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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Report Card: Sustainability in Manufacturing

By Jack Healy, Director of Operations, MassMEP jackh@massmep.org

Jack Healy – The voice of manufacturing in Massachusetts
Jack Healy –
A Voice for Manufacturing in Massachusetts
  • In 1975, the U.S. Federal Code of Regulations had 71,224 pages.
  • By 2013, the number had grown to more than 175,000 pages.

Regardless of size of the enterprise, large or small, the growth of regulations has become a major impediment to manufacturing both within our state and across our country. Given this, the recent announcement by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute recognizing the company Independent Plating for its "Environmental Leadership" in reducing more than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, came as something as a surprise.

Since purchasing the company in 1985, Charlie Flanagan, CEO and President of Independent Plating, recognized that sustainability was becoming a major factor in shaping the future of the plating industry. Under his direction, Independent Plating has always tried to stay ahead of regulatory requirements, but was surprised when the Toxic Use Reduction Act (TURA) was issued 25 years ago. That surprise has since turned into as asset.

Figure 1. Independent Plating is recognized for Environmental Leadership by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute.

Charlie said, "Constant improvement is embodied in our culture and it stems from the TURA Planning Process. When we first started reporting toxic chemical use and submitting the plans to the state 25 years ago, we were fulfilling a requirement, but now, by using safer materials we are viewed as a leader by our customers and are protecting workers health and saving money in the process."

This leadership recognition over the past decade has resulted in a number of great opportunities. Independent Plating acquired such companies as Garriepy Plating, Brunelle Plating, and Standard Plating. They also expanded their capabilities with the acquisition of Travers Welding.  Along the way, Charlie has structured this organization of approximately 50 employees into an Employee Owned (ESOP) Corp. whose forward thinking is evident in sustainability as well as in overall management – "Big enough to get the job done…and done right."

Figure 2. Independent Plating's dramatic reduction in toxic chemicals.

All such environmental accomplishments, whether at Independent Plating or at the hundreds of thousand other small manufacturing enterprises, have not been done without a cost.

Sustainability has been one of the three biggest strategic challenges for more than 20% of MassMEP clients during the past year. Sustainability compliance continues to increase each year to where our clients are now spending millions of dollars on compliance and equipment.

This isn't just a local issue. U.S. manufacturers spend $24.6 billion dollars on pollution abatement. That's about double the next highest country, Japan, and "three times as much as Germany and six times as much as Canada and Korea," according to the 2015 MAPI Foundation Report on Pollution Abatement. However, MAPI points out that as a percentage of manufacturing value-added, the 1.2% U.S. manufacturers spend is comparable to what other manufacturers experience in other advanced economies. Canada's manufacturers spend the most as a percentage of manufacturing GDP at 2.2%, with Mexico's manufacturers spending the least at 0.8%. The MAPI Foundation did not include China in the comparison because that country does not compile reliable information.

It is surprising, at least to me, that extracting such a cost for regulatory compliance from our own economy without any accountability from our trading partners, demonstrates an absolute willingness to place our manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage. But there is a natural accountability occurring in countries producing products without regard to their environment. The article, "Be Thankful You Live in America," from Manufacturing and Technology News, will provide you with an appreciation for what strong manufacturing enterprises like Independent Plating and their wise investments in sustainability provide us.

About the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) Program
The Toxics Use Reduction Act does not restrict chemical use but requires companies to evaluate toxic chemical use, submit usage reports to the state, and assess the implications of reducing use by making process changes or switching to safer alternatives. Data shows that Massachusetts companies continue to make progress in reducing toxic chemical use and waste: between 2000 and 2012, companies reduced use by 23%, waste by 42%, and on-site releases by 73%.

Twenty-five years ago, the Massachusetts legislature passed the landmark TURA legislation. Today, the TURA Program is considered a model environmental policy by other states and countries. Agencies provide training, grants, technical assistance, and support to help companies reduce toxic chemical use and costs, improve health and safety, and compete globally as more international regulations restrict the use of toxic substances.

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