John Maynard Keynes stated in A Treatise on Money, "The engine which drives Enterprise is not Thrift, but Profit." So how would Keynes approach the purchase of a $500,000 dollar thermal oxidizer? It's obvious that wrangling with difficult financial resource decisions on a daily basis is a part of business. So when does it make sense to incur debt in the short-term to sustain profit? The truth is, if we had the absolute answer to this question, all of us would be financially better off.

Keynes believed that deficit spending (debt swelling) is a necessary part of economy building. For the most part, industrial financial planning has embraced this idea. We've all heard it before- "It takes money to make money." And business is not afraid to spend money if a return on the investment can be realized. The key for environmental managers is to convince financial decision-makers when it makes sense to spend money on pollution abatement and control.

The EPA's preferred option for dealing with environmental pollution officially places prevention at the top of the list. Pollution prevention means source reduction, preventing or reducing waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques and re-using materials rather than placing them into waste streams. The concept of pollution prevention is broadly applied and can be a tool to accomplish many environmental tasks. Benefits may include:

  • Conserving resources by reducing waste in all forms (energy, materials, time)
  • Reducing liability and costs associated with on-site and off-site treatment, storage, disposal and potential cleanup
  • Improving public image and providing competitive distinctions
  • Reducing regulatory requirements as a result of emission reductions
  • Increasing productivity

Consider the following example of how a printing company approached the replacement of a piece of pollution control equipment. The company was spending approximately $250,000 a year to operate a catalytic thermal oxidizer and still could not meet their permit requirements (In the printing industry, thermal incineration is a common technology to control organic compound emissions). In addition, increased maintenance activity and trouble-shooting resulted in down time, opportunity losses and unrecoverable costs.

In an effort to minimize these liabilities, the company replaced the catalytic thermal oxidizer with a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO). The RTO utilizes recovered energy to pre-heat incoming process air to oxidation temperatures. This alone reduced annual fuel consumption and operating costs by 4% and is conservatively estimated to result in a 10-year pay back. Although this is a substantial timeframe, other benefits must be worked into the analysis, such as:

  • The reduction of emissions from the source by 93%, which in turn reduced annual emission fees
  • The elimination of compliance related issues. This in turn, allowed the company to focus on production rather than compliance
  • Organic compound emissions from the operation are efficiently captured providing a safer and healthier work environment for employees by reducing worker exposure to toxic chemicals

Despite the sticker shock associated with certain pollution prevention activities, the hidden benefits to the organization are real. More often than not, the reduction or elimination of wastes and pollution results in increased efficiency, reduced waste, greater productivity and reduced liability-all critical to the bottom line.

Advances in technologies have provided opportunities to re-evaluate operations and consider more efficient and cost-effective methods to control pollution. In fact, these advances often can be applied to existing equipment through modification and retrofitting. For example, the random packed media in older RTOs can be replaced with structured packing media resulting in lower energy bills, increased destruction efficiency and increased destruction capacity. Retrofits can often be accomplished in shorter time frames than new equipment installations and allow companies to continue using the existing pollution control unit.

There are a variety of ways to approach pollution prevention and the USEPA has a number programs designed to educate manufacturers on industrial processes that prevent pollution by saving energy, encourage environmentally preferable purchasing and provide technical assistance to state agencies and businesses. If you are interested in learning more about pollution prevention, log onto the USEPA's website