Can New York manufacturers flourish under the Climate Act? Yes—here’s how

In 2019, New York State lawmakers passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in order to rapidly decarbonize New York State’s economy in response to climate change. The landmark bill, once implemented, will trigger a seismic wave of changes that will affect every economic sector, including the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who make up 95 percent of manufacturing in the Empire State.

New York’s Climate Action Council, which was launched through the law, released a draft scoping plan for public comments in 2022. Once the commenting period is over, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will set the plan’s final regulations.

The CLCPA—also referred to as the Climate Act—aims to lower New York’s economy-wide emissions by 40 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2030. Industry’s contribution to that goal will come down to driving efficiency measures to reduce the sector’s energy demand. Electrification is expected to be limited, but the council believes that the savings that come with using less energy will incentivize manufacturers to adopt more efficient technologies and processes.

The act’s vision for 2050 goes much further: Cut 85 percent of the state’s emissions (again, compared to 1990 levels) while realizing a net-zero, carbon-neutral economy. In this scenario, manufacturers will have incorporated clean-energy technologies for high-heat processes—like green hydrogen or carbon capture and use—that are, as yet, only in their infancy. But, crucially for SMEs, the expectation is that manufacturers will need to show real greenhouse gas mitigation efforts in compliance with regulatory measures.

How it might look

The anticipated CLCPA regulations won’t be the first time that the state’s manufacturing sector has had to change how it works to support wider policy initiatives.

Think “hazardous waste” and you might picture rusty barrels overflowing with glowing green goo. But it is actually a term for a range of byproducts that result from the manufacture of everyday materials like plastic, concrete, and glass. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York’s DEC define it as any material that has to be discarded and is either listed as hazardous (according to state regulation 6 NYCRR 371.4) or is “characteristic” because it ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic.

Barbara Pilmore oversees operations at Durez Corporation’s plant in Niagara Falls, where a hazardous “distillate” is left behind in high-temperature production kettles. Once collected, the waste is sent to a treatment facility where it is incinerated.

“We had a high level goal of reducing our hazardous waste generation but had not identified specifically how we would reach the goal,” Pilmore said.

The company worked with Insyte Consulting, the regional MEP for New York’s Buffalo-Niagara region, to find ways to improve the cost-efficiency of its facility. When Pilmore began looking for strategies to streamline the plant’s complex materials and waste flows, Insyte’s team turned to the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to look at the site’s operations through a sustainability lens. 

Insyte is one of New York State’s ten Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs), a network led by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) working across all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Fifty-one designated centers coordinate more than 1,400 advisory and consultant services, focusing solely on SME-level manufacturers and startups. The network’s goal, according to NIST, is to “provide any U.S. manufacturer access to resources they need to succeed.”

An aerial shot of Buffalo, New York, USA
Insyte Consulting is the regional manufacturing extension partnership (MEP) for New York’s Buffalo-Niagara region.

“The MEPs have a very broad mandate to help manufacturers with any problems or challenges they may face,” explained Benjamin Rand, Insyte’s president. “We can’t efficiently staff for the wide variety of issues our manufacturers may encounter, so we have established partnerships with experts, like NYSP2I, who have unique skills and capabilities that we do not.”

Working closely with the Durez and Insyte teams, engineers from NYSP2I performed a scientific assessment of the plant’s system for collecting and preparing the hazardous distillate waste. They discovered that a significant portion of what was sent for treatment was not hazardous—delivering this additional volume levied an unnecessary cost for the company.

“We worked together with NYSP2I and Insyte to develop a list of opportunities and then narrow it down to a couple ideas.”
– Barbara Pilmore, Plant Manager, Niagara Falls Plant, Durez Corporation

“We worked together with NYSP2 and Insyte to develop a list of opportunities and then narrow it down to a couple ideas,” Pilmore explained. “Those ideas were then trialed in the lab and at the plant to identify the final project that was implemented.”

In order to separate the non-hazardous distillate from Durez’s total kettle waste, the Insyte-NYSP2I team developed a segregation system that applied reverse-osmosis and activated carbon. The method cut down the volume of hazardous waste sent for incineration by 10 percent, resulting in an annual savings of about $50,000 over five years and recovering the initial cost of equipment and installation within a year. 

“The improvement meant lower costs for Durez, but it was also a win for climate action in New York State. The new system saved 1,500 tons of waste from being sent for incineration annually,” said Ken Schlafer, a sustainability program manager at NYSP2I.

“The new system saved 1,500 tons of waste from being sent for incineration annually.”
– Ken Schlafer, Sustainability Program Manager, NYSP2I

Durez is a subsidiary of the Japanese firm Sumitomo Bakelite Company Ltd., and so does not technically classify as an SME even if its day-to-day operations might resemble one. However, the challenges Pilmore and her team are tackling are akin to what small manufacturers face across New York as they try to remain competitive in a fast-changing market. And, without the right support, succeeding as an SME could get a lot harder once the CLCPA takes effect.  

Will SMEs survive?

Charles Ruffing, NYSP2I’s director, anticipates a surge in demand for sustainability expertise among New York’s SME manufacturers. “Smaller manufacturers might find it harder to make the kind of systems-level shifts that the CLCPA will require. They don’t have the level of internal expertise and resources when it comes to sustainability that most larger international firms have,” he said.

Ruffing’s view is echoed by others who work closely with SMEs as part of the state’s well-developed ecosystem of technical and business assistance programs.   

“There is no question that the manufacturers in the [Mohawk Valley] region will have a need for assistance as they transition towards carbon-emission reductions,” observed Cory Albrecht, director of Advanced Institute for Manufacturing (AIM). “The small manufacturers in the Mohawk Valley play an important role in the direct supply chain to aerospace, microelectronics, the U.S. Department of Defense, and other industries in New York State. Complying with the new regulations will be paramount.”

Each MEP is designed to offer a wide range of services to SMEs in their region. But that versatility means they sometimes lack the specialist expertise within their ranks that a client might require. In these scenarios, MEPs can draw on other state-funded assistance resources to fill in gaps, like NYSP2I.

“I expect SMEs and all manufacturers to be looking for any and all tools, techniques, and technologies that can help them meet CLCPA requirements,” observed Insyte’s Rand. “Organizations like NYSP2I will be critical in identifying solutions and propagating those solutions throughout our manufacturing sector.”

“Organizations like NYSP2I will be critical in identifying solutions and propagating those solutions throughout our manufacturing sector.”
– Benjamin Rand, President, Insyte Consulting

NYSP2I is designed to serve as a resource for all of New York State. When it works as a module in tandem with MEPs and its university partners across the state, it is a cost-effective strategy for networking SMEs across the state to the sustainability services they will need under the CLCPA. These include sustainable manufacturing assessment, supply chain sustainability strategy-building, , guidance for tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, and life cycle assessment.  

“Currently, our center does not have in-house expertise regarding sustainability or environmental compliancy. NYSP2I provides us with this expertise through our partnership so that we can extend these resources to the manufacturers in the Mohawk Valley Region,” AIM’s Albrecht said.

The sum is greater

A concern that has been raised by some commentators is whether the CLCPA will see companies move operations to another state to avoid regulations. In fact, the draft scoping plan notes this possibility and warns that such an outcome could potentially increase emissions nationally.

Policymakers in Albany hope to keep firms in-state by incentivizing efficiency measures, stressing that sustainability must be in synergy with profitability. The Insyte-NYSP2I collaboration with Durez shows that such synergy is possible by strategically deploying the state’s unique resources to wherever they are needed.

Policymakers in Albany hope to keep firms in-state by incentivizing efficiency measures, stressing that sustainability must be in synergy with profitability.

In another project, NYSP2I partnered with AIM in 2018 to assist Bartell Machinery Systems, a manufacturer of industrial equipment based in Rome, New York. Together, the team found a sustainable alternative to lacquer thinner that was able to remove machining coolant and heavy petroleum jelly from parts before painting.

“We identified NYSP2I as a key partner in the effort to solve a complex challenge,” noted Mike Magnanti, a manager at Bartell. “Through open collaboration, we were able to identify an alternative to a well-established process that will have a positive impact on our customers, employees, and the environment.”

Similarly, a NYSP2I project in partnership with the MEP for central New York, TDO (Train, Develop, Optimize), found a profitable pathway for Knowles Precision Devices to cut its wastewater flows by nearly 40 percent. To do this, a set of sustainable best practices for water use alongside a water-recycling system were implemented that offset an estimated $49,000 in treatment costs based on what the company spent in 2018.

Expand and strengthen what’s working

NYSP2I is just one of the many specialist assistance programs that MEPs partner with to sustain New York manufacturing at the SME level. Other initiatives—like the Centers of Excellence and the Centers for Advanced Technology (led by New York’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, or NYSTAR), Empire State Development, and the Workforce Development Institute (WDI)—also expand the kind of focused expertise that MEPs can deliver to the more than 15,000 companies they assist.

Put simply, most industry experts and leaders believe that the state’s existing network of MEPs and programs like NYSP2I works well. And, looking to the horizon, they believe it can continue to work to decarbonize New York’s economy by 2050. But, to do that, the state will need more of the sustainability expertise that NYSP2I offers to make sure manufacturers have the technology, skills, and knowledge they’ll need to continue to grow while slowing climate change.


Sustainability in Practice Climate Change


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About the authors

Senior Writer and Content Strategist

Golisano Institute for Sustainability 
Rochester Institute of Technology 

The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) works with government programs and Empire State businesses, communities, and nonprofits to give them the practical resources, tools, and solutions needed to realize the benefits of sustainability for our economy, environment, and our society as a whole. 

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