safe handling and transport procedures to increase worker safety—all things documented in a common sustainability plan.

Start small, be realistic, and break lofty goals into small chunks. This will help your team to feel less overwhelmed as you move from current procedures.

Get to Work, Track, and Reevaluate

With definitions and goals in place, now comes action. Again, with data in hand, and goals in place, you can start to take action. Again, start small—half-percent improvements mean your company will be better than it was. A year from now, see how you are doing, reevaluate your goals, and plan for the next phase.

Make Sustainability Affordable

Custom VOC abatement solutions can help you abide by environmental regulations, but they can also make your sustainability goals more affordable and your company more competitive. Technology in air pollution control has gotten more efficient and has helped companies reduce operating costs while increasing sustainability.

At The CMM Group, we specialize in manufacturing custom RTOs as well as alternative systems designed to control VOCs and other pollutants. Get to know more about our work, download our VOC abatement guide, and contact us to discuss your air pollution control needs.

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