New US administration must improve environmental policy

The new presidential administration and Congress need to introduce a new generation of environmental policies in order to protect public health and natural resources, says a report published by a US governance think-tank.

The new administration has an unprecedented opportunity to revise, improve and strengthen environmental policy and management in the US, according to Rethinking US Environmental Protection Policy: Management Challenges for a New Administration, published by PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. However, says the report, the administration should recognise that government controls on their own are unlikely to achieve high levels of environmental performance, and should go hand-in-hand with more positive incentives for corporate improvement.

According to the study, Federal regulations “are numerous, complex, fragmented and ever-changing, making it difficult for both the regulators and the regulated to keep pace with new requirements and to achieve and maintain compliance”. Federal, state and local governments could save billions of dollars from monitoring, prosecuting, and the defending of legal challenges, by persuading companies to adopt pollution-prevention measures, says the report. The companies themselves would also save through increased efficiency, would improve product quality and would enhance customer satisfaction.

“Many large corporations are adopting pollution prevention and eco-efficiency (P2/E2) practices that offer the potential for the private sector to move beyond regulatory requirements to reduce or eliminate pollution at the source rather than merely controlling emissions,” says Dennis A Rondinelli, author of the report and Professor of Management at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. He argues that federal and state governments “can play a crucial role in identifying P2/E2 practices that work well in the private sector, reinforcing through incentives and regulatory relief those companies that adopt beyond-compliance environmental management systems, and helping to disseminate best practices within industries and to small and medium-sized businesses.”

Rondinelli points to innovative programmes in New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, where state environmental agencies work with or provide assistance to private companies to adopt eco-efficiency practices as models for federal environmental policy. He also identifies companies such as Texaco, Kodak and SmithKlein Beecham whose corporate standards are often more stringent than the requirements adopted by governments (see related story).

Essential to P2/E2, says Rondinelli, are the monitoring, auditing, and measuring of environmental performance. “An increasing number of corporations are now voluntarily monitoring and auditing their environmental impacts regularly in order to prevent problems or correct them quickly,” says Rondinelli. “General Motors assesses air emissions, wastewater discharges, solid and hazardous materials handling and waste disposal, and emergency response capabilities for all facilities, plus other impacts that are regulated in specific jurisdictions.” Increasingly, US companies are also attempting to identify the costs of their environmental impacts, expenditures and incurred penalties, as well as savings from increased efficiency. The report also discusses methods of waste reduction, and energy and water conservation.

The environmental benefits of P2/E2 can also be increased through supply chains, says Rondinelli. Some companies are extending their environmental management by attempting to encourage suppliers, distributors and customers to manage their environmental impacts more effectively. One such example is that of IBM, a company that requires all of its suppliers to comply with all applicable environmental laws and regulations in performing work for any of its units, and carries out environmental evaluations of those with inherent risks. IBM also encourages its suppliers to pursue ISO 14001 certification and shares environmental management expertise and technology with them.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie