U.S. Manufacturing: It's a brand new (sustainable) day

Years ago I was sitting in high school trigonometry class when one day our teacher, a stern, humorless and buttoned-down left-brainer named Dr. Uva, walked in and said, "Gentlemen (I went to an all-boys school), I want you to forget everything I taught you yesterday. It was wrong."

I tell you that, my friends, as a way of teeing this up. Forget everything you've ever thought or have been told about manufacturing in this country. It is wrong.

As some of you know, I took an unlikely path to my career as a sustainability advocate and environmental warrior. I spent the first part of my career at a manufacturing giant, Carrier, and continued there when it was acquired by United Technologies.

And during that time, the industrial sector was everything that manufacturing had been in the U.S. for 100 years: labor intensive, resource ravenous and littered with such heavy industry archetypes as belching smokestacks, mountains of waste, and sprawling factories populated by legions of sweaty, grimy men with aching muscles and, quite often, more experience than formal education.

But that was then. This is now.

Now, manufacturing is a whole new world. It is exponentially cleaner. It is now largely driven by automation and robotics. And it is uber-lean, requiring far fewer people, a much more limited pool of resources and a markedly reduced amount of square footage.

What's more, U.S. manufacturing now is smarter than at any point in history, having been completely reinvented to operate in today's hyper-competitive and unforgiving global marketplace.

Indeed, not only has everything you've ever known about U.S. manufacturing been turned inside out, but the only part of the classic Rosie the Riveter image that may remain relevant is Rosie herself, or at least her gender, as today's factories employ almost as many women as men.

This week USGBC proudly rolled out its LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities report that highlights manufacturing professionals and facilities across the world that are embracing the principles of LEED, and in the process proving that all factories can (and must) become green. The manufacturing sector is responsible for 30 percent of the nation's total energy consumption and uses an estimated 15,900 million gallons of water per day, which is roughly 4 percent of total daily water use. We really don't have a choice.

It is our belief that by offering peer-to-peer resources and by sharing best practices and experiences of manufacturers, large and small, regional and global, we can show how all types of companies in the industrial sector are using LEED to not just increase profits, but ensure a more efficient, equitable and sustainable future for us all.

The idea of bringing sustainability to the manufacturing sector is hardly new. After all, one of my heroes and dear friends, the late, great Ray Anderson of modular carpet maker Interface, years ago showed it was possible for even a steeped and lifelong industrialist like himself to grow and evolve, even as he was re-inveNting almost everything he'd ever known and held sacred about the discipline of turning raw materials into consumable products.

Today, the leader board reflects virtually every kind of manufacturing. Colgate Palmolive has a LEED Platinum toothbrush factory in Vietnam. Diagio brews Guinness in a LEED Platinum brewery in Ireland. Method makes cleaning products in a LEED Platinum facility in Chicago. Pepsi bottles its products in a LEED factory in Shanghai. And yes, even UTC is now among those whose business performance is, in part, defined by its nearly a dozen LEED plants. The list goes on.

If you're a manufacturer, or are interested in learning more, check out the new LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities report. By doing so, you will not only be opening your mind to new possibilities and finding a key that may just unlock new and exciting revenue opportunities for you and your company, you will be helping to bury the last traces of what had always been an economic tiger we've all held by the tail for too long, terrified at the prospect of ever letting go.

It's funny. The differences between this year's Democratic and Republican presidential candidates may be compelling and often seem too numerous to try to wrap your brain around. But maybe those differences might be best understood if they were distilled down to this one single difference; one that embodies almost everything I've just detailed.

Both the candidates have promised to help bring back U.S. manufacturing, the sector I once proudly called old home. The difference is, one envisions bringing back the dirty, resource intensive manufacturing of yesterday. The other intends to double down on support for lean, clean manufacturing that should define our future. I know which vision I'm rooting for.