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Green business makes its mark with EPA

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Companies that demonstrate responsible environmental citizenship tend to be perceived well in the eyes of customers, local communities, suppliers, distributors, and investors. Their "green" citizenship can translate into a stronger bottom line, local support, and fulfillment of their corporate mission. Now, a new program initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adds value to the competitive advantage already enjoyed by leading environmental companies.

The National Environmental Performance Track encourages and rewards companies that exhibit high environmental performance by voluntarily going beyond regulatory compliance. The program also takes into account the many important areas of environmental performance that are not subject to regulation, such as energy, water, and materials use, as well as product impacts. Performance Track provides companies with national recognition, regulatory and administrative flexibility, and a more collaborative relationship with environmental regulators.

"Members of the Performance Track," says EPA’s Principal Deputy Associate Administrator Jay Benforado, are "in the forefront of our nation’s efforts to protect the health of every American, every community, and every ecosystem."

Business and the environment both benefit
The program offers a variety of incentives for participation, starting with public recognition. Program membership includes listing on the Performance Track Web site and mention in feature articles, case studies that profile accomplishments, and promotional materials related to EPA’s partnership programs.

Qualifying facilities can display the Performance Track logo and use it in communications with outside parties. They cannot, however, employ it to imply EPA endorsement of a specific product. "The Performance Track logo," says Benforado, "is a signal that the facility is responsible, and displaying it has positive value for the company."

Reduced reporting requirements
Participants are also eligible for reduced record-keeping and low priority for routine inspections. If any compliance issues arise, these facilities qualify for good faith credit under enforcement provisions, which can reduce penalties.

"High performers deserve a different kind of treatment," says Benforado. "Because we have more confidence in what they are doing, we don’t need to apply the same level of oversight."

Access to Information Sources
Another benefit is participation in special invitation conferences, workshops, and networks to share successful practices. This incentive includes the opportunity to be featured in a database on performance practices and to participate in information sessions with senior EPA officials to share lessons learned.

The agency plans on making additional benefits available soon, such as reduced reporting under the Clean Water Act, greater flexibility under the Clean Air Act, and expedited review of new reduced-risk pesticides. Other incentives are also under consideration.

Gaining ground
So far, more than 100 companies, representing over 250 facilities, have successfully qualified as members of Performance Track. Participating companies range from small local businesses to large multinational corporations. Almost one-third of the participants are companies with more than 1,000 employees, and 19 percent have fewer than 99 employees. Members are located in 42 states coast to coast.

The members represent a number of manufacturing sectors:

  • Textile, wood, paper, and printing products

  • Chemicals

  • Instruments

  • Rubber and plastics

  • Metal

  • Industrial, transportation, and electronic equipment.

Businesses can go beyond environmental regulatory commitments by installing new equipment, implementing process improvements, recycling and materials reuse, training employees, and substituting different chemicals and raw materials. Other strategies they may employ include the use of alternative power vehicles, reduction in employee transportation, and participation in voluntary programs to reduce energy use.

The John Roberts Company: Continuing a Green Tradition The John Roberts Company, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been a leader in environmental commitments since the early 1990s. The company, a leading commercial printer of annual reports, brochures, catalogs, calendars, posters, and books, was the only printing company to be admitted as a charter member of Performance Track.

The company’s attention to environmental issues was sparked in 1989. At that time, a local regulatory agency was concerned with the quantity of industrial solvent that was appearing in the community’s sanitary sewer system. The agency contacted the industrial laundry that was releasing the excess solvent. The laundry in turn got in touch with its customers in the printing business, since the solvent was coming from towels used to clean printing presses.

Subsequently, the John Roberts Company changed the kind of solvent used and reduced the volume released, making the company’s cleanup process less dangerous to the water supply. By navigating this change, Jeff Adrian, director of environment and safety for the company, helped save John Roberts $18,000 while strengthening its environmental ethic.

The solvent story was just the beginning. Since then, the John Roberts Company has participated in a number of EPA’s voluntary programs: Design for the Environment, 33/50 Toxic Reduction and Elimination Program, Environmental Leadership Pilot, and the Common Sense Initiative.

In addition, Adrian helped initiate a mentoring program in which he went on-site to four other printing businesses that are too small to hire an environmental manager of their own. There, he helped those companies identify measures they could take to reduce their environmental impact.

Because of John Roberts’ previous successes and participation in EPA’s voluntary initiatives, joining Performance Track was a logical step. Adrian saw information sharing with others in the industry as a strength of the program. "We can go it alone and struggle," he says, "or we can share information and all benefit from it."

As a member of Performance Track, the John Roberts Company has pledged to achieve the following four goals by 2003:

  • Reduce energy used to provide compressed air by 37 percent.

  • Reduce water used for graphic arts film processing by 67 percent.

  • Reduce solid waste through enhanced ink recycling by 87 percent.

  • Improve local habitat.

  • Installing improved technologies will help the company achieve many of its goals. The facility plans to replace old air compressors with new high-efficiency units and also plans to be vigilant in inspecting for pressure leaks, which can quickly drain energy. Processes that use water to develop graphic arts films are being phased out as digital proofs are becoming more popular. Through this shift, the John Roberts Company hopes to save 105,120 gallons of water per year.

    The facility has also begun using a Sentry System® to load ink into the presses. This system helps reduce wasted ink, which can run as much as 0.5 pounds wasted for every 5 pounds of ink previously used.

    Employee volunteers hope to reinvigorate a local wetland by planting native grasses and cattails there. The company anticipates that adding grasses will help reduce precipitation runoff from the its parking lots by providing a natural filter for water entering the wetland. The company also plans to install bird and duck boxes to help attract wildlife to the area.

    "We’re really proud of all we’ve done," said Adrian, "and Performance Track lets us share our successes as well as learn from others." One tool for this information sharing is the John Roberts Company’s Web site at www.johnroberts.com. There, users can access "JR Notes," a publication that highlights company activities. The John Roberts Company plans to launch a new environmental home page by October 1, 2001, which will include information on the company’s actual environmental impacts, the project status of its Performance Track commitments, its environmental management system and audit, and the history of its responsible environmental stewardship.

    Fuji Hunt Photographic Chemicals: Training to Be Green Another charter member of Performance Track is the Rolling Meadows, Illinois, facility of Fuji Hunt Photographic Chemicals. Fuji Hunt produces chemicals such as developers and fixers for the photographic and graphic arts industries. The facility’s Environmental, Health, and Safety Manager Joe Stevenson says that joining Performance Track was "the right thing to do." The facility has had upper-level support for becoming an environmental leader and attaining ISO 9000 and 14000 certification as well as Performance Track designation.

    Fuji Hunt considerably reduced the amount of solid waste it disposed of, mainly through employee training efforts. Between 1995 and 2000, the facility created new recycling programs for plastic bottles, reconditioned drums, and returned slipsheets. Historically, the slipsheets, used by a supplier to transport plastic bottles, were thrown out but now are returned to the supplier for re-use. The program began in 1997, with 14,640 slipsheets returned at that time and grew to 151,000 returned in the year 2000.

    The Rolling Meadows facility also has begun a water recycling program. Water is used in the plant to cool batches of chemicals and previously was discarded after it had picked up a certain amount of heat. Now the facility pumps the warmed water into a holding tank and subsequently uses it for washing out mixing tanks. This method of using water twice was originally estimated to save 1 million gallons annually, but the company now is on track to save 3 million gallons annually.

    Other achievements that Fuji Hunt expects to attain through employee training include reducing energy use by 5 percent per year, increasing cardboard recycling by 5 percent annually, and increasing the products that are re-worked (re-processed for further use) by 5 percent. Fuji Hunt has extensive employee training to enable its employees to meet the company’s goals. The facility conducts training every quarter for ISO 9000 and 14000, and department managers offer specific training as needed.

    "Employees are concerned about our environmental impact," explains Stevenson. "We have a suggestion program where we receive input and ideas from employees on how we can make the facility safer and greener."

    Mitchell Repair: Performance Track Supports a Safer Workplace Mitchell Repair Information Company, a subsidiary of Snap-on Incorporated, has found that being a Performance Track member is beneficial to the company’s employees. "Our employees are proud to be recognized by EPA as an outstanding facility," says Adrian Caddick, production manager at the Poway, California, company, which provides information to the automotive industry electronically and through publications that it prints. "We are committed to providing a healthy and safe workplace for employees while safeguarding our natural resources," says Caddick.

    Mitchell Repair has focused on reducing its energy use, minimizing waste, and reducing the use of solvents in its processes. The company reduced energy use and lowered costs by installing energy-efficient lighting and educating employees about turning off lights when not in use. In addition, the company is housed in a building in which all of the lights turn off automatically at night unless motion is sensed.

    The facility reduced its use of solvents by cleaning parts of its printing equipment once a week instead of every other day. Reducing the use of hazardous solvents helped decrease the risk to employees while saving the company money. Through this change, the company decreased its solvent use by an estimated 20 percent.

    In addition, the facility has instituted extensive training to inform employees about the materials they are exposed to. "Material Safety Data Sheets can be very confusing to people," says Caddick. To combat that problem, the company started using training programs that are available on the Web, and Caddick reports that employees find these materials much more interactive and engaging than, for example, watching a video.

    Education and process adjustment have paid off. Mitchell Repair has gone more than 500 days without an accident. Says Caddick, "Being part of Performance Track shows our employees that we are looking out for them. It’s been a real morale booster."

    Three companies in related industries—two printers and a producer of photographic chemicals—all are finding that Performance Track makes them more competitive by helping them reduce their operating costs and retain employees, while doing their part for clean air and water in their communities.

    Criteria for Qualifying for Performance Track
    A successful applicant needs to meet four entry criteria to qualify for Performance Track:

    • An operational environmental management system with at least one full cycle of implementation

    • Demonstrable environmental achievements and commitment to continued improvement

    • Commitment to performance reporting and outreach to the public and the local community; and

    • A track record of sustained compliance with environmental requirements.

    Application Period for 2001
    Start preparing your Performance Track application now. The present application period opened August 1, 2001, and closes October 31, 2001. The next application period opens February 1, 2002, and closes April 30, 2002.
    For more information on the application process, visit the program’s Web site at www.epa.gov/performancetrack/, or contact the Performance Track Information Center at ptrack@indecon.com or 888-339-7875.
    Daniel J. Fiorino is the director of EPA’s Performance Incentives Division and program manager for the National Environmental Performance Track.