Why the road to sustainability starts with pollution prevention

Pollution prevention as a term has become less used recently, supplanted by sustainability, but the fundamental idea of preventing pollution rather than fixing problems is essential for efficient, economically viable manufacturing, providing services, and addressing many environmental problems.

It makes sense, both economically and environmentally, to reduce the input of materials and energy, minimize the amount of waste for treatment and disposal, and make sure the wastes that are produced can be reused or disposed of easily and without harm to the environment.

In fact, in that way pollution prevention is an essential component of sustainability. Costs for extra raw materials, waste disposal, and waste treatment systems can be eliminated or substantially reduced. For example, Washington State businesses have said that pollution prevention planning has saved more than $45 million since 2005 (PDF)­­­.

Many new tools in the arsenal of programs and processes to prevent pollution at its source are becoming readily available, such as the push toward lean manufacturing that is focused on eliminating waste (anything that does not add value for the customer), and lifecycle approaches that can help prioritize challenges. In addition, there are many new P2 opportunities created by new energy conservation tools, new materials, and the move towards green chemistry. What is important is that pollution prevention thinking be integrated into everything we do.

Experience has taught us that pollution prevention should not be an add-on, but should be integrated into the business processes and ownership for solutions integrated into the responsibilities of the people who create the waste. As such, it is important to understand the business model to know where the opportunities have the greatest impact and can leverage limited resources.

For example, in a fairly stable operation there may be opportunities in training for better procedures -- training for better spray painting procedures at Woodfold Manufacturing, Inc., in Forest Grove, Ore., reduced paint use by 1,082 gallons, reduced VOC emissions by over 1,000 pounds, and saved $38,330 in the first year alone.

Where decisions are being made that impact environmental performance in the supply chain, such as by manufacturing equipment suppliers or chemical suppliers, it may be most effective to drive efficiencies there. We should always be opportunistic to implement good ideas, but since we all have limited resources it is important to focus our main programs on the areas where highest impact decisions are being made.

Next Page: How Intel tries to prevent pollution.