Preventing Industrial Pollution at its Source
A Final Report of the Michigan Source Reduction Initiative
Top of Report
HOW THE PROJECT WAS ACCOMPLISHED
Before this project, I viewed myself as a window into the environmental community for the company. As a result of this project, I see my role as a door to create interactions between the environmental community and our business leadership.
-- Jerry Martin, Vice President and Global Director, EH& S Regulatory Affairs
A significant amount of time and energy was invested in designing and initiating the MSRI project. A number of lessons from the pollution prevention pilot that NRDC had conducted with Dow in LaPorte, Texas, were used to develop a project design for the reduction goals at the Midland facility. Critical elements of the Midland design were:
- Direct connection of informed activists with Dow manufacturing managers and engineers;
- Specific goals and deadlines for funding of reduction projects;
- Expert assessment by an experienced pollution prevention assessor, hired by Dow, but credible with environmental participants;
- Technical assistance to the environmental participants by an experienced pollution prevention assessor who was contracted by NRDC;
- Active, direct participation by the Midland site leader and Dow business and manufacturing leaders;
- Genuine, active, and fully participatory process mediated by a facilitator;
- Tracking methods for public accountability of project results;
- Availability of process-level waste and release information provided by Dow that went beyond TRI requirements; and
- Materials accounting data used internally by Dow to identify pollution prevention opportunities and assess results.
The NRDC project in LaPorte did not focus on institutional change goals, which were a key element of the MSRI project.
DIRECT CONNECTION BETWEEN DOW, NRDC AND ACTIVISTS
A fundamental aspect of the design of the MSRI project was the direct interaction of Dow business leaders and the activist and environmental participants. This is unusual; normally it is only the environmental professionals in a company like Dow that interact with outside activists. The opportunity for direct interaction allowed all parties to understand the concerns of others. The interactions with MSRI created a "dynamic tension" that was a critical incentive for the company to act and for the activists to gain an understanding of the business considerations facing Dow.
EXPERT POLLUTION PREVENTION ASSESSMENT
Bill Bilkovich, of Environmental Quality Consultants, participated with NRDC and Dow in the pilot project at Laporte, Texas. Both parties agreed that he was extremely well-qualified for the Dow Midland work, although Dow Midland personnel initially expressed skepticism that Bilkovich could bring ideas that Dow staff had not already considered. Bilkovich was introduced to the activists and met with them (without Dow staff present) to discuss his skills and philosophy and experience with pollution prevention. He was readily accepted by the group to do the work and was retained by Dow for the project.
Bilkovich began his assessment with a review of TRI and other data from each business. He used research and interviews with selected plant staff to pinpoint the part of the process responsible for the waste and/or emissions generated at the plant and to understand how they were formed. Bilkovich first analyzed the numbers to create a baseline for a starting point in the project and then minutely inspected the available data looking for information that might lead to interesting questions about process chemistry and opportunities. He researched and brainstormed opportunities for reductions with Dow experts, using the information he had gathered to bolster the belief that change was possible. Often, Bilkovich used doubt among Dow staff about data or processes to begin brainstorming sessions about opportunities. Sometimes his reduction possibilities had been considered by Dow staff in the past but not pursued. Other times, the ideas were considered innovative or even silly. Frequently, research was necessary to better understand the formation of the wastes/emissions in question. Bilkovich located, mobilized, and focused Dow on getting the information needed to support the envisioned process changes. He also worked to find the person(s) who would champion change within the business and gather the team needed to implement change.
Bilkovich worked with the technical consultant to the environmental participants, Steve Anderson, to determine the types of issues and opportunities that might appeal to the group. He also briefed the group regularly during quarterly meetings, updating them on progress with each business. Bilkovich also played a major role in conveying the concerns of the environmental participants to the various Dow personnel with whom he worked. Prior to each meeting, Bilkovich worked with the Dow businesses responsible for providing briefings on progress and opportunities to the group to ensure lucid and informative presentations about process chemistry and reduction opportunities without divulging confidential information.
ROLE OF EXPERT ASSESSOR
Bilkovich's ability to generate interest among the technical staff at the plant on technical issues relevant to waste and emission reductions was an important factor in his ability to ultimately identify opportunities. His willingness to then advocate for an idea, even if it was perceived as somewhat risky to the process to pursue further, and thereby serve as a repository for failure while an idea was maturing, was also very important. Bilkovich's experience in having done hundreds of assessments in other plants gave him specialized expertise in recognizing a wide continuum of opportunities that Dow process engineers did not have. Finally, his knowledge about environmental issues, history of environmental activism, and ability to "translate" the deeply technical jargon into concepts and principles that could be readily understood by lay-people allowed him to speak knowledgeably before the environmental participants and explain the limits and benefits of opportunities being presented.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL/COMMUNITY PARTICIPANTS
It was critical that the environmental and community participants have technical assistance to enable them to participate fully in the decision-making process of the project. Expertise in chemical engineering, environmental science, information databases, and data analysis were all central components to the project. Steve Anderson, of Kerr, Griener, Anderson, and April, had participated with NRDC in the LaPorte pilot project and was selected by the environmental participants to help them with their work.
Anderson helped the group find the right level of detail with which to discuss the projects and had detailed discussions with Bilkovich, thus serving as a "technical" screen for important information for the environmental participants. He was also responsible for the extensive nuts-and-bolts task of tracking progress in the project. Anderson participated in each meeting, making a regular presentation about overall progress and unresolved issues to keep Dow and the environmental participants on the same track. He also participated in the conference calls held among the environmental participants between meetings, keeping them abreast of issues and complications as they arose. Anderson created the templates for quantifying project results to ensure full transparency and accountability of the project results.
The major needs for technical assistance to the activists and environmental participants were in the following areas:
- To check TRI figures with Bilkovich to determine areas of possible historical inaccuracies
- To review, array, and organize health and environmental effects data and develop criteria to prioritize chemicals for the activists
- To critique and comment on opportunities for pollution prevention presented at the meetings
- To track progress business-by-business and compile numbers to assess progress towards overall goals
- To act as a go-between for the environmental activists and Bilkovich to resolve technical questions and confusion
- To provide a second expert opinion to the environmental participants for the feasibility of an option or lack thereof
- To provide access to relevant technical literature and "on-line" resources
Anderson did all of his work without a confidentiality agreement with Dow. Bilkovich provided Anderson with all the information necessary to inform the activists by distilling and condensing confidentiality details into summaries that addressed important issues without disclosing confidential business information.
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION BY DOW SITE, BUSINESS, AND EH& S LEADERS
A clear lesson from the NRDC/Dow LaPorte pilot project was that representatives from the individual Dow businesses needed to be an integral part of the initiative for it to succeed; otherwise, the project ran the risk of generating what participants thought were good opportunities that would hold no interest for the business staff. The pilot also showed that the project needed to involve both highly placed business decision-makers and lower level managers to implement what the businesses agreed to pursue.
For this reason, Dow corporate Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) staff first briefed senior corporate business leaders and the Midland site manager to obtain their support for the project. The Midland staff then directed most of the project activities for Dow, first discussing issues with Midland business staff and then appointing a staff person to work with the assessor and introduce him to the key Midland manufacturing leaders. The Midland site manager and EH&S staff participated actively in the project throughout its two-year life span.
Business representatives and process engineers were directly responsible for briefing the group on processes and opportunities, rather than the assessor, Bilkovich, or the Midland EH&S staff, as described more fully in the description of the participatory process below. This direct interaction between the manufacturing managers and engineers and the activists and environmental participants was critical to the ultimate success of the project.
GOALS AND DEADLINES
Relying on public information available for the plant, activists and environmental participants took the lead in developing the list of priority chemicals and reduction targets at the start of the project. Negotiations on project scope, reduction goals, and deadlines were then initiated. It required several meetings and sets of analyses by both sides to reach agreement. The goals and deadlines ultimately agreed upon by the group are provided in Table 9.
Selection of Chemicals
Over 70 chemicals were reported under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) from the Midland plant in 1996, the baseline year for the project. (Table 1) In addition, there were a significant quantity of non-TRI chemical wastes and emissions. The participants agreed that priorities should be set for reduction goals and that the most toxic, high volume chemicals would be the focus of this work.
The environmental and community participants developed the proposed chemical priorities for the project. Working together, they first identified five general priorities which were of critical concern to the group: incineration of chlorinated organics, (dioxin concerns), release of persistent bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs), air releases, endocrine disrupters, accidental releases, and pollution prevention opportunities. These priorities guided the development of twenty specific environmental criteria that were evaluated in detail for all TRI chemicals reported. (Appendix III) Using their technical assistant, the group reviewed data and rankings to see which chemicals at the site scored highest for these criteria. Following internal discussions and agreement, the activists and environmental participants selected the highest volume chemicals associated with each impact of concern.
The proposal for priority chemicals was presented to Dow for review and reaction. Dow accepted the environmental participants' priority list. However, Dow staff initially questioned some of their own TRI estimates, which they believed might in actuality be much lower than reported. In particular, Dow believed that many of their fugitive estimation methods were overly conservative. Dow presented the basis for their concerns to the environmental participants and recalculated several estimates, but ultimately decided that their original TRI estimates were suitable for the purposes of setting priorities for the project.
Dow proposed four non-TRI waste streams to the activists and environmental participants for inclusion on the list of project priorities. These were high volume chlorinated waste streams that were burned, an impact of considerable concern to the environmental participants. These waste streams were not required to be reported under TRI. The environmental participants readily agreed to add these non-TRI chemicals to the list, since they met the criteria for concern they had defined.
Table 3 presents the 26 chemicals targeted for reductions in MSRI.
Calculation of the Baseline
Participants had to create a baseline, or starting point, for the specific quantities of each chemical waste and emission in the project. The most up-to-date TRI numbers (1996) were used to create this baseline. However, numbers in the baseline were sometimes found to be in error and needed to be refined. Throughout the project, Bilkovich refined the baseline and presented the basis for changing baseline numbers to the full group for discussion prior to approving any changes. Table 10 provides the original and final baseline for the project, with annotations briefly describing the reasons that changes were required.
Negotiation of Quantitative Goals, Qualitative Goals, and Time Line
Just prior to the start of the Midland project, in April 1996, Dow senior management had independently announced voluntary, 10-year reduction goals for certain wastes and emissions from its global operations. (Table 11) These goals were designed to be achieved using pollution prevention. With these 10-year goals in mind, the environmental participants selected a 35% reduction goal for priority wastes and emissions for the MSRI project. Although it was difficult to select a quantitative reduction goal, the group agreed that 35% reductions over a 2-year time frame would be worth the effort and would take Dow more than halfway towards its 10-year reduction goals at Midland. Dow assessed the feasibility of achieving 35% reductions, weighing the feasibility of achieving the goals and the desirability of setting "stretch" goals, and agreed to them.
Definition of Pollution Prevention
The group negotiated and agreed upon a formal definition of pollution prevention, adopting the definition of Toxic Use Reduction used by the state of Massachusetts. (Figure 1) This definition, which does not include waste-to-product initiatives or out-of-process recycling, became very important during the life of the project as participants considered the strengths and weaknesses of various options presented to them. Occasionally, a business would come to the group with an idea that was better than the status quo but did not constitute pollution prevention. In these cases, the environmental participants urged a review of more prevention-oriented options and indicated that the pounds reduced in the way proposed would not be counted towards the project goals.
Qualitative goals for institutional change within Dow were developed that would further shift the corporation's thinking from compliance to pollution prevention and further integrate health and environmental concerns into core business decision making. (Table 9) However, these goals were not focused on sufficiently early in the project, and specific benchmarks and milestones were not established.
An effort was made later in the project to determine how Dow was doing with respect to these issues of concern. Dow Midland EH&S staff circulated a survey to the Dow EH&S Business Operations Leaders, on whom the businesses rely for current and accurate information on health and environmental issues. Table 12 provides a summary of issues addressed in the survey. Several meetings and conference calls were held to discuss the results of the survey and their significance. The information from the survey was then combined with information from earlier briefings to create the study findings and conclusions concerning institutional change. All parties agree, however, that work on the qualitative institutional change goals should have been initiated much earlier in the project in order to develop a more adequate understanding of the existing thinking on these broad and longer-term issues within Dow, as well as the impact of the MSRI project in this area.
IMPORTANCE OF DOW GLOBAL REDUCTION GOALS
However, the global nature of the reduction goals can sometimes work against reductions at Midland or any other particular Dow factory. Businesses would be expected to seek out the locations where reduction projects would have the biggest "bang for the buck", wherever around the globe their investment in pollution prevention improvements would lead to the greatest reductions in pounds. Because Midland represents relatively small production volumes for most of the businesses within the Dow Chemical Company, Midland was not a top candidate for most businesses to focus to achieve their global reduction goals. The MSRI project made it necessary to achieve reductions at Midland.
Selection of Participants
With Dow's agreement, NRDC identified local and regional activists who might be interested in this project based on their historical involvement with Dow or their environmental interests. Seven separate individuals/organizations were identified: Diane Hebert and Mary Sinclair, well-known local activists; Ann Hunt from Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination and Terry Miller from Lone Tree Council, two local groups; and Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in Michigan, and Michigan Environmental Council, three groups with state-wide or regional concerns. NRDC contacted each group or individual to describe the project and then met with them to discuss and refine a proposed project design. Michigan PIRG decided not to participate in the project because it was in litigation against Dow at that time and because of resource constraints. Michigan Environmental Council also decided not to participate, because three of its member groups were participating. The five other groups or individuals entered into the project.
The environmental participants met several times without Dow to discuss their priorities and perspectives for the project, to educate NRDC about their prior activities concerning Dow and the Midland plant, to learn about the issues that emerged from the pilot in LaPorte, and to discuss the desirability of a neutral facilitator for the project. The environmental participants continued to meet without Dow regularly throughout the project as necessary to coordinate concerns and perspectives.
Reliance on Experienced, Professional Facilitator
On the basis of experience with the pilot at LaPorte, Texas, both NRDC and Dow felt that a professional facilitator would be a good idea for the project. NRDC and Dow had previously worked extensively with John Ehrmann of Meridian Institute, Dillon, Colorado, and both considered him an excellent choice for the job of facilitating the meetings and process of the Midland project. Ehrmann met with the Michigan environmental and community participants at the onset of discussions, and they agreed that it would be valuable to bring him into the project. All participants agreed that it would be acceptable that Ehrmann be paid by Dow as long as any participant could raise concerns if they arose. Though the participants were uncertain of the need for a professional facilitator at the beginning, Ehrmann quickly demonstrated his value to the process as he nudged participants toward open and interactive participation.
The facilitation played a very central role in the implementation and ultimate success of the project. Ehrmann ensured that each meeting was planned appropriately and conducted the meetings to ensure full and bona fide participation from the activists. He suggested times when various groups needed to meet separately and worked with each side between meetings on request. One of the most important contributions Ehrmann made to the project was to create ground rules and up-front understandings that would keep both sides working productively together on a project that provided benefits to each, while at the same time allowing disagreements with each other on many other fundamental aspects of Dow's operations.
ROLE OF FACILITATOR
Similarly, during the project Dow continued many activities that the environmental participants viewed unfavorably -- lobbying positions on regulatory reform, etc., in Washington D.C. and confidentiality of audit findings in the Michigan state legislature, to name only two. No one was surprised by this. The facilitator made clear to all participants that working on this project did not mean that other, less collaboratively-oriented initiatives would not take place during and after the project, and to help people accept that reality.
To do this, he actively encouraged dialogue on controversial topics outside the scope of this project as necessary and recommended that several meetings be held "off-line" of the pollution prevention project. He constantly reminded the participants that activities which were disagreeable to one side or another were anticipated during the life of the project and should not come as a surprise.
Quarterly meetings were held throughout the two-year project. Meeting agendas were developed by Midland EH&S staff and discussed by the environmental participants and approved prior to each meeting. Representatives from each business came directly before the group to introduce themselves and become involved in the project; Midland EH&S staff did not make presentations. At their first meeting with the MSRI group, the business presented information on their processes and the ways in which wastes and emissions were generated. Sometimes they would already have worked on some pollution prevention ideas, which would be floated before the group for comment. Following this initial presentation, businesses would then periodically come before the group to describe the reduction options they were considering, researching, or in the process of implementing and answer questions and concerns. Occasionally the group would disapprove of a proposal, on the grounds that it was not genuine pollution prevention or that it offered less environmental protection than other proposals that had been presented. Interactions with the Dow business representatives focused both on the engineering opportunities and the business decision-making framework that would be used to evaluate the opportunities (such as hurdle rate for approving projects in the business that year, etc.)
Towards the end of the 2-year project, quarterly meetings were focused on issues of institutional change within Dow. As described above in the "goals" section, the group developed a set of questions to ask the businesses and also met with corporate EH&S staff charged with assessing sustainability, Dow global reduction goals, and other related issues. Because this aspect of the project was not focused on until late in the project there was not sufficient time to modify the project design to incorporate the responses from the Dow staff.
As the months passed in the project, the meetings took on a standard format, starting with a review of overall progress towards the project goals and discussion of various complexities in tracking progress, followed by a set of presentations by the individual businesses. Environmental participants sometimes met separately during the lunch hour to discuss strategy and concerns. Conference calls were often held between meetings among the environmental participants as well, for the same purposes. When issues of concern arose that were somewhat outside of the scope of the Midland project, an effort was made to address these concerns within the meeting. Sometimes a separate meeting was scheduled to ensure sufficient time for discussion as well as participation from the appropriate Dow personnel who might be otherwise not very involved in the MSRI.
The costs associated with the activist and environmentalists participation in the project were over $100,000. This does not include the costs of the volunteer time that was dedicated to the project by several of the participants. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. Dow also dedicated significant labor time to the project.
At the very outset of the project, the issue of confidentiality was raised. Dow expressed interest in how the environmental participants would view the signing of a confidentiality agreement concerning proprietary business information. Although the local activists and environmental participants had no intention of disclosing any such information, they were opposed to signing an agreement, because that act would run counter to the project goal of being a fully accountable piece of work for the public. The group decided that the project would proceed without either the environmental participants or their technical consultant signing a confidentiality agreement. They agreed that if, during the life of the project, a confidentiality agreement became necessary because a business could not explain a process or opportunity in sufficient detail without one, they would reopen the issue. Bilkovich, the expert assessor working within the plant, did sign a comprehensive confidentiality agreement with Dow.
To the delight of all participants, the need for a confidentiality agreement with the environmental participants was never triggered. Dow businesses supplied key information that was not in the public arena, particularly process-level wastes and emission data from within the Midland plant, where it was of central importance to the project. One business, ion exchange resin, provided considerable waste and emission data early in the project without revealing its identity, but revealed itself later in the project. It was possible to explain both processes and engineering opportunities for reductions with an amount of detail that supported informed conversations about opportunities without disclosing any business-sensitive information.
Anderson developed methods to track the project. He created a template to track each business separately and to keep an overall tally of progress towards the reduction goals. A complete template for one of the businesses is provided in Appendix IV.
Each business-specific template provided information on:
- Baseline data on wastes and emissions at the start of the project
- Quantities of reductions proposed to the group
- Brief description of the projects under serious consideration
- Milestones accomplished in the business approval process
- Quantities of reductions approved for business capital
- Quantities of reductions achieved
- The ranking of the quantities of wastes and emissions from the facility statewide and nationally
- A summary of government health and environmental criteria for each chemical of concern in the business, and
- The rationale for ranking of the chemical a project priority
The tracking system was tied directly to project goals. It was also linked to public reporting required under current environmental laws. Any deviations from publicly reported information were identified to ensure that members outside the MSRI group could also track and verify activities in the project and raise questions if appropriate.
Tracking was an ongoing activity in the project. The baseline of wastes and releases being addressed by the project were continually corrected to reflect new information as sampling data was presented and estimates were improved. Progress reports on reductions were updated for each meeting. Routine presentations on each change helped ensure that the information was accurate and that everyone was equally informed on the current status of projects. Detailed discussions also ensured that the reductions were "real" and not "paper" reductions, such as those that result from a change in estimation methods. Discussing the progress of projects, or lack thereof, also served to keep the pressure on for achieving reductions. For example, at a late critical stage of the project, Anderson's work highlighted that no projects or reductions were proposed for any of the fivetop sources of MSRI chemicals. This may have spurred additional action for these sources.
Future tracking will be critical for this project. Although approximately 80 percent of the reductions have already been implemented, there are several projects still in the design and construction phase. (Table 5) On-going tracking will ensure that these projects are implemented and achieve the expected reductions. In addition, there are important additional reduction opportunities that Dow is still investigating, but are not yet ready to be considered for business capital. These projects must also be tracked. (Table 6)
Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter
Water on Switchboard
NRDC experts write about water efficiency, green infrastructure and climate on the NRDC blog.
Recent Water Posts
- New Draft Fracking Rules Give Industry a Free Pass
- posted by Frances Beinecke, 5/17/13
- Voices for America's Wildlife - Fishermen Know that Protecting Endangered Salmon Protects Fishing Jobs
- posted by Doug Obegi, 5/16/13
- How Are California's Existing Water Management Issues Impacted by Climate Change?
- posted by Ben Chou, 5/15/13
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.