P2 for SMEs: How to advance pollution prevention in small and medium-sized organizations

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Businesses in the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector are a vital part of the Canadian economy. So-called 'SME' firms have less than 500 employees and less than $50-million in annual revenues. But SMEs are the fastest growing facet of the Canadian economy, and as such are especially important to the successful adoption of pollution prevention (referred to as 'P2' in government circles).

SME business needs and their interactions with the environment differ from large companies. Generally they generate less environmental data, have less environmental expertise and/or experience, manage fewer resources, and differ in structure. Individually their environmental impact is small, but cumulatively they generate substantial wastes and environmental impacts.

Overall, industrial pollution in Canada and the U.S. dropped an encouraging four per cent between 1998 to 2000, according to Taking Stock, an annual report of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. But the report notes a disturbing 32 per cent increase in toxic emissions from smaller facilities (those releasing less than 100 tonnes). In Canada, pollution from this group was up 66 per cent, versus 29 per cent in the U.S.

These high figures raise concerns about environmental stewardship with respect to smaller industrial facilities.

While the most recent Canadian Federation of Independent Business survey says these smaller businesses support environmental initiatives, they also have fewer employees, and less time and money for research -- so many SME managers still find it difficult to spend time on environmental initiatives, despite opportunities and incentives to do so.

P2 incentives

Incentives for P2 vary from business to business but may include: industry or sector-wide government regulations (e.g., Canadian Environmental Protection Act); financially beneficial program recognition (e.g., Eco-Logo certification); relocation and the chance to redesign facilities; likely future government requirements (e.g., expected Kyoto greenhouse gas [GHG] reduction targets); standards certification (e.g., ISO 14001 environmental management systems); and, improved product quality and customer satisfaction (see sidebar).

With these incentives and increased government emphasis on P2, many SME managers are now asking, 'What can my company do to prevent or minimize pollution and reduce costs, and what help is available?' When answering this question, it's wise to first look at how other SMEs have successfully applied P2.

Successful applications

Agro Protective Coatings Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia provides hot dipped galvanizing, metalizing/thermal spraying, and blasting/painting. Agro, which is ISO 9002 certified, found a more cost-effective way to manage methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), a cleaner in its coating process. It bought its own MEK solvent recycler unit to distil waste MEK onsite and recover high quality MEK for re-use (on average about 95 per cent plus). An average daily recovery of 45 L (10 gal) has reduced operating costs by $80/day (about $20,000/year). Purchased for $6,000, the unit's payback period was less than six months.

Aurum Lodge in Banff, Alberta, an eco-tourism country inn close to Banff National Park, recently received the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) 2002 P2 Award (small business). Through energy conservation features, Aurum reduced fossil-fuel use and corresponding pollution by 85 per cent. About 70 per cent of its electricity needs are now met by renewable solar and wind energy. Domestic hot water and heating are mostly provided by solar and wood energy. Expected payback for the environmental improvements is 12 to 15 years.

Informco Inc. of Scarborough, Ontario, recipient of CCME's 2002 P2 Award (medium business), is a commercial graphic solutions and lithographic printing company. P2 and health concerns have high priority at Informco. It maintains an ISO 9001 Quality Management Standard, and is in the process of obtaining ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification. The company also applied for Eco-Logo certification under the ECP-58-94 standard for lithographic printing. A major source of Informco's pollution came from isopropyl alcohol (IPA) use. IPA is a highly flammable, 100 per cent volatile organic compound (VOC), smog precursor and a health risk. Other sources included fugitive VOC emissions from open drums of solvent blanket wash and IPA.

Informco used IPA to stabilize the surface tension and conductivity of municipal water used in the printing process. To remove the need for IPA, Informco installed a 445 litres/day reverse osmosis system to treat process feed water. This eliminated four tonnes/year of VOC emissions, saved $9,168/year in IPA costs, reduced fire risk, and improved plant air quality. In addition, Informco now uses non-VOC based additives for its printing press fountain solutions. Enforcing a closed container policy cut VOC emissions by 14 per cent (one tonne) and produced savings of $2,000 to $2,500/year.

Sani-Terre Inc. of Normandin, Quebec manufactures mobile and fixed equipment cleaning units. Its redesigned prototype unit for the forest industry uses electric instead of gas motors and produces 50 per cent (59 tonnes/unit) less GHG emissions. Operating costs of the unit are 56 per cent less, while maintenance and refurbishing costs are 100 per cent less. Net savings are approximately $260,000 based on an average equipment life of 15 years and average use of 1,200 hours/year/washing unit.

Farnell Packaging Ltd. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia installed a closed loop glycol-based cooling system to replace one using once through municipal water. It reduced water use 85 per cent, from about 12,000 cubic metres to 1,2000 cubic metres/year, with estimated savings of over $5,000/year. Estimated payback for the new equipment is just over one year.

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