You are currently viewing Pa.’s manufacturers could make a dent in carbon emissions — if they’re convinced it’s good for business

Pa.’s manufacturers could make a dent in carbon emissions — if they’re convinced it’s good for business

By Karen Hendricks

Originally published – Pa. manufacturing industry grapples with climate change | StateImpact Pennsylvania (

This story was produced as part of Climate Solutions, a collaboration focused on community engagement and solutions-based reporting to help Central Pennsylvania move toward climate literacy, resilience and adaptation. StateImpact Pennsylvania convened the collaboration; WITF is a Climate Solutions partner.

Brett Anderson scoops up a handful of tiny pieces of black rubber at Lancaster County’s Ecore Flooring. Some slip through his fingers and bounce back into a huge bin, blending into the pile.

 They’re rubber remnants of worn-out truck tires, ready to be repurposed into flooring products. Every night, seven or eight truckloads of the recycled rubber nubs are dumped into bins, sorted by size.

 Ecore reengineers 2.25 million pounds of rubber — the equivalent of 60,000 tires — weekly. In 2022, the company diverted 25 million pounds of rubber from landfills and incineration.

 “There’s a whole industry of people who dig tires out of the waste stream and collect it from garages, tire makers and landfills,” said Anderson, plant manager. “We’ve tapped out the northeast and Mid-Atlantic, bringing in as much rubber as we can.”

 It’s a more circular manufacturing process, unlike the typical assembly-line model.

 Manufacturing sets economic benefits into motion across the Keystone State. The fourth-largest in the country, the industry employs nearly 10% of the state’s workforce and its output was $101.95 billion in 2021. In South Central Pennsylvania, manufacturing is the largest industry and source of employment, creating pretzels and potato chips, machinery, fabricated metals and electronics.

 But manufacturers leave a waste stream with an ecological price, including trash; hazardous materials affecting land, water, air quality, human health and nature; and energy consumption that emits planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2).

 Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, including CO2, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and methane.

 The industrial sector, including manufacturing, accounts for more than 30% of Pennsylvania’s emissions – meaning significant cuts in emissions could help mitigate the effects of climate change. 

 That challenge should be a motivator, said Dr. Sridhar Seetharaman, professor and chief science officer of the Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University; previously, he was with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University for 14 years. His research focuses on solutions to greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes such as heating.

 “Obviously greenhouse gases are still being emitted, so the question, ‘Are companies willing to do more and cut their profits?’ becomes a more philosophical one about what they can afford to do and how much profit they’re willing to invest in this.”

 But cutting emissions means making fundamental business changes, and manufacturers are often wary, said Evan Bates of MANTEC, a state and federally-funded nonprofit based in Harrisburg that supports manufacturers with consulting and training. 

“They’re doing everything they can to compete, not doing anything to harm their bottom line,” Bates said. “Trying to teach them these [climate change] initiatives won’t take away from the bottom line but increase it — that’s the hurdle.” 

 Politics often plays a role. Many in the manufacturing industry are politically conservative, Bates said, and that includes some climate deniers.   

 “I don’t try to change their minds – I stay as level as possible and try to show manufacturers this is not necessarily a political thing,” Bates said. “I have to be part psychologist too. If you talk about sustainability as lean manufacturing, they listen much more because that’s what they care about – being as efficient and profitable as possible.”

And words matter, as MANTEC’s events last fall illustrate.

 Bates had organized and promoted the launch of a discussion group, “Find New Revenue Streams in the Clean Climate Economy” with the description reading, “Are you ready to grow your manufacturing business by meeting the increasing demand for products that facilitate clean energy and lower carbon?”

 He was following direction from the state to “get manufacturing back in the U.S. and do it greener and better than anybody else,” he said.

 He leaned on Lancaster-based business consultant Jen Reiner of Align to create the session. She had crafted MANTEC’s own strategic plan and was connected to area businesses already tackling sustainability.

 Except that the session, “Find New Revenue Streams in the Clean Climate Economy” never happened. Only a handful of companies signed up.

 Instead, Bates and Reiner broadened and redesigned the session into “How Innovation Really Works,” attended by 150 manufacturers at MANTEC’s annual October conference. Reiner explained how manufacturers could take new concepts through actionable steps, into the chartering of innovation teams within their companies.

“The hurdle I was tackling in the session was innovation,” Reiner said, “to build a foundation first, before we brought them into another new and unfamiliar — and I think misunderstood — realm of the economy which is the clean climate economy.”

Karen Hendricks / for Climate Solutions

Lancaster-based business consultant Jen Reiner, of Align, leads “How Innovation Really Works” at MANTEC’s October conference.

 Reiner admits she was initially disappointed that the session had to be reframed, but she took it as vital feedback.

 “I was better able to address reality, which is — our business community isn’t there yet,” Reiner said. “There’s often a reluctance to do new and different things because of the capital investment involved in manufacturing.”

 To bring businesses to the table, Reiner is trying a new, yet traditional, tactic: conversations over cups of coffee.     

 She works with Leilani Richardson of Lancaster-based, climate solution consulting firm RegenAll to put on Carbon Neutral Coffee, a monthly gathering for anyone interested in sustainability within the South Central Pennsylvania business community.

 “There’s a real energy,” Bates said. “It shows the communication and conversations you can have, even if you’re in different industries.”

 And that’s a major point when it comes to manufacturing, an industry in which the very products as well as their manufacturing processes, are highly-proprietary, closely-guarded secrets.

 Reiner and Bates said the ideas and resources shared in those conversations are resulting in action. 

 Nelson Longenecker of Ephrata’s Four Seasons Produce, a Carbon Neutral Coffee “regular,” learned over cups of coffee about a recycling opportunity he could implement at Four Seasons, one of the largest independent produce distributors on the East Coast.

 Commons Company, parent company of Lancaster’s Passenger Coffee, shared information about Chambersburg’s Ag Plastic Solutions, which recycles plastic corner boards from produce pallets, among other materials. As a result, Longenecker and Four Seasons began gathering corner boards for recycling, rather than sending them to a Lancaster County incinerator.

Four Seasons Produce

Four Seasons Produce is recycling its plastic cornerboards.

 The small pieces of plastic are adding up. Longenecker said Four Seasons will be sending a monthly tractor trailer load of corner boards for recycling – each load containing 12-15,000 boards and weighing more than eight tons.

 Bates said Carbon Neutral Coffee is proof that sustainability, solutions and sharing are all possible. The real challenge, he said, is rousing the rest of Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry.

  And Bates feels the clock ticking.  

Climate change and Pennsylvania

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is warming Earth at an unprecedented rate. It’s already responsible for extreme weather, rising sea levels, and more severe droughts worldwide. Pennsylvania is on track for more intense heat waves and stronger storms in coming years, the Department of Environmental Protection says.

Scientists stress that rapid action is crucial to avoid the worst effects. Pa.’s most recent Climate Action Plan calls for an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

Doing that will require hard choices by the nation’s fourth-largest carbon emitter: Pennsylvania must figure out how to cut emissions while planning for the future of people and communities that rely on the fossil fuel industry.

—Madison Goldberg, StateImpact Pennsylvania

 He estimates between 20% to 30% of south-central Pennsylvania’s manufacturers have “some sort of green initiative.”

 “Manufacturers are going to have to turn greener, through certifications and initiatives offsetting carbon usage in the near future,” Bates said. “Manufacturers are thinking, ‘How do you change a facility with millions of dollars of equipment, none of it set up as clean?’ So getting switched around is very tough — it’s changing history.”

 After all, manufacturers need to stay in business, Seetharaman said. “I think to some extent, there has to be some incentive to de-risk the transition, economically.”

 That’s why Bates wants manufacturers to snag grant money — he called it “a carrot” dangling in front of the industry – while it’s available. He’s worried that Pennsylvania manufacturers are “leaving money on the table.”

 Bates rattled off a long list: State grants can reimburse 80% of companies’ investments into improved energy efficiency and reduced pollution. Federal dollars are available through the Inflation Reduction Act and other programs. Manufacturers that protect watersheds and women-owned companies pursuing sustainability projects have additional grant opportunities.

 He recently helped one manufacturer lower its carbon footprint simply by switching the entire facility to LED lights — something fully covered by a grant. 

 But Pennsylvania companies, Reiner said, need to flip a bigger switch on sustainability, soon.

“The push towards lower CO2 products and services is definitely happening, and I’m sad every time I see companies fold because they don’t adapt,” Reiner said, “because I know it probably could have been prevented if they caught it early enough and adapted – it’s a loss.”

In central Pa., three manufacturers offer examples of what steps toward sustainability can look like. 

 Ecore has found solutions that marry manufacturing with sustainability. Candy giant The Hershey Company says it’s meticulously measuring and reducing its environmental impact. Within York County’s machinery-focused industry, Bus Climate Control (BCC) is making units that keep buses cool in the summer and warm in the winter – amid an industry morphing in response to climate change. 

 All three seem driven by different factors: the marketability of sustainability and carbon reduction goals set internally or by government agencies, among them.

Karen Hendricks / for Climate Solutions

Lancaster-based Ecore uses repurposed rubber to make flooring.

Case Study: Ecore

 If you’ve stepped inside a national fitness or hotel chain, a YMCA or college weight room, chances are, Ecore’s rubber flooring was underfoot. Even Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is paved with Ecore’s rubber bricks.

 CEO Art Dodge calls himself Ecore’s “5th generation founder.” That’s because he set the longtime cork manufacturing company, formerly Dodge Cork, on a new path in the 80s. His father, recognizing the abundance of old tires, challenged him to develop a product. Dodge reimagined rubber tires as flooring.

 “I was already interested in the environmental impact of manufacturing, and the future of where [manufacturing] would need to go to be sustainable on a planet that was growing rapidly – where resources were limited,” explained Dodge, hailed for his “pioneering vision” by Floor Trends magazine.

 Thirty-five years later, Ecore has experienced year-over-year growth, every year except two. Dodge attributes his success to a straightforward case of supply-and-demand.

 “There didn’t seem to be a well-established reclamation industry attached to rubber,” Dodge said. “We suddenly said, if we can convert this into a product that ultimately performs well, it seems like there’s a lot of supply. And if we can build the demand, that’s how a business gets started.”

 Today, Ecore employs 1,000 people and drives $300 million in annual revenue – all based on a circular business model that revolves around tires. According to Anderson, those tires would otherwise burn in cement industry incinerators — some of the worst GHG polluters, according to environmental advocacy nonprofit PennEnvironment.

Tires, however, are heavy. Collecting and transporting them across the country to Pennsylvania isn’t cost-effective. That’s why Ecore is building a new manufacturing facility in Alabama – to tap into the South’s scrap tire stream, further expanding the company.

 Ecore is also preparing a big-picture ESG report, calculating information such as its GHG emissions, in order to document its data and market itself as a sustainability leader. 

The Hershey Company

Hershey ranks among the top five candymakers in the world. Its West Hershey plant is one of 14 across the globe.

Case Study: The Hershey Company

 The Hershey Company, one of Dauphin County’s largest employers, operates 14 manufacturing facilities across the globe. That includes four Pennsylvania plants in Hershey, Lancaster and Hazleton.

The company says sustainable practices are baked into company culture, thanks to founder Milton S. Hershey.

“He was a real entrepreneur when it came to things like recycling, re-looping steam from his turbine operations to heating municipal buildings and his home, using cacao shells for mulch,” said Rachel Grunberg, Hershey’s senior manager for environmental sustainability. 

 Today, Hershey’s efforts are detailed in a 133-page ESG report with more than 800 data points encompassing everything from the sourcing of chocolate ingredients, water stewardship, reduction in plastic packaging, and the company’s calculated carbon footprint.

 Hershey’s company culture, Grunberg explains, sees climate change as a two-way street.

 “We’re an agricultural company that will be affected by climate change in terms of ingredients not being able to be grown if we don’t manage the crisis,” Grunberg said. “We see climate change as something we need to work alongside others in order to mitigate – and that’s where we have targets – and we also see climate change as something we need to mitigate the risk from.”

 Hershey consistently ranks among the top five candy manufacturers worldwide. In 2022, Hershey reported revenues of $10.4 billion, through more than 100 products. Nearly 20,000 people are employed by Hershey worldwide, from North and South America to Asia.

 One of Hershey’s sustainability goals is to reduce GHG emissions, in what the EPA identifies as scope 1 and 2 emissions, across its manufacturing facilities by 50% by 2030, using 2018 as its baseline. Grunberg said Hershey’s progress toward that goal is 41% as of the end of 2022.

 Much of the GHG reduction is due to Hershey’s India plant decreasing its consumption of coal by 98% after switching to biomass.

 It’s easier to reduce GHG emissions within the food and beverage industry, compared to other manufacturing sectors, said Dr. Sridhar Seetharaman, a professor at Arizona State University who also serves as CEO of Electrified Processes for Industry Without Carbon (EPIXC), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded coalition seeking deep decarbonization within the industrial sector.

 Manufacturing plants typically emit CO2 for several reasons, Seetharaman said, including combustion. That’s what happens when companies need to heat something – while pasteurizing milk or smelting iron, for example — and a chemical reaction is set into motion, which emits CO2.

 Making those processes greener requires alternative technologies, such as hydrogen or the biofuels used by Hershey in India — expensive methods that may be a barrier to profitability for some companies.

 The second primary reason manufacturers emit CO2, Seetharaman said, is due to electric power derived from fossil fuels.

 In Hershey’s case, “77% of our total electric consumption was from renewable and zero-emissions energy in 2022. That number increases to 100% for our local manufacturing facilities in PA,” said Hershey spokesperson Ashleigh Pollart.

 But access to clean electricity isn’t always available, and may be out of some manufacturers’ control.

“For a company to be able to change [and decarbonize], you have to come up with a way for it to stay alive economically, and a big impediment is that the grid itself is not clean — and manufacturers don’t have control of that,” Seetharaman said. “It’s up to the utilities to clean that up.”

Bus Climate Control

Karen Hendricks / for Climate Solutions

York-based Bus Climate Control makes units that keep buses cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Case Study: Bus Climate Control 

 One industry predicted to grow – and grow greener, across the planet – is public transportation. The projection is based on urban population growth and many cities’ sustainability goals of replacing diesel-powered buses with electric, zero-emissions and hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses by 2030.

 “There’s a huge investment in transit, reducing the number of cars on roads,” said Keith Sutton, BCC’s vice president of global busing.

 York’s BCC is poised to play a major role in this transition by outfitting buses – including electric buses – with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

 The company makes HVAC systems for 65% of all American school buses, 70% of the coach and commuter bus market and 25% of public transit buses worldwide – including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia and its hometown rabbittransit buses.

 The York plant has a lab where prototype HVAC systems are built and tested in a climate chamber – an important step to ensure HVAC systems are compatible with new electric, zero-emission and hydrogen-powered buses. 

 BCC is switching to a new refrigerant with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) rating – a number calculated by the EPA to predict environmental impacts. The lower the GWP, the lower the impact on global warming.

 The new refrigerant “meets environmental regulation, and future environmental regulation, and has zero ODP [ozone depletion potential],” said Lee King, BCC’s director of brand strategy and customer experience.

 BCC is also working on developing thermal management systems – the ability to heat up or cool down batteries – for autonomous and electric vehicles.

 BCC’s parent company, VBG Group based in Sweden, supports all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a multi-pronged, holistic approach to tackling climate change. (In 2015, President Obama, committed the U.S. to meet those SDGs by 2030. But according to a 2023 Brookings Institute report, the U.S. still does not have the infrastructure to implement SDG policies.)

Karen Hendricks / for Climate Solutions

Lee King (left), director of brand strategy and customer experience for Bus Climate Control, and Dan Amolsch, the company’s quality manager, who oversees environmental and sustainability reporting, talk at the company.

 Goals at BCC include 50% reduction in GHG emissions, 50% reduction in hazardous waste and a 25% reduction in total waste by 2030. The company began measuring 180 sustainability data points in 2023. Those data points will expand to 600 this year, encompassing the facility’s heating, natural gas and electricity use, company car usage including gas, airline travel, shipping, waste, even compressed air emissions.

 BCC recently shifted to all-electric forklifts, replacing traditional propane-powered forklifts. It’s a move that Dan Amolsch called “low-hanging fruit, since you can remove a lot of carbon footprint by switching.”

 And Amolsch, as BCC’s quality manager, overseeing the company’s environmental and sustainability reporting, has no trouble sharing that information.

 “Sustainability shouldn’t be a competitive thing – you don’t need to be secretive,” Amolsch said. “You should be sharing, because then it’s ultimately going to provide for you as well.”

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