It's Easier Not to Pollute in the First Place ENVIRONMENT - Firms Increase Profit by Cutting Waste Production in Manufacturing

Article excerpt

AROSS the United States, corporations are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the best way to deal with pollution is not to produce it.

"By now, the regulatory burden {of environmental rules} has caught the attention of most of the big guys" in American industry, says Denny Beroiz, Northrop Corporation's director of total quality.

Northrop's B-2 "stealth" bomber program - although now a likely victim of Pentagon budget cuts - is one example of how corporations are tackling environmental waste at the front end, rather than controlling problems at the "end of the pipe."

Starting in 1990, Northrop cut hazardous-waste byproducts of B-2 production by 60 percent, saving $1.4 million in annual disposal fees.

Additional gains have been made in the air emissions and water discharges, but are less easy to quantify, Mr. Beroiz says.

This month the company is introducing the waste-reduction program to 95 small suppliers.

Mounting environmental costs are making pollution prevention a priority at many companies, "but it's not growing as rapidly as it could or should," says Kevin Mills of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an advocacy group.

"A lot of companies haven't deeply integrated this into their decisionmaking process," adds Terry Foecke of the Waste Reduction Institute for Training and Applications Research in Minneapolis, which is funded jointly by government and industry.

Some of the largest industrial firms, however, have had companywide waste-reduction programs for years.

Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company (3M) led the way in 1975 with a "3P" program, standing for "pollution prevention pays." Dow Chemical Company calls it "waste reduction always pays" (WRAP).

Dow cut emissions at a resins plant in Midland, Mich., by 28 percent by reprogramming its computer controls. The changes took two man-years of work, but virtually no investment in equipment. Cleaner air also saves the company $43,000 a year in raw materials costs.

But the prevailing corporate culture still sees environmental improvements as a sideline operation with low status, says Manik Roy, a pollution prevention specialist with the EDF.

At too many companies, Beroiz says, environmental efforts focus on complying with regulations in disparate areas such as air, water, and solid waste rather than on developing cleaner processes or alternate materials to work with. Several factors, however, are pushing more and more companies down the road of pollution prevention:

*Heavier waste-disposal fees.

*Fear of legal liability for what happens to hazardous waste after they send it to dumps.

*Stricter clean-air and clean-water regulations.

*Public pressure for better environmental performance, which has grown since federal law required firms to release data on their toxic emissions. …