by Mindy Lemoine
Starting down the path of an environmental management system can lead a business to unexpected outcomes, like an abandoned quarry being turned into a 15-million-gallon rain barrel, sixth-graders being trained to sample aquatic macroinvertebrates, and implementation of a Leak Squad at a brewery.
What does EPA have to do with these voluntary actions? The link is EPA’s Pollution Prevention (P2) Program, which provides grants to support P2 programs in states.
Some P2 programs send experts out to businesses to identify opportunities to reduce pollution at the source. Others, like the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Excellence Program, identify businesses that are environmental leaders, provide training, and publicize their innovations and accomplishments.
Businesses voluntarily decide to apply to Virginia’s Environmental Excellence Program. Each applicant commits to develop and implement an effective environmental management system (EMS). The EMS can track environmental measures, including water use and water discharges.
Businesses also commit to the evolution of their EMS. They usually start at the Environmental Enterprise level designed for businesses in the early stages of implementing an EMS and pollution prevention program. Over time, many participants “level up” to the Extraordinary Environmental Enterprise level, with a fully implemented EMS, verified by an independent third party.
Businesses appreciate the regulatory fee discounts and recognition events that come with participation in the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. EPA is impressed with the pollution prevention results, such as reducing water usage by over 234 million gallons in 2015 from company baselines.
But could the best reward for employees of these companies be wading through a creek with a group of sixth-graders and pointing to the biggest rain-barrel in the world?
About the Author: Mindy Lemoine is the Pollution Prevention Program Coordinator in EPA Region 3. She previously worked with local governments on protecting Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River watersheds. She lives in the Tookany Creek watershed, and recently replaced her lawn with a suburban permaculture including sedges, pawpaws, and nut trees.