How to green your business by preventing pollution

Pollution prevention (P2) is about greening your operations by not creating pollution and waste, rather than trying to clean it up after the fact. It can be as simple as conserving water and energy, or more challenging like improving efficiencies in the manufacturing process. You can protect the environment and at the same time reduce operating costs, increase efficiencies and reduce health and safety risks to your employees.

Where to start

There are 7 main techniques you can use to practice P2 within your company. Every year we capture information submitted by facilities to the National Pollutant Release Inventory about how they have practiced the techniques. Learn about these techniques and see examples of how Canadian companies used them below:

Substituting materials

Using more environmentally friendly alternatives helps remove harmful substances and products from use and can save you money by lowering hazardous waste disposal costs.

Here are some examples:

  • use natural instead of synthetic fibres
  • use a plant-based instead of a conventional ink
  • use water-based rather than solvent-based products
  • use recycled instead of new plastic in your products

In 2017, 154 facilities reported they had implemented over 160 actions that involved substituting their materials.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a glass manufacturing facility used resin instead of ammonium
  • a coating and engraving facility used zinc-nickel instead of cadmium in its processes
  • a steam and air-conditioning supply facility used a fuel with a low sulfur content
  • an aerospace product and parts manufacturing facility replaced 95% of its primers with ones without chromate
  • a plastic product manufacturing facility used glues without solvent for some of its products
Redesigning or reformulating products

Looking at the whole life cycle of your product from cradle to grave can help you determine ways to improve its overall environmental impact.

Here are some examples:

  • use less material to make your product or less packaging material when you ship it
  • reduce the amount of a harmful substance in your product
  • increase the durability, longevity, recyclability or energy efficiency of your product

In 2017, 121 facilities reported they had implemented nearly 140 actions that involved redesigning or reformulating their products.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a soap and cleaning compound manufacturing facility reformulated some of its products to eliminate carcinogenic content
  • a polystyrene foam product manufacturing facility increased the amount of recycled material in its products
  • an aerospace product and parts manufacturing facility increased the amount of recyclable materials in its packaging
  • a wood product manufacturing facility reduced the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in its products
  • a pulp, paper and paperboard mill reduced its usage of raw material by producing lighter weight papers
  • a paint, coating and adhesive manufacturing facility recycled its used solvent and reincorporated it in its alkyds
Changing equipment or processes

By making changes to your equipment or processes, you can improve efficiency and reduce water or energy costs.

Here are some examples:

  • switch to more energy-efficient lighting
  • use mechanical stripping/cleaning devices instead of solvents
  • select appropriately sized motors to maximize their efficiency

In 2017, 281 facilities reported they had implemented over 420 actions that involved changing their equipment or processes.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a conventional oil and gas extraction facility installed power generation turbines to utilize gas that would otherwise be flared
  • an electric power generation facility automated its boilers to optimize burner efficiency  
  • a basic chemical manufacturing facility stopped using ammonia in its slurry by changing one of its enzymes
  • a pulp, paper and paperboard mill used biogas produced by an anaerobic treatment instead of light duty oil
  • a paint, coating and adhesive manufacturing facility used a blend composed of 80% water and 20% less volatile solvent instead of a 100% solvent blend
  • a chemical product manufacturing facility installed a biomass boiler to reduce its greenhouse gas emission
Preventing spills and leaks

Introducing measures to limit the damage from spills or leaks can have a big impact on the environment.

Here are some examples:

  • install splash guards and drip trays around equipment to collect and contain drainage
  • install leak detection equipment, overflow alarms and/or automatic shut-off valves
  • conduct regular inspections and maintenance of pipes and storage containers

In 2017, 390 facilities reported they had implemented over 700 actions that involved preventing spills and leaks.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • an inorganic chemical manufacturing facility added secondary containment and alarms to a chemical sump
  • a diamond mining facility implemented a preventative maintenance program for mobile equipment to reduce the frequency and likelihood of spills
  • a pulp, paper and paperboard mill installed conductivity probes in sewers to detect spills
  • a lime and gypsum product manufacturing facility installed containment mechanisms for its plant run-off and for its water treatment facility
  • a pulp, paper and paperboard mill installed alarms for rapidly decreasing levels in the reservoirs of certain chemical products
  • a coating facility purchased chromic acid in solid flake form only, thus eliminating the potential for spills of chromic acid
Recovering, reusing and repairing on-site

This technique can help the environment by reducing the amount of new materials you need to buy. It can also help you conserve water and energy.

Here are some examples:

  • use a small distillation unit to reclaim solvents
  • recover metals by ion exchange or reverse osmosis
  • recycle cooling water
  • melt down your scrap metal to use again
  • use a waste heat recovery system

In 2017, 183 facilities reported they had implemented nearly 200 actions that involved recovering, reusing, and repairing on-site.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a fabricated metal manufacturing facility reused hydrochloric acid on-site in its wastewater treatment process to reduce the amount of hydrochloric acid sent for off-site disposal
  • a plastic film and sheet manufacturing facility reused waste resin
  • a printing facility collected and distilled used cleaning solvents on-site for reuse
  • a municipal sewage treatment facility used its effluent water for many processes and for cleaning tanks and tunnels
  • a non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying facility used a composter on site to decrease the amount of waste it incinerates
  • a coating facility purchased a zinc recovery machine that allows the facility to keep more zinc in its process, thereby reducing the amount of zinc recycled off-site
Changing inventory and buying practices

This technique involves developing policies that can help you limit unnecessary waste caused by bad purchasing and inventory management decisions.

Here are some examples:

  • create a list of approved products or manufacturers that have been certified to meet environmental standards, such as ENERGY STAR® or Safer Choice
  • purchase only materials that are recyclable or have been made from recycled material
  • use your purchasing power to influence your suppliers to be more environmentally aware
  • adopt a just-in-time delivery system so that you receive items as you need them, reducing the likelihood they expire in storage

In 2017, 111 facilities reported they had implemented nearly 200 actions that involved changing their inventory and buying practices.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a diamond mining facility developed a new supply chain procedure, including an initiative to purchase more environmentally-friendly products
  • a non-ferrous metal (except aluminum) product and processing facility re-introduced unused zinc into its processes
  • a scientific research and development service site practiced first in, first out for quality assurance and waste reduction purpose
Changing operating practices and providing training

Helping your employees know how to use equipment properly can help conserve energy and water, and reduce waste.

Here are some examples:

  • give training related to P2 to provide employees with the knowledge and skills required to identify and implement P2 practices
  • properly maintain and operate process equipment to prevent the production of off-specification products, excess or spent process materials and solution, unused additives, and catalysts
  • improve maintenance scheduling or procedures to minimize associated with releases or waste generated as a result of faulty or unmaintained equipment

In 2017, 638 facilities reported they had implemented over 950 actions that involved changing their operating practices and providing training.

Here are a few of those actions:

  • a steel manufacturing facility worked with external and internal auditors to optimize its maintenance schedules
  • a lead-zinc ore mining facility trained employees in all aspects of the proper handling and storage of hazardous waste
  • an electric power generation facility introduced monthly inspections to increase efficiency and reduce gas consumption
  • a steam and air-conditioning supply facility put in place tighter ammonia injection control resulting in lower nitrous oxide emissions
  • a steel manufacturing facility trained its employees in environmental awareness, energy awareness, spill prevention, transportation of dangerous goods, amongst other training
  • a wood product manufacturing facility cleaned and adjusted its dryer burners to optimize natural gas combustion, which resulted in a significant reduction in CO emissions

Make a plan

P2 planning is about examining current operations and developing a plan to eliminate or reduce pollution at its source.  


P2 is good for the environment, for consumers and for your employees. Use this self-assessment to find out how good your business is at preventing pollution in its day-to-day operations. On a later date, retake the self-assessment to see how it's improved.

How good is your business at preventing pollution?


  1. Read the actions below (see examples of them above)
  2. Score your business
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  3. Tally up your results to see how you scored


  1. You're aware of the substances in your products and use more environmentally friendly alternatives where possible
  2. You look at the whole life cycle of your products and try to improve their overall environmental impacts by redesigning or reformulating them
  3. You examine your equipment or processes, and make changes to them to improve efficiencies and your facility's environmental performance
  4. You actively try to prevent spills and leaks
  5. You recover, re-use and repair on-site to reduce the amount of new products, materials or resources you need to purchase
  6. You have green purchasing and inventory management policies in place
  7. You train your employees on how to properly use/maintain equipment and identify P2 opportunities, and provide forums to get their input

How did your business score?

  • 6 to 7: Great job, but don't get complacent! Keep trying to be the best and greenest company you can be.
  • 3 to 5: You're doing a lot, but there's still more you can do. It will be good for your bottom line, your reputation, your employees' health, and the environment.
  • 0 to 2: There are a lot of actions you can take to save money, increase efficiency, and be more environmentally friendly.

Find out more

Search the Pollution prevention finder to find links to tonnes of resources that can help your business be more environmentally friendly. It’s updated regularly, so check back often.

Other resources

We want to hear from you

Does your organization practice P2? Tell us about it. Tweet us at @environmentca using the hashtag #PollutionPrevention or email us at

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