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Sustainability is Here for the Long Haul

This article was originally posted on the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership Blog on March 12, 2013. Guest blog post by Randy Bertram, WMEP Director of Sustainability Services

The Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative (PSI) enters its fourth year of service to Wisconsin manufacturers this month. When PSI was launched in 2010 less than 30% of Wisconsin manufacturers identified with sustainability. Today that number is approaching 80%. The turnaround in the perception of sustainability is largely attributable to a reframing of the issue. Manufacturers no longer view sustainability as a threat; they recognize it as complimentary to efforts to improve business performance, reduce risk, spur innovation, and attract and retain employees and customers. This has more to do with aligning sustainable principles with business needs, principles and terminology than it does with a change in attitude toward the concept and principles of sustainability.

The truth is that manufacturers have always cared about sustainability - their own sustainability. The drive to remain competitive, to turn a profit, and provide jobs in their communities has driven them to constantly increase productivity and resource efficiency. Recognizing the relationship between these motives and environmental performance is a common theme of both PSI, a Wisconsin based program, and a federal program known as E3; Economy, Energy, Environment.  Both programs have helped facilitate cost savings and reduced environmental impact with remarkable results – delivering more than $150 million in economic impact to the state and highlighting the close connection between profit and sustainability.

View YouTube videos featuring Wisconsin manufacturers participating in the PSI program:

Over the past few years, many manufacturing leaders have come to recognize the relationship between sustainability and innovation, the power of sustainability in attracting and retaining employees, and the importance of sustainable practices to customers. The alignment of these business priorities and sustainability makes a compelling argument that sustainability is a must on every manufacturer’s agenda. Today, Fortune 100 businesses include sustainability metrics in their financial reporting, indicating that large businesses see sustainability as an essential measure of the health of their operation.  Sustainability as a key performance indicator is here to stay.

Every manufacturing president and CEO should take the time to understand the principles and concepts of sustainability, and seriously contemplate how its many aspects and the potential implications could positively or negatively impact their business. As with any strategic initiative, a thoughtful approach will mitigate the risks and capitalize on the challenges. The combination of sustainable principles, emerging technologies and innovation will help manufacturers gain competitive advantage as they reduce cost. The impressive results of the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative underscore the many benefits sustainable practices in small and midsize manufacturing operations:

Financial Benefits and Impacts of Phase I and II of the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative 
(for the 73 participating small and midsized Wisconsin manufacturers to date)

 Wisconsin manufacturers perceive sustainability as a significant business opportunity. Data indicates Wisconsin manufacturers lead the nation in the recognition of sustainability’s importance and in making progress to become more sustainable. The Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative and the Milwaukee E3 initiative have and will continue to lead the way for Wisconsin manufacturers on this important and vital business strategy.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) just announced program funding for 32 additional Wisconsin manufacturers. Applications are open to small and midsized manufacturers throughout Wisconsin and are reviewed for alignment with program goals and objectives established by WEDC, as well as the applicant’s commitment to sustainability as detailed in the application essay. Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Interested Wisconsin manufacturers should contact Randy Bertram, Director of Sustainability Services at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership at 262.707.7775 or bertram [at] (Bertram[at]wmep[dot]org).  For manufacturers outside of Wisconsin, contact your local MEP Center to learn more about sustainability services.  

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Manufacturers will definitely need to consider sustainability as they move forward. High profile clients ask these questions and expect cutting edge answers and innovative thinking.
That is a pretty significant change in business mentality. The first step is for business to change the perception of what sustainability is and establish it's importance for businesses moving forward. It they can do it in Wisconsin in that short of time, we can move forward in all states.

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