They are encouraged both by constituents, who evaluate a company’s sustainability policy when considering both investment and product purchasing decisions, as well as by their triple bottom line (social, environmental, financial) more than ever.As a result, LEED certification, from the U.S. Green Building Council, is gaining a stronger foothold among manufacturers, where the expense of the program is generally offset by the green savings.
An example of this trend is ABB Group. The Zurich-based power and automation technology company has invested nearly $14 million in a new, environmentally advanced three-story, 95,000-square-foot building in Milwaukee, Wis. that will house 300 of its 725 local employees (the company headquarters is in Cary, N.C.).
The new ABB facility features a parking lot system that doubles as an irrigation tool, funneling storm water to a natural vegetation bed where it’s either absorbed or evaporates. Dining chairs are made from recycled soda bottles, and the large windows have shades that can be lowered to reduce incoming sun, which will keep the temperature in an even state and cut down on air-conditioning usage. There are indoor bike-parking spaces as well as showers and a changing room to encourage employees to commute via local bike trails. The work areas utilize daylight, which incorporates windows in strategic areas to provide maximum amounts of natural light. ABB is applying for LEED Gold certification—the second-highest level.
Volkswagen of America’s Chattanooga, Tenn. plant is LEED Platinum certified—meaning, the top level. It was the first and is still the only LEED Platinum auto plant worldwide. Its environmental attributes include a solar park with 33,000 photovoltaic panels on 66 acres adjacent to the factory, which supply roughly 10% of the plant’s overall power needs; an advanced car-painting process that has reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by about 20% compared with previous technology; and a rainwater collection tank. The nonpotable water, which saves up to 350,000 gallons of potable water a month, is used for the HVAC cooling system and for restrooms.
There were 738 LEED-certified industrial manufacturing facilities worldwide at 2013 year-end, and another 1,335 facilities in the pipeline for certification, according to Environmental Design & Construction magazine. But there are challenges, especially for manufacturers, that want to obtain LEED certification. One is that the LEED formula emphasizes energy reduction in office areas, and in a manufacturing plant the vast majority of energy-reduction opportunities are in the production process itself.
Also, LEED certification requires continuous monitoring, which consumes labor. Facilities generally have to have a year’s worth of metrics in place before certification is achieved.
But as sustainability increasingly becomes a sine qua non in relationships with suppliers, customers, government entities and the general public, manufacturing CEOs increasingly will be doing what it takes to gain LEED certification and other environmental imprimaturs. Those who do not want to invest the financial commitment can follow the guidelines and make physical improvements for their own edification, without applying for the recognition.