Saturday, February 4, 2023

Building Quality Communities with Green Manufacturing Processes

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Green manufacturing holds a number of benefits that go beyond just tackling the climate crisis. And communities across America are ready for it.

In recent years, manufacturers have faced heightened scrutiny for processes that are viewed to be detrimental to the environment. Communities rooted in manufacturing have struggled as calls for more sustainable practices echo from their community leaders to the halls of government. But now, one new approach has companies evaluating their production, recycling processes, and sustainable futures to create green manufacturing initiatives that are changing communities. 

From the Rust Belt to the Green Belt 

The Rust Belt of the United States — which stretches across the Midwest and parts of the Eastern United States — at one time boasted the highest number of manufacturing jobs in the country. It is a source of pride for many factory workers and manufacturers. However, the Rust Belt also has a legacy that is punctuated by significant pollution of air and water. A harsher light has been shining on the manufacturing community recently, with calls for a more sustainable future influencing many companies to reevaluate their processes. 

steelworker
Industrial communities are ready for greener practices | Courtesy Alisa Reutova | Unsplash

Because communities are often built around these large manufacturers, community input is essential to the success of these green initiatives. Many manufacturing communities, especially in the Rust Belt, have felt the adverse effects of economic downturns, overseas outsourcing, and negative press surrounding the dangers of manufacturing-borne pollutants. 

By standing firmly behind green manufacturing initiatives, these communities may have a chance to build themselves back to a better place. Looking at green manufacturing as an opportunity could significantly revitalize economically and environmentally depressed communities. 

In Illinois, legislation has been introduced that would create a “Rust Belt to Green Belt” fund. The multifaceted bill would allow space for offshore wind power in Illinois, as well as provide ways to involve underrepresented local community members. This would help pave the way for community involvement in the ‘going green’ process.

Taking industrial communities green

There are many advantages to ‘going green’ in an industrial space. For one, clean production and recycling can almost immediately help improve air and water quality for the surrounding community. In addition, innovations such as turning scrap metal into new steel products can help lessen the burden on the environment that new steel production often brings. 

wind turbines
Courtesy Gonz DDL | Unsplash

Green energy focuses on using fewer natural resources and materials, which can translate to significant cost savings for businesses in the long run. These cost savings can be especially important in areas that have suffered from economic issues, and even large manufacturers leaving the area or shutting down completely. Communities can better their environmental and economic situation by collectively pulling for green companies to establish operations in their area.

Governments, both local and federal, can play an important role in encouraging green manufacturing. One example is through the development of “buy clean” standards for government procurement. If properly structured, these measures have the potential both to reward companies who have proactively improved their environmental footprint and encourage further innovation. 

Increased morale 

The morale of a community is important, and when communities are proud of their local companies, they can be unstoppable forces for good. Many communities spend generations as “company towns” built around one particular manufacturer. Everyone worked there or knew someone who did, and what happened at the company greatly affected the community as a whole. Today, companies prioritizing clean production, recycling, sustainability, and reducing waste and emissions are improving community and company morale. 

The public at large also begins to develop more trust in a company that can show it cares about the environment and a sustainable future. Studies show that most Americans want companies to be environmentally friendly. Job seekers largely care about the sustainability practices of the companies where they work as well, with 79 percent of job seekers wanting to work for a company that is committed to addressing the issue of climate change. 

car factory
Manufacturing industries are poised to shift. Courtesy Lenny Kuhne | Unsplash

The world is changing, and manufacturing companies need to be able to shift with these changing times if they hope to remain productive. Communities must be willing to pivot as well. 

It can be challenging to change what one has always known, especially in communities built around one particular manufacturer. However, we are seeing the results of climate change every day. Where the Earth could be heading in the not-so-distant future is becoming increasingly evident. A vocal majority is driving change towards a more sustainable way of production. Many are heralding the start of the Green Revolution, and for many, it is not a moment too soon. 

While conservation and clean energy ideals are not new, the outcry for immediate action is. People are discovering that the path to quality communities may be a Green one. 

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Adam Parr is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Gerdau.

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