Regulatory Library

Performance Track Offers Value for Chemical Industry

Contributed by Cynthia A. Challener, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant, C&M Consulting

The National Environmental Performance Track (NEPT) program is a voluntary partnership program that recognizes and rewards private and public facilities that demonstrate strong environmental performance beyond current requirements. As NEPT approaches its 5th anniversary in June 2005, the program operates under the premise that government should complement existing programs with new tools and strategies that not only protect people and the environment, but also present opportunities for reducing cost and spurring technological innovation. Slightly more than 10% of the 350 current members belong to the chemical industry. These companies and facilities have derived a wide range of benefits from participation in the program and hope to witness its continued growth and also increasing representation from the chemical industry.

In order to be considered for the NEPT program, a facility must have a record of sustained compliance with environmental requirements; voluntarily exceed regulatory requirements; implement systems for improving environmental management (including some sort of assessment mechanism); work with communities; and set three year goals for improvements in environmental performance. Commitments include reduction of water use, elimination of hazardous chemicals, and reduction of energy consumption, for example.

To maintain membership in the NEPT program, members are required to submit an Annual Performance Report that includes a summary of their EMS assessment activities and progress towards meeting objective targets, an explanation regarding their progress in meeting environmental performance commitments for the program, a discussion of their public outreach activities, and self-certification that they continue to meet Performance Track criteria for membership. Site visits are conducted by the EPA (after advanced notification) to a limited number of NEPT member facilities each year to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs.

Once accepted into the program, members have access to the NEPT brand, which includes use of the Performance Track logo, listing on the NEPT and other EPA websites, and access to promotion materials. Members also are encouraged to participate in information sessions with senior EPA officials to exchange ideas and peer exchanges with other NEPT members. Specific regulatory benefits include lower priority for inspection targeting purposes, consideration of a site’s good faith efforts if penalties need to be assessed, reduced frequency of certain reporting requirements, and greater flexibility with some requirements (extended period for hazardous waste accumulation, for example). Pending incentives include opportunities to be featured in the NEPT database, increased flexibility for compliance with certain aspects of air regulations, and shorter application review times. EPA is also considering other incentives in water, waste and air compliance for the future.

Most companies that join the Performance Track program do so to receive recognition for environmental policies and approaches that have been in place for some time. For Madison Chemical, a manufacturing of cleaning compounds for pre-paint applications, the NEPT program was attractive because it recognizes companies with corporate policies that go beyond compliance, according to Vice President Sam George. “We are very proud of our company performance and believed the program would bring us recognition from the agency. We didn’t expect much in the way of incentives and haven’t gotten them, but only because we have such a strong pollution prevention approach. We want to support and promote EPA’s activities because in general we support its mission. Joining the program has also shown our employees how committed we are to environmental protection and pollution prevention.”

Monsanto also looked to the NEPT program to gain recognition from EPA. “Monsanto places a very high value on environmental compliance and stewardship,” says Bill Rhodes, Manufacturing Technologist for Monsanto. “Historically environmental regulations have been prescriptive. With the Performance Track Program, EPA is saying that they recognize that some companies are doing more than necessary and that they should be highlighted.” The Luling, South Louisiana facility was a charter member in 2000. “One of the unexpected benefits of joining NEPT has been recognizing a need to shift our focus from being primarily compliance focused to gaining an understanding of how the whole facility is impacting the environment and what the company should be doing to ensure that its operation leaves as minimal an environmental footprint as possible,” adds Mr. Rhodes.

The recognition that joining the NEPT program would bring to facility employees was a driving force for Spartech Corporation to have its sites become members. “We decided to join as a way to promote and receive recognition at the plant level for our environmental programs. We had already adopted and implemented both ISO9001 and ISO14001 and were in EPA’s Wastewise Program, so it made sense to join Performance Track,” notes Suzanne Riney, Vice President, Environment & Quality for Spartech. “NEPT gives people at the plant an opportunity to be recognized for what they do,” she adds.

For Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings, the Performance Track program provided an ideal avenue for demonstrating to the local government and community that it is proactive about environmental compliance and has deep care and concern about the environment, according to Hugh A. Flack, Jr., Global Director HSE & Quality Systems for the company. “We are one of the few industries in Waukegan remaining on the waterfront of Lake Michigan. The community is trying to regenerate and renovate the area, and Akzo Novel Aerospace Coatings is always looking for opportunities to demonstrate our proactive approach to environmental compliance,” he explains. The business, previously known as Dexter Corporation before being acquired by Akzo Nobel in 2000, has always placed a high value on external recognition and has participated in many state and local programs as well as OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, from which they received star status.

Building a better relationship with the EPA has also been a reason for companies to join the NEPT program. “We have had an EMS system in place since 1998 and were already meeting the requirements for application,” says Rose Perkins, Manager of Sustainable Development with Rohm and Haas Electronic Materials. “Our main reason for joining NEPT was to gain recognition and build alliances with EPA. We hoped to realize some benefits such as expedited review for pre-manufacture notices (PMNs) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which hasn’t happened. But we have gained tremendous value through the relationship we have built with the EPA. Overall, becoming a member of NEPT has been a good experience for us. The Region 1 EPA personnel have been very supportive and very interested in hearing from industry about both concerns and suggestions for improving the program.” Ms. Riney also indicated that the Performance Track program provides a mechanism for achieving better communication with the agency. “The program has given us the opportunity to partner with the agency and build a relationship which has been a very valuable experience.”

The chemical division of Georgia-Pacific made a decision to have most of its 17 domestic facilities enrolled in the Performance Track program or have established environmental management systems within 2 years. The Columbus, Ohio facility was just recently accepted into the program along with a facility in Georgia, while a site in South Carolina joined in 2004. “We looked at the characteristics of the program and determined that it made sense to get recognition for the way we do business,” notes David Mason, Jr., Plant Manager at Georgia-Pacific’s Columbus Ohio facility. Although it is too soon to determine if other benefits will be realized, the company also hopes to leverage the rapid permitting and reduced inspections offered by the program. Georgia-Pacific is also considering applying for Corporate Leadership status.

Companies and facilities of all sizes can benefit from the NEPT program. Nearly 20% of the facilities participating in the program have less than 100 employees on site. Madison Chemical, for example, has 65 employees and annual sales of $12 million. Several efforts by the agency are directed towards assisting smaller organizations. Through the Performance Track Assistance Project (PTAP), the EPA works with a number of small business trade associations to help their members meet the criteria for the NEPT program. In addition, for the program, small businesses are considered to have 50 employees or less (changed from 100, the definition used by the Small Business Administration). Small businesses need only commit to two future environmental performance improvements as compared to the four commitments required by larger companies.

Other assistance offered by the EPA for potential and existing members of the NEPT program include the Resource Center, the U.S. EPA Environmental Management Systems website, the National Directory of EMS Technical Assistance Providers, and the EPA Sector Strategies Program, which promotes the development of environmental management systems. Current members of the NEPT also often act as mentors, providing assistance and sharing best practices with potential and new members. State performance based programs can serve as resources for facilities interested in joining the program as well.

Most of the companies interviewed for this article did not find the application process too onerous. The hard work comes in implementing the EMS, and most already had some system in place, typically to meet the requirements of ISO14000. Once the EMS is in place, the effort is largely focused on gathering the data together. “Facilities that are considering joining the NEPT program but hesitate to do so for fear that the work required would be too overwhelming need to carefully evaluate their activities and compare them with the requirements. They may be surprised to find out that the application process can be fairly manageable,” Ms. Riney comments. “Georgia-Pacific’s chemical division had already started down an aggressive path in terms of compliance and integrated systems, and investment in real time management of processes, financial information, and other company data,” says Regional Manufacturing Manager Milton Steinberg. “Joining NEPT has enhanced collaboration between facilities. Through sharing of best practices, our management systems have improved with new iterations each time a facility has gone through the application process,” he continues.

Since its inception in 2005, members of the National Environmental Performance Track program have reduced water use by 1.3 billion gallons, solid waste generation by close to 970,000 tons, and greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 67,000 tons of carbon dioxide. They have also increased use of recycled materials by nearly 77,000 tons. In February, 2005, EPA recognized for the first time NEPT Corporate Leaders, companies with a substantial number of facilities in the Performance Track program. The first three companies to receive this recognition are Baxter Healthcare Corp., Johnson & Johnson, and Rockwell Collins. In March, 2005, an additional 54 facilities joined Performance Track, which invites sites to join twice each year. The chemical industry was once again well represented. 3M added two new facilities, while Spartech Corporation added 3 sites.

Other chemical companies participating in the NEPT program include DuPont, BASF, Rohm & Haas, Monsanto, Tate & Lyle, Henkel, Kodak, Valspar, Akzo Nobel, Madison Chemical, and Baker Petrolite. ”We are not surprised to see strong participation by the chemical industry,” says Dan Fiorino, Director of the National Environmental Performance Track Program. “Chemical companies are used to working with regulations. It is a heavily regulated industry that also has taken a proactive approach in developing and adopting the Responsible Care® program. Many in the industry have invested in the ISO 9000 and 14000 programs. For these companies and facilities, Performance Track is a natural fit,” he explains.

Companies within the chemical industry take different approaches to joining the NEPT program. Some organizations such as 3M and Arizona Chemical (a division of International Paper) have made a corporate wide decision about participation in the program. Other companies don’t require facilities to become part of the program but do encourage them to apply. EPA actively seeks new members by exhibiting at trade shows and communicating with state agencies that run performance based programs, according to Mr. Fiorino. Current members also seek to find new participants, both within their own companies and by networking with other firms. EPA also contacts companies that have ISO registered facilities.

Since its inception of the NEPT program, the agency has also developed a relationship with chemical industry trade groups such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA). In June, 2004, EPA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the ACC and SOCMA, establishing a partnership between the Responsible Care® initiative and the NEPT program. Responsible Care® is the leading chemical industry environmental, health, safety, and security (EHSS) performance initiative and has many similar goals as Performance Track. The aim of the MOA is to advance environmental performance at ACC and SOCMA member companies and increase awareness of the Performance Track program. ACC and SOCMA committed to work for a higher level of participation in NEPT by their members, who will receive a streamlined application process for Responsible Care® certified facilities. EPA will also accept 3rd party certification of a facility’s RC EMS as meeting the NEPT EMS criteria.

The ACC also participated in the formation of the Performance Track Participants Association (PTPA), a nonprofit organization that was created to serve organizations participating, or interested in, Performance Track. In general, the PTPA provides a forum for corporations, trade associations, and public entities involved in Performance Track to engage in a positive dialogue with EPA, identify and share best practices, and provide insights for increasing incentives for participation. PTPA also provides leadership in promoting more effective environmental management, continuous improvement in environmental performance, and greater public involvement through Performance Track.

“PTPA members engage in a positive dialogue with the EPA, identifying and sharing best practices, as well as assisting the agency in establishing greater recognition and incentives so that Performance Track members can continue to lead the way in the protection of the environment,” says PTPA’s Executive Director John Flatley. The association provides a forum for facilities participating in EPA's Performance Track to network and exchange information with other members, work closely with the EPA on development and implementation of incentives for NEPT members, inform the public about NEPT and the accomplishments of its participants, and engage in advocacy efforts. The PTPA has workgroups that address topics such as Performance Track incentives, information management, recognition, outreach with state programs, and organization of the association’s National Conference.

Many of the companies that join the Performance Track program also join PTPA. “The PTPA is a young association yet,” notes Mr. Flack, “but it provides a good avenue for dialogue between the agency and industry, and it is doing a good job of trying to meld industry and the EPA.” According to Mr. George, the PTPA does an excellent job of reminding the agency that the Performance Track program is a vital program that EPA needs to continue to support. “The PTPA also aids with education and training and produces a lot of promotion materials for using with both community outreach efforts and when talking with employees,” he adds. Bill Rhodes believes that the PTPA plays an important role in assisting the NEPT in fulfilling its full potential and offers a forum for members to communicate the concerns and suggestions about the program to the EPA. Milton Steinberg values the assistance the PTPA provides through its creation of opportunities for dialogue between members.

All those who participate in the PTPA agree that the association will play a key role in driving the growth of the NEPT program. “It is important that the program not become stagnant,” says Mr. Steinberg. Mr. George hopes to see the Performance Track program expand because its success will reflect expansion of pollution prevention activities throughout the chemical industry. He is also hopeful that changing leadership at the head of the agency will choose to keep the program alive and run by committed people. He also suggests that if government agencies gave preferential treatment to Performance Track members, there would be a very strong incentive for companies to have their facilities apply for acceptance into the program.

As members of the ACC and SOCMA begin to implement the new EMS requirements of Responsible Care®, they will see the NEPT program as a logical next step, according to Mr. Rhodes. As a result, he expects to see significant growth for the program and believes NEPT has the potential to reach the same level of success as OSHA’s VPP program. Mr. Mason is looking forward to developing more relationships with other members of the program as it continues to grow. “As we get further along in the program, relationships with other companies also in the program will help us identify areas where Georgia-Pacific can still improve. There will be tremendous opportunities to get exposed to different technologies and methodologies,” he explains. Mr. Steinberg also expects that as state agencies become more familiar with the NEPT, the relationship between the two will grow stronger, which will benefit all parties involved.

Overall, the facilities interviewed for this article have been pleased with their experience with the Performance Track program. They have found the recognition of their facilities, employees, and companies by the EPA and their communities to be invaluable. Improved relationships with the agency have also been a strong benefit of joining the program. “Performance Track is helping to address the large cultural difference between the EPA and companies,” says PTPA’s Mr. Flatley. As more chemical industry companies encourage their facilities to join the program, the benefits can only be expected to grow in both number and substance.

About the Author

Cynthia A. Challener ( is Principal Consultant at C&M Consulting ( C & M Consulting offers technical writing, editing and research services to the chemical and allied industries. Services include the development of marketing brochures, technical bulletins, presentations, and feature articles. In addition to her work for ChemAlliance, Dr. Challener has provided services to a wide variety of chemical industry clients, including Chemical Market Reporter, ACS, and SOCMA.

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