$350K grant to help Georgia manufacturers reduce pollution and increase efficiency and competitiveness
The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (GaMEP) mission is to enhance the global competitiveness of manufacturers in the state. A new $350,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will help the GaMEP — a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — do just that for food and beverage manufacturing and metal fabrication and manufacturing. The Pollution Prevention (P2) grant provides funds to train manufacturers in ways to stop pollution before it starts. The project will be a focus of the GaMEP’s Energy & Sustainability Services (ESS) team of engineers. Sandra Enciso, senior sustainability project manager, will lead the project team.
A pollution prevention approach can reduce both financial and environmental costs of doing business. Key P2 practices include green substitution and improving efficiency, two areas firmly in GaMEP’s wheelhouse.
“A big practice is what we call a green substitution,” said Randy Green, GaMEP’s group manager for energy and sustainability. “Let’s say there’s a cleaner or disinfectant they use in the food industry or they’re using it to clean or prep metal. Helping them replace that with a biodegradable, environmentally friendly cleaner or solvent or solution can positively impact the environment.”
A second focus area is efficiency.
“If you can reduce the amount of raw material or other material that you throw away to make one product or reduce the energy it takes to make that product you have less environmental impact,” Green said.
The EPA has five manufacturing-focused national emphasis areas for the P2 program: food and beverage manufacturing and processing; chemical manufacturing, processing, and formulation; automotive manufacturing and maintenance; aerospace product and parts manufacturing and maintenance; and metal manufacturing and fabrication. GaMEP elected to focus on the two chosen emphasis areas for this grant because previous work the group has done in both industries provides insight into the P2 needs of these manufacturers in Georgia.
“We felt like we could have the biggest impact in these areas, because we have the largest potential base of clients,” Green said. And the first step is to reach out to that client base, he added.
“Our first efforts will really be outreach, trying to identify who has expressed interest in participating in this program with us and then to look at where they’re located so we can create some synergy in cohorts,” Green said.
The group will also be trying to reach communities that have suffered environmental injustice.
“The most polluted areas in the country tend to also be in the areas of greater poverty,” Green said. “People in lower income groups are exposed to more toxins and more pollution than people who live in more expensive areas. We must cross-identify where these manufacturers exist in the communities that have the greatest need for pollution reduction.”
Forming groups of manufacturers focused on P2 also helps to ensure the work continues. Green calls it a form of positive peer pressure.
“We can meet as a group and create some collective momentum for doing this, so that people aren’t working on things like this alone,” he said. “I like the analogy of school. If you get your kids in the right peer group, the peer group will create a certain amount of pressure for grades or performance or other things that you’re trying to achieve. It creates some efficiencies, too. We can go once into the region and invite everybody to come together and share information.”
But efficiencies for GaMEP staff aren’t the only benefit — or even the most important one. The benefits to the companies themselves are far greater.
“The general result of P2 work is reduced cost,” Green said. “Manufacturers can also get out of having to keep permits with EPA because they’ve replaced the hazardous chemical with something they don’t have to report. So, there can be fewer issues and costs associated with environmental compliance and better performance.”
It’s important that manufacturers understand the benefits of participation, he said, because it isn’t always clear that there’s an upside to environmental work.
“The EPA has an enforcement component, a little bit like the IRS,” Green said. “They can show up and really cause a lot of grief for a business. But in general, in this program, the EPA is really focused on creating a positive outcome for industry. They recognize that we need jobs, we need manufacturing. But we need them to be as environmentally friendly as they can be.”
Learn more about the Pollution Prevention Cohort Program here.