07/10/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Sustainable Manufacturing

As I speak with CEOs around the country about their current and future priorities, I am encountering a growing interest in sustainable manufacturing. By sustainable manufacturing, I mean essentially the creation of manufactured products with processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities and consumers, are economically competitive and add value.

The sustainability movement can be historically traced to the focus on total quality improvements popularized by the great W. Edwards Deming, whose genius inspired the Japanese quality revolution in the 1950s, and eventually had a tremendous impact on U.S. industry that continues to this day. I have no doubt Deming would be an enthusiastic champion of sustainable manufacturing.

To some, sustainable manufacturing is synonymous with "green manufacturing" and without question environmental concerns are a key aspect of it. The movement is being driven in large part by a new generation of young people who are acutely conscious of threats to our environment and are determined to improve the communities they live in.

A recent survey of nearly 3,000 companies, reported on the Environmental Protection Agency's web site, found that two-thirds agreed that "sustainability was critically important to being competitive in today's marketplace." As an indicator of growing interest in the corporate sector, 93 of the 100 S&P 100 companies offer sustainability information on their web sites.

A variety of companies are in the forefront of this campaign. For example, Anheuser Busch has saved enough water to produce 25 billion cans of beer, saving millions of dollars in the process. Dow Chemical has reduced energy consumption up to 1.5 megawatts per year, saving money and reducing carbon emissions. Freescale Semiconductor's Oak Hill fabrication plant in Austin, Texas, reduced its annual energy consumption by 28 million kWh of electricity and 26,000 million Btu of natural gas between 2006 and 2009, saving more than $2 million each year. What you see from these specific examples are companies that are making improvements in both environmental and economic performance at the same time.

This is truly a grassroots movement sprouting up all over. For example, The Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing at the University of Kentucky will host its third annual forum on the topic this August in Lexington. The 11th annual Global Conference on Sustainable Manufacturing will be hosted by the Technical University of Berlin, Germany, in September.

Predictably, the EPA devotes a good deal of attention to this movement, offering an array of interesting "Sustainable Manufacturing Tools" that companies can use to guide their efforts to get on board. It also offers a series of case studies of various projects underway to promote sustainability. This material is very provocative and I should think of great value. I urge companies to visit Clearly, sustainable manufacturing is the wave of the future.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. Jerry is available for speaking engagements. July 2013