According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), manufacturing accounts for almost a quarter (23%) of direct carbon emissions in the U.S. To help reverse this trend, manufacturers must commit to implementing changes that will help reduce their carbon footprint. While some companies are already taking steps towards reducing the amount of carbon emissions their plants produce, many are still searching for solutions to help address this issue.
Barriers that may cause manufacturers to delay their journey towards adopting more carbon-efficient practices include: rushing to meet customer and market demands for faster production and shipping times, dealing with tight budgets, a lack of expertise in sustainable manufacturing practices, or balancing sustainability projects with other competing priorities. While your company may not be able to overcome these challenges overnight, the good news is there are several practical and cost-effective actions you can take to reap the benefits of improved efficiency in the long term.
If your team is looking for ways to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, here are four steps to get you started in the right direction:
1. Understand what your carbon footprint is. Simply defined, your carbon footprint is the total measure of greenhouse gases (GHG) released in the atmosphere. Different manufacturing processes and equipment, heating and cooling systems, transportation, and worker behaviors can all affect your carbon footprint. Even actions such as employees leaving personal fans or heaters on, changing the thermostat (which can be centrally controlled to prevent this), or leaving certain doors open can all make an impact, which is why it is important to identify and take inventory of where your GHG emissions come from.
Once you have a clear view of all the players involved, it will be easier to prioritize your next steps. If you are not sure how to collect this type of data, see below for a list of tools and resources you can use to calculate your GHG emissions:
- GHG Tools and Resources
- Office of Carbon Management
- New Easy-to-Use-Energy Calculator Helps Visualize Energy Production and Consumption
2. Identify improvements you can make today. Rather than trying to solve your most daunting or complicated issues in the beginning, look for changes you can make to create immediate results. This “low hanging fruit”, so to speak, could be actions as simple as turning off equipment when it’s not in use, switching to LED lighting, looking at how you schedule your processes and work shifts, or finding opportunities to complete something when a process is not running to reduce wasted time, energy, and materials.
You could also choose to hold meetings virtually versus in-person if lots of travel is involved. If there is one thing the pandemic helped us lean into, it’s the use of virtual platforms to help us stay connected. These actions may not generate the biggest impact possible, but they are far less intimidating to carry out and can add up over time to create significant improvements and value for your company.
3. Evaluate the next level of opportunities for improving efficiency. After you have identified the immediate changes you can make, you can start to analyze the next level of opportunities for reducing your GHG emissions. Start by assessing your processes and equipment to determine what updates you can make to become more efficient over time. Look for opportunities to replace older equipment, repair energy-wasting leaks, or take care of other maintenance needs. Calculating your First Pass Yield (FPY) will be a crucial step during this process as well. If a product needs rework or is scrapped and a new one must be made, that requires a lot of unnecessary energy. Digitizing business processes by investing in software and online platforms to eliminate the need for printed materials is another way you can save energy.
Since purchasing new equipment and technologies may come with more upfront costs, it is important to understand that you don’t have to make all of these changes at once. Prioritize what improvements are going to lead to the most cost and energy-savings at your plant and develop a strategic plan for moving forward or consider implementing an energy management plan to address all critical aspects of your energy performance needs.
4. Consider renewable energy sources. Investing in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass, can significantly reduce your GHG emissions and help you achieve energy independence. Businesses adopting more sustainable practices to mitigate GHG emissions could also receive tax incentives for their efforts. In the U.S., manufacturers are eligible for two federal tax credits that support clean energy manufacturing in the United States: the Advanced Manufacturing Production Tax Credit (45X MPTC) and the Advanced Energy Project Investment Tax Credit (48C ITC). These credits were expanded with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, so if this has not been looked at in a few years it should be examined again.
While this step may not be an option for all manufacturers right away, due to the cost of installation or geographical limitations, it never hurts to explore your options and consider whether your company could take this path in the future, if the opportunity arises.
For more information on how the GaMEP can help your company reduce your carbon footprint and meet your sustainability needs, visit our energy or environmental services page or contact your region manager.