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Innovation, Saving Money and Protecting the Environment

Message from the Director, Dr. Michael Ellenbecker

Environmental regulations are generally supported by citizens, since we are all interested in improving the quality of our surroundings, but they are generally considered to be a burdensome cost to industry. In times like this, when the state economy must improve, the natural inclination is to reduce the environmental burden on companies so that they can devote limited resources to improving their business performance.There is a way out of this tug-of-war. We now know that it is possible to improve the environment while at the same time improving the economic health of companies. The secret to solving this dilemma is to reduce pollutants at the source rather than controlling them after the fact.As an example, picture a company that makes widgets. During manufacture, the widgets become coated with oil, that must be removed before sale. The traditional approach to this problem is to remove the oil with an organic solvent. During removal, however, the solvent evaporates into the environment, contaminating both the workplace and the environment. In order to protect the environment, the solvent must be captured in a ventilation system and then directed to an afterburner, where it is burned and reduced to non-harmful compounds (including CO2) that are released to the environment. This process is very costly, both to buy and maintain the control system and to buy the fuel for the afterburner; it adds considerably to the cost of the widget, wastes nonrenewable resources, and contributes to global warming from the CO2 emission.

The new approach to solving this problem is to use an alternative process to clean the widgets -- water and detergent. By changing the process to soap and water, the expensive, wasteful end-of-pipe control system is eliminated, along with the costs associated with it. By spending a small amount of money to purchase the new cleaning system, the company can save a lot of money each year it is used. This approach is called pollution prevention, in contrast to the traditional pollution controlHere we have a state government program that involves voluntary reductions in chemical use by companies, whereby the reductions support innovation, save money and improve the environmentMassachusetts has been in the forefront of pollution prevention efforts for more than a decade. In 1989, the Commonwealth passed the Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA), the first of its kind in the country charged with encouraging Massachusetts industries to reduce their use and emissions of toxic chemicals by pollution prevention methods. TURA established two state agencies, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) and the Office of Technical Assistance (OTA), to identify practical pollution prevention options and assist state companies in their implementation. In cases similar to our widget example, TURI and OTA have worked to design and test detergent systems that work as replacements for the solvent degreasers used by dozens of Massachusetts industries.

From 1990 to 2004, use of the reported chemicals (adjusted for production rates) was reduced by an astonishing 41%, and the byproducts from the chemical use were reduced by an even more astonishing 65%! A survey by TURI of participating companies documented overall cost savings that accompanied this reduced chemical use, due to improved production efficiencies and elimination of end-of-pipe control devices. All of these reductions were undertaken voluntarily by the companies, as they recognized the potential cost savings.
TURA is now positioning our industries to compete more strongly in the global market, since the European Union and Japan are instituting chemical restrictions on products sold in those countries. For example, TURI has established the Wire and Cable Supply Chain Initiative, that brings together raw material suppliers, compounders, extruders and manufacturers to develop lead-free wire and cable that will meet the strict requirements of the EU and Japan. Companies tell us that Institute programs are putting them at a competitive advantage relative to those in other states, while reducing the release of lead to our environment.So here we have a state government program that involves voluntary reductions in chemical use by companies, whereby the reductions support innovation, save money and improve the environment. If this doesn’t meet the definition of a successful government program, I don't know what would.