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'Pollution prevention pays.' This was the slogan adopted by the US company 3M, one of the first large industrial corporations to take up the new preventive approach to environmental management of process wastes. 3M initiated its '3Ps' programme in 1975 in order to find ways of reducing environmental costs during an economic recession. The experiment paid off. In the first three years, the savings from US facilities alone amounted to over $17 million, with a further $3.5 million coming from subsidiary companies overseas. At the same time, the company eliminated the equivalent of 75,000 tonnes of air pollutants, 1,325 tonnes of water pollutants, 500 million gallons of polluted wastewater and 2,900 tonnes of sludge per year.1

This success seems so striking that it is tempting to suppose it was just a one-off accident. Experience shows otherwise. One after another, large companies began to introduce preventive environmental management programmes. Dow Chemicals' WRAP programme (Waste Reduction Always Pays) and the Chevron Corporation's SMART programme (Save Money And Reduce Toxics) were typical of a new wave of environmental initiatives which confirmed that economic savings were to be gained by improving corporate environmental performance.

The experience of the Du Pont company is typical. For years, one of their facilities at Beaumont in the US had been emitting 100 million pounds of waste annually. The Du Pont engineers believed at first that reduction of the pollution would be too expensive. When they took a second look, however, in 1990, they discovered that exactly the opposite was true. The production process could be modified to use less of one particular raw material. As a result, the plant's waste emissions could be cut by two-thirds. Yields went up and costs went down: the action saved $1 million a year.2

Despite these successes, scepticism has remained. A recent report from the UK found that almost half of UK companies still have no plans for waste minimisation, and do not even keep track of the costs of generating wastes. One of the arguments has been that such obvious economic advantages as those experienced by 3M and Dow Chemical are available only to large companies. But the evidence no longer bears this out. In 1985, the New York-based nongovernmental organisation INFORM documented the impacts of waste reduction programmes at 29 organic chemical manufacturing companies in the US. The selected companies included small, medium and large companies, with a variety of processes, making a variety of products. The study identified 44 waste reduction activities at these 29 plants in 1985 accounting for about 7 million pounds of waste. This only amounted to around 1 per cent of the total waste generated by the 29 plants. But the significant fact uncovered by INFORM was that every time a plant looked for preventive waste reduction measures, major opportunities were found which saved the plant money.3

A follow-up study on the same 29 plants confirmed these findings. By 1992, a total of 181 reduction activities were reported in the 29 companies, with an average reduction per waste stream of over 70 per cent. These reductions were accompanied by average increases in product yields and average savings of over $350,000 per year. For every dollar which had been spent there was an average saving of $3.50, and the average time taken to pay back the initial capital investment on the measures taken was just over a year.4

Nor were these findings limited to the United States. There is now an increasing number of successful projects which have shown that it is possible for industrial companies of all sizes to reduce environmental impact and make money. Amongst them the Swedish Landskrona project, the Dutch PRISMA project, Project Catalyst in the UK, the Aire and Calder Valley project (also in the UK), and the Austrian ECOPROFIT project. Box 3 summarises some of the results from these different projects.


The following brief summaries describe some of the preliminary results from five regional case studies in pollution prevention. Some of the results are expressed in the form of a payback period. The reader unfamiliar with this terminology is advised to refer to Box 4 (pp. 94-5) for clarification.


Established in 1992, to address water pollution problems in the Aire and Calder catchment area in Yorkshire in the UK, the results after the first 18 months of the project were as follows:

• 11 companies took part, including 5 chemicals companies, 2 printing companies, 2 soft drink manufacturers, a laundry and British Rail;

• a total of 542 measures for improving process efficiencies were identified, of which only 2 per cent were later discarded as infeasible;

• the measures resulted in reductions in emissions to rivers and sewers of 285 tonnes per year of chemical oxygen demand and over 300,000 cubic metres per year of suspended solids;

• 10 per cent of measures to reduce waste were cost-neutral; 60 per cent of measures to reduce waste had a payback of less than one year;

• the 11 companies made financial savings of £12 million a year between them; further savings of a similar magnitude were identified for subsequent years.

Source: 'Waste Minimisation—a route to profit and cleaner production', an interim report on the Aire and Calder project, CEST, London, 1994.


The PRISMA project was established in 1992 as a joint project between the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University in Rotterdam to investigate the potential for waste minimisation in the two cities. Results of the project at the beginning of 1994 include the following:

• 10 companies took part in the project; these included chemicals companies, printing shops and plating companies;

• a total of 164 waste reduction measures were identified, of which 45 have already been implemented;

• the implemented measures included good housekeeping measures, process modifications and substitutions of input materials;

• of the 45 measures which have been implemented, over 40 per cent were cost-neutral, i.e. they involved no additional capital expenditures; a further 25 per cent of the measures paid back the initial investment in less than a year;

• 7 per cent of the measures which have been implemented were cost-increasing, i.e. they did not have direct economic savings attached to them for the companies concerned.

Source: N.Johnstone 'Cleaner Industry, Cleaner Cities', Centre for the Exploitation of Science and Technology, London, paper to the CityTec '94 conference in Barcelona, February 1994.


Project Catalyst was set up in 1993 to promote waste minimisation and improved environmental management among companies contributing to environmental loads in the Mersey Basin in the UK. Results after the first 18 months of the project are:

• 14 companies are taking part in the project, involving a number of different kinds of industries, including chemicals, food processing, electronics and light manufacturing;

• reductions of over 1.8 million cubic metres of polluted waste-water have been identified, along with reductions of 12,000 tonnes of solid waste a year;

• the 14 companies are expected to save a total of £8.9 million a year. Source: UK Department of Trade and Industry press release, 27 June 1994.


The Landskrona project was established in the autumn of 1 987 by the TEM foundation at the University of Lund in Sweden. The objective was to examine the potential for profitable pollution prevention opportunities in small and medium-sized firms in the Landskrona region in southern Sweden. The project was completed in 1991.

• 6 companies took part in the project, including 3 engineering and manufacturing firms, 2 graphics and printing companies, and 1 chemical company;

• environmental measures included improved accounting and production planning, substitution of alkali degreasing for trichloroethylene degreasing, substitution of powder painting for solvent-based painting; substitution of water-based inks for solvent-based inks; implementation of closed rinse water system, and installation of ultrafiltration equipment.

Source: L.Siljebratt, 1994, 'Pollution Prevention—a profitable investment', Foundation of TEM, University of Lund, Sweden.


ECOPROFIT=ECOlogical PROject For Integrated environmental Technology

ECOPROFIT is a city-wide pollution prevention initiative in the Austrian city of Graz. Started in April 1991 under the EU's Eureka-PREPARE programme, the results after only one year were:

• in 5 companies (3 printing shops, 1 garage, 1 coffee roastery and chain store group) 54 waste minimisation options were found (24 in the garage, 20 in printing, 10 in the chainstore group);

• 24 per cent of the measures proved profitable in under 1 year; 30 per cent paid back in less than 2 years; and 15 per cent of the measures were neutral in costs;

• at least 50 per cent of the suggested measures therefore made sense economically as well as ecologically and were accepted immediately;

• substantial improvements regarding air emissions and wastes have been achieved: emissions of halogenated hydrocarbons and some toxic wastes could be reduced by 100 per cent; air emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been reduced at some applications by 70 to 90 per cent; several substances can be used again through recycling now, and there are waste reductions up to 82 per cent;

• a substantial cost saving has been achieved in the companies.

Source: K.Niederl and H.Schnitzer, 'Greening the Local Economy', paper presented at the Global Forum, Manchester, 1994.

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