Industrial Utility Efficiency

Shining the Spotlight on Manufacturing Sustainability in Tennessee

Peer-to-peer learning is widely accepted as an effective strategy for transferring knowledge and ensuring it’s put to good use. It’s also a strategy that works in Tennessee where manufacturers in a wide range of industries throughout the state are sharing knowledge and gaining recognition for taking the lead in environmental sustainability.

Information sharing and recognition among manufacturers statewide is occurring thanks to the Tennessee Green Star Partnership (TGSP) program, which connects leaders in manufacturing sustainability in the state looking to implement or improve efforts to save energy and reduce or eliminate pollution from air, water and/or land.

Facilitated by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the TGSP program is a success by virtually every measure. During TDEC’s fiscal years 2017-2018, participating TGSP members have reduced energy use by 144,925 MWh for a savings of \$23,645,267. Additionally, members reduced solid waste by 294,049 tons.


Committed to Environmental Stewardship

Kendra AbkowitzKendra Abkowitz, Assistant Commissioner for The Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

In all, 54 manufacturers participate in the TGSP program. The companies include those in the automotive, food, and building products industries, and range from small manufacturers to major global brands, including Bridgestone Americas, Nissan, Unilever, Frito-Lay, and General Motors.

Regardless of company size, TDEC Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices Kendra Abkowitz said all voluntarily became TGSP members and have committed to environmental stewardship.

“TGSP manufacturers go above and beyond what the state and federal government require to protect and improve the quality of Tennessee’s air, land, and water,” said Abkowitz. “The TGSP program provides an opportunity for these companies to learn from each other, and importantly, celebrate their efforts to further the health and well-being of Tennesseans – and stimulate economic development.”

The TDEC Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices oversees the TGSP program. The program is partially funded through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pollution Prevention Grant designed to assist with the implementation of pollution prevention, as well as technical assistance services and/or training for manufacturers. The grant also supports projects that reduce or eliminate pollution.

Manufacturers who participate are required to operate under an active ISO 14001 certification, or an equivalent environmental management system. Member companies must also have a minimum of three years of environmental compliance with TDEC regulations.

Qualifications aside, companies involved in the program are those who believe strongly in sustainability and are proven leaders in environmental best practices, said Kathy Glapa of the Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices. Glapa also serves as the Program Manager for TGSP.

“These companies take the lead because they know it makes good business sense and it’s the right thing to do,” Glapa said. “Our goal is to support these achievements versus serving as a regulatory arm of the government.”


Winning Combination: Education and Networking

Kathy GlapaKathy Glapa, TDEC Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices, and Program Manager for the Tennessee Green Star Partnership program.

There are multiple ways TGSP facilitates the sharing of successes and sustainability best practices for the purposes of learning – and more. Efforts include an annual roundtable, summer workshops, webinars and videoconferences.

Topics of focus used for educational purposes throughout each year are determined based on the roundtable discussions, as well as TGSP’s annual survey of over 600 Tennessee manufacturers. Members also submit quarterly and annual reports to TGSP, which provide additional insights for topics of focus.

The program’s in-person workshops give members the opportunity to learn from experts in various areas of sustainability, as well as representatives from other TDEC organizations and partner organizations that support environmental stewardship. Examples include the state’s Office of Energy Programs, the Division of Solid Waste Management, and the Tennessee Technological University Industrial Assessment Center (TTU-IAC). TTU-IAC provides manufacturers with free energy, productivity, and waste assessments, including best practices for compressed air systems, and blowers and vacuum, as well as cooling towers and chillers.

The workshops also serve as networking opportunities where participants can share contact information and practical and helpful ideas that work. It’s not unusual for environmental leaders in different companies to follow up with each other and form long-lasting relationships after making a connection through TGSP.

In addition to in-person workshops, TGSP’s webinars cover a host of topics associated with sustainability, as well as methods and programs companies have used to implement best practices.


Highlighting Manufacturer Successes

Another significant component of TGSP’s effort involves the development of written articles to help educate manufacturers about sustainability best practices and help them gain recognition for their programs.

TGSP-produced articles are published on the organization’s website and describe members’ successful initiatives to save energy and reduce, or eliminate pollution. (See sidebar article for examples.) TGSP also shares the articles through social media and other media outlets, including those of state and environmental organizations.

Yet TGSP can’t do it alone, which is why it encourages members to apply for various state awards that recognize those who are making a difference in the world of sustainability. Examples include the Tennessee Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award, as well as recognition available through organizations like the Tennessee Recycling Coalition and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“What really drives the TGSP program is that we celebrate how manufacturers throughout the state of Tennessee do more than anything the EPA or TDEC ask them to do as far as regulations,” said Glapa. “We have 7,000 manufacturers in Tennessee who can benefit from hearing and learning about these efforts. The idea behind TGSP is to give manufacturers who are environmental leaders a place to shine.”

Success in Sustainability Abounds

Virtually every TGSP member manufacturer implements numerous ongoing initiatives as part of their commitment to environmental stewardship. Here are just a few examples of projects implemented and initiatives TGSP has promoted:

SumiRiko Tennessee, Inc.

The company manufactures anti-vibration, high-pressure hoses, and soundproofing products for the automotive industry. Among its sustainability projects, it installed a better system of monitoring and controlling 13 air compressors at its plants in Tazewell and Midway, Tennessee.

With the new system, the company no longer needs to run all of its air compressors continuously to maintain air pressure. Instead, SumiRiko Tennessee has the ability to start and stop its air compressors to supply air where and when needed at the proper pressure. The system also helps the company track energy consumption of its compressed air system. As a result, it saves \$140,000 per year in energy costs.

ABC INOAC Exterior Systems, LLC

A Tier-1 automotive supplier of exterior plastic molded components, ABC INOAC Exterior Systems, LLC, implemented various energy savings measures in 2018 at its facility in Livingston, Tennessee.

Among its projects were the replacement of three air compressors and a 350-ton chiller with more efficient equipment. The manufacturer also replaced low efficiency bulbs with LED lighting. The updates resulted in \$31,000 in savings in only four months.

American Snuff Company

American Snuff Co., Memphis, Tennessee, has become one of the most sustainable companies in Tennessee in recent years. The company is the nation’s second largest manufacturer of smokeless tobacco products.

American Snuff implemented a compost program that allowed it to achieve a nearly 90% diversion rate of production waste to landfills. Among other projects, it also invested in a water treatment system that has saved nearly 2 millions of gallons of fresh water and 34,000 kWh of energy since the system was implemented.

DENSO Manufacturing of Tennessee

At its Maryville, Tennessee, facility, more than 3,600 DENSO employees manufacture starters; alternators; instrument clusters including motherboards; keyless entry; air bag sensors; and heads-up displays.

As a company that embraces innovation, DENSO replaced refrigerant used to cool 21 compressor-driven HVAC units with chilled water. Doing so dictated the installation of a unique ice-chilled water plant, which has all of the components found in a traditional chilled water plant, plus a series of ice storage tanks.

The ice-chilled water plant creates ice for storage in insulated tanks during off-peak electrical demand periods at night. The water from the HVAC systems is then cooled during the day by running water around the ice. The result is a 40% reduction in the cost of cooling, which is addition to the elimination of refrigerants.

Nissan North America

Yet another major manufacturer and environmental leader in Tennessee is Nissan North America, which produces more than 650,000 vehicles per year at its operation in Smyrna, Tennessee. It also operates powertrain facility in Decherd, Tennessee.

Unlike before, much of the water within the Smyrna facility is now re-circulated due to the installation of additional filtration, as well as a system that redirects water used for rinsing vehicles back to the start of the metal paint pretreat process. Treated wastewater from the wastewater pretreatment facility is also used for process mixing, as well as seal cooing in pumps. In Decherd, an additional Reverse Osmosis unit was installed to capture reject water from the primary system and filter water for blending in other operations.

In all, Nissan North America has reduced water consumption by over 90 million gallons per year through these initiatives.


For more information about the Tennessee Green Star Partnership program, visit

All photos courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices.

To read more Sustainability articles, please visit