Treating water for a second act

Cummins employees at the Rocky Mount Engine Plant tour the new system's greenhouse at a ribbon cutting earlier this year.
Cummins employees at the Rocky Mount Engine Plant tour the new system's greenhouse at a ribbon cutting earlier this year.

No, the greenhouse at Cummins’ Rocky Mount Engine Plant (RMEP) doesn’t mean the company is diversifying into fruits and vegetables.

It’s part of Cummins’ commitment to reduce water use in the North Carolina (U.S.) community where the plant is located. RMEP has a new system employing multiple technologies including hydroponics – using plants as a filter –  to treat millions of gallons of water annually so it can be returned to the facility for non-potable use.

A similar system – minus the greenhouse – is conserving millions of gallons annually at Cummins’ Jamestown Engine Plant in western New York (U.S.). Both plants expect to cut city water use by about a third – collectively saving more than 25 million gallons annually.

Rocky Mount Engine Plant Water Hub
The new system at the Rocky Mount Engine Plant is capable of treating about 75,000 gallons per day, returning it to the plant for non-potable use.

The projects will likely play an important role in reaching the goals established in PLANET 2050, Cummins’ environmental sustainability strategy to reduce the company’s impact on the climate and other environmental challenges.

The strategy calls for reducing absolute water consumption in facilities and operations companywide 30% by 2030 or more than 200 million gallons annually. The strategy calls for reusing water and returning it clean to communities as a 2050 aspiration.

In 2019, the company used 895 million gallons of water, down from 949 million gallons the previous year, about a 6% reduction.

“What we learn at these locations could be applied elsewhere when we update facilities in the future,” said Nichole Morris, Cummins’ Manager for Water and the Environment. “Each site has unique characteristics that will help us as we move forward.”

Unfortunately, replacing every Cummins treatment system with the latest technology is cost prohibitive. These new systems, however, could provide lessons for other locations when investing in new systems makes sense.


Rocky Mount earlier this quarter held a ribbon cutting to celebrate what it calls its WaterHub. The multi-faceted system includes anaerobic and aerobic treatment, allowing micro-organisms to break down organic materials.

Hydroponics provide additional microbiological treatment coupled with membrane filtration to remove fine solids. A final stage uses a reverse osmosis process to address any remaining undesirable constituents.

The hydroponic plants are critical to the functionality of the WaterHub. Root surfaces provide supplemental aeration and catalyze an ecology of grazing micro-organisms (protozoa and micro-crustaceans) to help reduce sludge and increase overall efficiency.

“These technologies have been around for many, many years,” said Gary Keffer, Director of Health, Safety and Environment at the plant. “What makes this innovative is it puts all of these technologies together to produce the ultra-clean water we need for our manufacturing processes.”

Working with four different outside contractors, the system took nearly four years to complete and has a treatment capacity of about 75,000 gallons per day. Most of the water is returned to the plant’s cooling tower, which is used to cool various machinery such as air compressors. The water must be ultra clean to prevent degradation within the tower, which includes several sensitive metals.

The old system had been updated several times but essentially went back some 40 years. Plant leaders hope the greenhouse will host school tours, providing hands-on learning opportunities on the importance of clean water.

“This project has not been without its challenges,” said Tim Millwood, Vice President of Manufacturing at Cummins, speaking remotely at the ribbon cutting because of COVID-19. “Probably the pandemic was the ultimate challenge. But, thanks to your commitment, this team got the WaterHub over the finish line. I’m really, really proud of you all.” 


The three pillars of Cummins' water strategy.
The three pillars of Cummins' water strategy.

The Jamestown plant's new system has been around a little longer, and lacks a greenhouse, but it, too, could provide important lessons for other Cummins sites.

Over the past 18 months, the plant has been working to upgrade the treatment system, which was largely original to the more than 40-year-old plant.

While there’s no hydroponics, the Jamestown system also includes a reverse osmosis and filtration process to polish wastewater so it can be re-used in the plant’s manufacturing processes, said David Burlee, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the plant.

“We are finding the high quality of the reclaimed wastewater is dramatically reducing the number of regeneration cycles required on our deionized water system and increasing the efficiency of our cooling towers,” Burlee said.

Jamestown is significantly north of Rocky Mount and the low temperatures it gets most winters would likely not be as conducive to a greenhouse as the warmer climate in North Carolina.

The system looks a little more industrial, which might be fine in many settings while a system with a greenhouse could be more visually pleasing for plants close to residential areas.

Given the company has around 125 major manufacturing sites in various locations and climates around the world, Morris is happy to have multiple examples to share moving forward. She says a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t likely to work.

While 10 years might seem like a long time, she often feels those 2030 goals are lurking just around the corner.

“The reductions from these systems are significant,” she said of the Jamestown and Rocky Mount projects. “But we still have a long way to go to reach our 2030 goals and beyond. It will take many different approaches to get there.”

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]


Community recycling days draw big crowds, and tons of stuff

Volunteers clear a truck of electronic equipment at the Columbus Engine Plant’s Community Recycling Day.

Community recycling days over the summer at two of Cummins Inc.’s larger U.S. plants collectively emptied more than 2,000 vehicles of an estimated 140 tons of electronics, batteries, tires, used paint, old lightbulbs and more.

The separate events at Cummins’ Jamestown Engine Plant (JEP) in Jamestown, New York, and the company’s Columbus Engine Plant (CEP) in Columbus, Indiana, also attracted plenty of people, some waiting as long as three hours for their chance to safely rid themselves of material they had been holding onto, sometimes for years.

“It was really good to be able to have the Community Recycling Day at CEP once again,” said CEP Plant Manager Kyle Lewandowski. “It has been a couple of years since this event was held due to COVID. It gives people within the community an outlet to dispose of things they have around the house that are typically difficult to get rid of safely. It also provides a lot of opportunities for people around the community to volunteer, and that’s what makes the event so fun and successful.”


The Jamestown event was held June 18, while the Columbus community recycling day took place Sept. 15. It was the first such event at CEP in two years because of COVID-19. JEP didn’t have its event in 2020 because of the pandemic but was able to conduct a recycling day in 2021.

Both events this year happened under sunny skies, lending a festive atmosphere to the efforts.

“We had people lining up at 5:30 a.m. and our event didn’t start until 9 (a.m.),” said Loren Chase, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Jamestown plant. “I don’t know if they got the time wrong or just enjoyed seeing the whole thing come to life.”

Taken together, the events involved nearly 200 volunteers, working in concert with partners capable of safely handling hard-to-recycle items like waste paints and electronics. The Columbus event also got a helping hand from more than 40 National Honor Society volunteers from Columbus East High School in addition to volunteers from Cummins.

Older television sets showed up at both events.
Yes, older TVs are still out there and they can be difficult to recycle. This one showed up at the recycling day at the Columbus Engine Plant.


Organizers said the days brought out some unexpected items.

“One of the things that got my attention and the attention of many of our volunteers was the number of old TVs we saw with the cathode-ray tubes,” said David Wehrkamp, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Columbus Engine Plant. “There were some of the big heavy ones with the wood paneling. I didn’t think people still had them, but they do.”

While perhaps amusing, the old TVs underscore the importance of events like the ones in Columbus and Jamestown. Older TVs with cathode-ray tubes typically hold lead, cadmium-based phosphorus, and other toxic chemicals that make them potentially dangerous and hard to recycle. Many places in the United States charge a fee for handling them, but the recycling and cleanup days at both plants took them at no-cost.

The same kind of thing can be true for waste oils, paints and other liquids as well as tires. While both events depend on volunteer labor, they also involve significant costs that both locations cover through various means. 


Government leaders say community recycling days serve an important purpose as part of the three R’s of waste management – reduce, reuse and recycle – to limit what ends up at landfills, incinerators and other means of waste disposal.

The Jamestown Engine Plant Recycling Day drew big crowds in 2022.
Community members began lining up at 5:30 a.m. for the Jamestown Engine Plant's Recycling Day on June 18.

“There is value in all unwanted items we accumulate in our homes,” said Tracy “T.J.” Pierce, Solid Waste Analyst for the Chautauqua County Division of Solid Waste in Jamestown. “…The community cleanup days organized by Cummins provide our communities an awesome opportunity to remove unwanted items from people’s lives and accumulate them in one place where they can be efficiently sorted and delivered to the recycling industry to extract that value.” 

Given they provide people the chance to do the right thing and save money, it’s no wonder the JEP and CEP recycling days, each now more than a decade old, are extremely popular.

“We get people calling months ahead of time asking, ‘when is the cleanup day?’” said David Burlee, JEP’s Machining Director of Operations and the longtime leader of the Jamestown event until handing that responsibility to Chase this year. “It’s great to be part of something people feel so strongly about.” 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]


Cummins plant receives Indiana governor's environmental excellence award

Engineers Clarissa Arriaga and Ashwini Khandelwal led the no-paint initiative

Cummins Inc.'s Columbus Mid-Range Engine Plant (CMEP) has received a 2022 Indiana Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for a project resulting in the plant no longer painting 6.7-liter diesel engines with a clear coating before they leave the facility.

The award was presented Wednesday (Sept. 21) during the state’s 25th Annual Pollution Prevention Conference in Indianapolis. The plant’s effort not only significantly reduces the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but also cuts the water, soap and chemicals used to clean the engines, as well as the energy used to dry engines after they are painted.

Cummins was one of six groups honored at the event, joining businesses, school systems, public private partnerships and other groups in receiving the award this year.

Reducing VOCs is one of the 2030 goals included in PLANET 2050, Cummins’ environmental sustainability strategy. The strategy establishes the goal of reducing VOCs from paint and coating operations by 50% over the next decade, in addition to goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), water use and waste production. Other goals include creating a lifecycle plan for every part and recycling 100% of packaging plastics.

Cummins employees gather after receiving the 2022 Indiana Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Indianapolis.
Cummins employees gather after the ceremony where the Columbus Mid-Range Engine Plant received a 2022 Indiana Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Indianapolis.


Plant Manager Nicole Wheeldon credits two engineers at CMEP with conducting a two-year validation investigation that determined the lack of clear coating, which consumed about 260 gallons of paint per week, would not make the engines more susceptible to corrosion.

Senior Industrial Engineer Clarissa Arriaga and Current Product Senior Engineer Ashwini Khandelwal found most engine parts were either already made of corrosive-resistant materials or had some kind of treatment prior to assembly. The benefit of painting was largely degraded by the time the Cummins engine was installed at the customer’s facility and then left that facility for the next stop on its journey.

The award is another chapter in the rich history of the plant, which was built in 1971 largely below ground level with parking on the roof to better integrate with the surrounding nature. Wildlife has been known to walk up and peer through CMEP’s windows.

Arriaga and Khandelwal are pleased they could contribute to creating a more sustainable product.

“In today’s world we need to do whatever we can to make our engines the cleanest technology possible,” Khandelwal said.


But the two engineers, as well as Plant Manager Wheeldon, all emphasize the benefits extend beyond the environment. There is a cost-savings with no longer painting the engines for both the company and the customer. The change also frees up valuable space in the plant for other uses, and allows the employees in the painting operation to be re-assigned to other more important tasks.

The change, which went into effect in the fourth quarter of 2021, also eliminated something of a bottleneck in the plant when engines had to be cleaned, painted and dried.

“It was a win any way you look at it: environmentally, financially, productivity, and quality,” Arriaga said.

Little changes when end users open up the hood. They will continue to see a small vanity plate with the Cummins logo on top of the powerful 6.7-liter engine. 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that.[email protected]


Cummins believes climate legislation key to creating low-carbon future

Image of virtual roundtable discussion on Inflation Reduction Act

Cummins Inc. leaders say the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this week by President Biden will play an important role in the company’s journey to a carbon free economy.

The legislation establishes key incentives for the development of both the technologies that will power the future and the infrastructure to support them.

“We think the comprehensive scope of the energy provisions (in the act) – from power generation, to transportation, to hydrogen production – are all important pieces of the decarbonization puzzle, and they’re important to ensure we have the well-to-wheels decarbonization in hard-to-abate sectors like those we serve,” Cummins President and CEO Jennifer Rumsey said at a roundtable discussion hosted by the White House earlier this month before final congressional approval of the legislation.

“We see a significant opportunity to increase U.S. manufacturing capacity and grow jobs in all of these different technologies that support our strategy – Destination Zero – to decarbonize our industry,” Rumsey said later in the virtual forum, which also included General Motors CEO Mary Barra and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.


The legislation includes incentives for development of low- and no-carbon technologies, including battery and fuel cell electric, as well as low- and no-carbon fuels like hydrogen that could be used in those new technologies. Hydrogen can also fuel traditional platforms, such as internal combustion engines, to reduce carbon.

Destination Zero, Cummins’ strategy for decarbonization, calls for developing and advancing low- and no-carbon platforms for those customers who are ready for them while also working to reduce carbon emissions from the company’s more traditional products.

Cummins has brought to market battery and fuel cell electric platforms as well as electrolyzers critical to producing low-carbon and green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced when the electrolysis of water to split hydrogen and oxygen is accomplished using renewable forms of power.

The company is also bringing to market fuel-agnostic internal combustion engines offering a common architecture that can be optimized for different low-carbon fuels. 

Cummins has pledged to take a leadership role in addressing the world’s climate challenges. PLANET 2050, the company’s environmental sustainability strategy, includes goals timed to 2030 to reduce carbon emissions from company plants and facilities in addition to its products.

Cummins’ first update on its progress toward those 2030 goals is included in the company’s 2021 Sustainability Progress Report posted in July. 

Image from the roundtable discussion on the climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act
An image from the White House virtual roundtable discussion of the climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.


Destination Zero charts a path to PLANET 2050’s aspiration to power customer success exclusively with net-zero emission technologies by the year 2050.

Cummins believes it can have a significant impact on the climate because of its size and the varied markets it serves. The company’s technology helps power the on-highway, off-highway, marine, rail, and construction markets to name just some. But Cummins has also said it cannot solve these challenges acting alone.

The company advocated for the Inflation Reduction Act in multiple ways including Cummins' membership in the CEO Climate Dialogue. The group is made up of 22 leading businesses and four environmental organizations pledging to work together for climate action. Members range from the Ford Motor Company to the Environmental Defense Fund.

“As climate risks have continued to intensify, so has the urgency to put in place policies that will help to reduce carbon emissions, put us on path to net-zero by 2050, accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy, bolster investment and innovation in clean energy technologies, create jobs, promote equity, and increase U.S. economic competitiveness,” the group said after the Inflation Reduction Act passed the U.S. House on Aug. 12.

“The Inflation Reduction Act makes significant progress toward meeting our climate goals,” the group added. “Combined with future action like the enactment of a price on carbon, these policies will create a strong and sustainable economy.”


Cummins’ leaders are ready to continue the company’s carbon reduction efforts under the provisions of the new legislation. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to bring some of these technologies here to the U.S., export these technologies globally, (and) increase American competitiveness,” Rumsey told the President at the forum. “…We see the Inflation Reduction Act as a key piece of accelerating our journey and really transitioning our applications to the technologies of the future like battery (and) fuel cell electric and green hydrogen.”

“Well, I think you can do it, I really do,” President Biden responded, “and I hope this (the Inflation Reduction Act) is as helpful as we think it is, because you’ve always been at the forefront before.” 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]


Cummins reports key progress toward 2030 environmental goals

Solar array at the Cummins Engine Plant at Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Cummins Inc. in 2021 made significant progress toward the company’s 2030 environmental goals, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both its products and facilities, while cutting water use and waste production.

The global power technology leader also made progress in 2021 on its goal for reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint and coating operations and completed foundational work toward its lifecycle planning goal to create a plan for every part to use less, use better and use again.

These findings are included in the company’s recently posted 2021 Sustainability Progress Report. The report includes the first update on the 2030 goals in PLANET 2050, Cummins’ environmental sustainability strategy. 

As part of PLANET 2050, the company established nine goals, ranging from reducing absolute GHG emissions from facilities and operations by 50% compared to a 2018 baseline, to producing net water benefits that exceed Cummins’ annual water use in all company regions around the world.

PLANET 2050 also includes the aspiration to power customer success exclusively using carbon neutral technologies that address air quality, near zero pollution in facilities and operations, and designing out waste in products and processes – all by 2050. 

Solar array at the Cummins Engine Plant in Rocky Mount , NC
The solar array at the engine plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, will increase the company's use of low carbon power.


Cummins has vowed to take a leadership role on climate action and the company is off to a good start on reducing GHGs. In 2021, Cummins cut GHG emissions from plants and facilities by 31% compared to a 2018 baseline.

Completion of solar projects in India played a key role as did the company’s continued support for an expansion of a northern Indiana (U.S.) windfarm that sends enough renewable power to the grid to roughly offset all of the power Cummins uses statewide from traditional power sources. 

The second year of the pandemic also may have played a role but not to the extent that it did in 2020 when most facilities at some point closed for a period of time to help guard against the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Cummins continued working with customers to reduce Scope 3 GHG emissions from its products in the field and ended 2021 on pace to reach its 2030 goal of cutting those emissions by 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to a baseline year of 2014.

The company reached a cumulative emission reduction of 26.8 million metric tons of CO2 by the end of 2021 by various means, such as working with customers on engine settings to improve fuel economy.

Finally, the company achieved some important initial steps toward the complex 2030 goal of reducing Scope 3 absolute lifetime GHG emissions from newly sold products by 25%. Calculating lifetime emissions requires a number of assumptions and projections.

It is perhaps no surprise that those calculations showed emissions were essentially flat between 2021 and the baseline year of 2018, given it will take a few years before planned changes in product design and fuels yield significant results. Cummins in 2021 developed Destination Zero, the company's strategy to achieve product decarbonization.


Cummins is also off to a good start in achieving its goals to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint and coating operations and reduce both the company’s water use as well as its waste generation.

On VOCs, Cummins’ 2030 goal is to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 2018. In pandemic-altered 2020, the company recorded a 51% reduction compared to its baseline year. Despite operations returning much closer to normal levels in 2021, the reduction in VOC emissions did not change all that much, ending the year at a 45% reduction compared to 2018.

Meanwhile, Cummins recorded a 12.7% reduction in water use in facilities and operations compared to 2018 as it strives for its 2030 goal of a 30% reduction in absolute water consumption from its baseline year. There is still a long way to go, but the company made significant progress.

On waste generation, Cummins’ 2030 goal is to generate 25% less waste in facilities and operations as a percent of revenue compared to a 2018 baseline. In 2021, the company achieved a 4.1% reduction in waste as a percentage of revenue, up from 2.6% in 2020. That also represents a decent first step but, as with water, much work remains to be done. 


On two other goals, Cummins achieved critical steps that will pay off closer to 2030. To create a circular lifecycle plan for every part, Cummins in 2021 recorded two important steps – the creation of a Circular Lifecycle Design Standard and an Optimization Center with the tools that will be needed to meet that standard.

Cummins India employees work on a water project
Cummins employees work on a project in India to help a community develop a more sustainable water supply.

Design standards serve as a roadmap of sorts for engineers as they put together parts designs. The Circular Lifecycle Design Standard includes steps like review by Cummins’ Materials Science function to ensure a part uses the most appropriate materials and processing.

The Optimization Center includes tools like high-powered software so engineers can determine where strength and durability are important in a design and where a part can use a little less material without compromising performance. 

Cummins also has a 2030 goal to produce net water benefits that exceed company annual water consumption in all regions Cummins serves. In 2021, the company established Cummins Water Works to address the global water crisis.

The program, which partners with leading water experts around the world to invest and engage in high-impact water projects, is initially focusing on four of the most water-stressed countries: Brazil, India, Mexico and the United States.

Finally, Cummins has established the 2030 goal of reusing or responsibly recycling 100% of packaging plastics and eliminating single-use plastics at dining facilities and employee events. Work on this goal is still in the planning phase with details expected to be released in the company’s 2022 Sustainability Progress Report.

The company’s 2030 goals pick up where Cummins’ 2020 environmental goals left off. While 2030 might seem like a long time away, the Cummins environmental team knows from experience the end of the decade is fast approaching.

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]


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