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Pro-environment policies benefit business

Posted online

by Gretchen Boisse

for the Business Journal

Turn regulations to your advantage. The 1960s and 1970s were an era of environmental regulation that added significant costs to businesses, and particularly to manufacturers. The objectives to protect the environment were appropriate, but the regulatory methods resulted in expensive pollution-control technology.

In response to regulation, the pollution-control strategies put forth treated wastes after they had been generated. There are two major problems with this strategy.

First, the business has already suffered the costs of wasting resources before the waste is treated and disposed.

Second, pollution-control strategies often transfer the pollutants from one medium to another. For example, scrubbers on smokestacks remove pollutants from the air, only to be deposited on the land as a solid or hazardous waste.

But what if waste could be eliminated in the first place? What if the waste wasn't generated, or the amount or toxicity of waste was reduced? Businesses that solve this challenge have a win-win situation. The costs of wasted resources are eliminated, and the costs of pollution-control are eliminated. In fact, it is likely that a number of other hidden costs related to waste generation and management would also be eliminated.

For example, a Tennessee dry cleaner found that by converting to new dry-to-dry technology, the efficiency of using the cleaning solvents was increased by more than 400 percent, and the generated amount of solvent-related waste was reduced.

This new technology was purchased in response to new Clean Air Act regulations. The resulting savings per month pays most of the loan cost in the short run, and in the long run it reduces the overall costs of the dry-cleaning service.

The business will ultimately improve its profitability and its competitive pricing. A side benefit is improved worker safety and health through less exposure to toxic chemicals.

The best way to beat regulations is to accept the challenge and innovate ways to meet them. In so doing, you may well reduce or eliminate your regulatory burden.

Waste and efficiency. No matter what size the business, waste is a measure of business efficiency management decisions in your business have probably been affected by this concept. Labor, space, time, materials and energy are all cost factors in your business, and it is easy to recognize the value of reducing labor or energy costs associated with producing a product or service.

Ideally, at every step in providing a service or producing a product, value should be added for the resources invested by the business. If there is no value added, the business has limited opportunity to recover the costs of the resources that have been invested.

For example, in the 1980s United States auto makers discovered they were at a competitive disadvantage with Japanese auto makers. Japan was producing high-quality automobiles while consuming half the energy and generating half the waste of comparable vehicles made in the United States.

Because there was less waste of energy and materials, more value was added to each product for the dollar invested. Japan's motivation to reduce resource costs was a factor in the high quality achieved in its products.

In 1975, 3M Company began "Pollution Prevention Pays," the "3P" program. The company recognized it did not make "sense" or "cents" to create a waste which represented a loss of raw materials, in addition to paying to manage that waste.

3M realized that changing its processes or materials to reduce or eliminate the waste stream could save both money and resources. It was a front-end solution called source reduction. For 3M, it meant more than $500 million in savings over 20 years.

Highly visible examples of competitive advantage are seen everywhere in global and domestic markets. The factors involved and the results are the same, whether the company is a dry cleaner, a retail outlet, an insurance business, a furniture maker or a machine shop.

Cost efficiency is a neverending key to success and long-term survival, and waste equals inefficiency.

Waste reduction leads to cost reduction, reduced regulatory burdens, reduced exposure to liability, improved worker safety, improved productivity, improved public image and better environmental protection.

Pollution Solutions. If you would like to explore what your business can do to reduce waste costs and regulatory burdens, access Pollution Solutions online at http://www.orion.org/~owm/.

The Pollution Solutions web site will link your business with local and national waste-reduction resources. Check it out to learn more about pollution prevention (P2) and how it will benefit your business, developing a P2 plan, common P2 methods, environmental laws and regulations, material safety data sheets, recycling and waste exchange, waste assessments, grants/capital sources/awards, and upcoming workshops and conferences.

Pollution Solutions has specific information on many business sectors, including auto body and repair shops, dry cleaners, fiberglass operations, furniture refinishers and manufacturers, health care facilities, hotels/motels, metal finishers, painters and printers.

Printed resources are available at the Springfield-Greene County Library in the second floor reference department of the main branch, 397 E. Central. Also, the University Extension office of waste management, at 889-5000, has information available on the economic impacts and opportunities related to waste generation by your business.

(Gretchen Boisse is an environmental quality specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. Some information in the preceding article comes from the University of Wisconsin-Extension's Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center.)

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