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What Is The U.S. Department of Commerce Doing To Promote Sustainability In Nonwovens?

By Sandra Levy | February 17, 2011

trade specialist outlines government plans to help manufacturing go green

Maria D'Andrea is a supervisory international trade specialist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Textiles and Apparel in Washington, DC.

Nonwovens Industry sat down with Ms. D'Andrea to learn about the Department's perspective on sustainability and how it pertains to the nonwovens industry.The Department's initiatives are intended to have a positive impact on U.S. manufacturing.
NWI:What do you think is driving sustainability for nonwovens companies?
MD: As with most manufacturing sectors, we believe that the driver for sustainability and nonwovens companies is several economic and policy-related issues, mainly the cost and supply pressures of raw material inputs and natural resources; the ever-increasing number of environmental and health regulations, at the federal, state and local level; and customer and consumer demands, both here and abroad, for products and services that have a less detrimental environmental impact.

NWI:What opportunities does the nonwovens industry have to be sustainable, and what measures can companies take to be more sustainable?
Ms. D'Andrea: There are numerous opportunities, or measures, for the nonwovens industry to be sustainable. By increasing the use of renewable and bio-degradable fibers such as jute, tencel, hemp and cotton; reducing the use of chemicals, for example replacing resin used in the production of nonwovens with natural, biodegradable materials; greater use of enzymes rather than chemical agents, to improve wastewater discharge.
The industry should take advantage of the lessons learned from companies – in the nonwovens industry and others - that have already successfully adopted sustainable manufacturing/business practices.The industry should also work proactively to confront environmental regulations that could potentially impact their profitability and competitiveness. This requires remaining informed of such regulations and to provide nonwovens industry input/concerns regarding the potential impact of such regulations, to federal and state authorities

NWI:What is the future of sustainability and what does that mean for the nonwovens industry?
MD: From our perspective, sustainability and the adoption of sustainable manufacturing/business practices are here to stay.For the nonwovens industry, we expect that more and more companies will educate themselves on sustainability – what it means for a company's bottom line and for its competitiveness – by looking to the experiences of nonwovens industry leaders that have successfully implemented sustainable practices.It's like the saying "get on the bus or get left behind."At the end of the day, we believe it is the realities of the domestic and global economy in which we operate, and the greater need to meet the demands of customers and consumers for "greener" products.

NWI:Can you provide information on the module that will be available on sustainability?
MD: The Department of Commerce, in conjunction with other federal agencies, is developing a Sustainable Manufacturing 101 module in response to a number of requests from industry stakeholders for basic, introductory information on the various sustainability issues facing manufacturers and service providers.While there are many excellent resources available from federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations, most are specific to one topic such as greenhouse gas emissions or energy efficiency, and many are more technical than general.
The goal of the Sustainable Manufacturing 101 module is to get people thinking about various sustainability topics and to get them to connect with the more in-depth resources from other government agencies and other sources.As with all of our projects, we want to make it friendly to small and medium-sized businesses. The module is expected to be completed and available for use by industry some time this year.

NWI:What is the U.S. Department of Commerce's role in sustainability?
MD: One of the main goals at the U.S. Department of Commerce is to foster domestic and international conditions for doing business that allow U.S. firms to successfully compete and increase profitability.Evidence has shown that firms incorporating both environmentally and economically sustainable manufacturing processes can gain competitive advantages in that they reap inherent cost savings, for example improving their energy efficiency and minimizing raw materials usage.Many U.S. companies have successfully demonstrated that being environmentally sustainable can also mean being profitable.
In recognition of these facts, the Department of Commerce developed the Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative, or SMI.The Department, through the International Trade Administration, works with manufacturers and service providers to identify their sustainability challenges and needs and coordinates public and private efforts to address these priorities as outlined earlier.We work to connect U.S. businesses with federal, state and local resources to address sustainability, specifically to create awareness of U.S. government resources that address sustainability in order to enhance U.S. industry competitiveness and profitability.This helps in the development of new markets for our products, both here and abroad, and in the creation of jobs.
The Department is also working on behalf of the U.S. Government, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to develop a metrics toolkit for sustainable manufacturing.The toolkit is expected to be completed this year.

To learn more about the Department's Initiative, the Sustainable Manufacturing 101 Module, and the OECD Metrics Toolkit, visit

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