Here’s another way big data can boost EHS performance and businesses: you can access other companies’ data to gain a competitive advantage.
In a P2 (pollution prevention) Impact blog, the EPA’s Kara Koehrn and Dave Turk write about competitors’ pollution prevention activities — publicly available through the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program — can improve your company’s EHS performance.
TRI data are submitted annually to the EPA in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste. Federal laws require companies to report their toxic chemical releases from facilities for the prior year, as well information on pollution prevention and other waste management activities.
This year, TRI data is available on its own website, giving users access to key information including analyses and interactive maps showing data at a state, county, city, and zip code level.
Koehrn is an EPA analyst and toxicologist. Turk is the TRI Program’s acting branch chief.
“Anyone can use this tool to analyze P2 data for facilities or parent companies,” they write. “By comparing facilities across a sector or between parent companies, you can see who is leading the way in implementing meaningful P2 activities. You can also find opportunities to reduce reliance on toxic chemicals by adopting successful activities initiated at other facilities.”
Facilities report on how they identified pollution prevention opportunities — though vendor assistance, materials balance audits or trade associations, for example — as well as specific pollution prevention actions. The blog says one aircraft manufacturer reported that it replaced some of its tetrachloroethylene degreasing practices with an alkaline cleaning process, which allowed it to prevent spills and leaks.
Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, told Environmental Leader that TRI data presents a trove of useful information for companies.
“Easy access to TRI pollution prevention data helps businesses cut pollution, save money, and enhance their role within communities,” Jones said. “Companies can use this information to cut their use of toxic chemicals, as well as costs related to toxic waste disposal or treatment.”
Another example of how competitors’ big data can improve EHS performance and risk management: a new report from the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute and the Sustainable Investments Institute compares how the largest 25 utilities in the US are managing their business risks posed by climate change — from new approaches to guarantee reliable energy supplies to litigation to protect the status quo.
Using publicly available data, the report conclude utilities are responding to climate change risks in widely different ways.
The report finds that of the 20 companies that generate their own power, six rely on coal for more than 75 percent of their fuel cost: AES, Ni-Source, DTE Energy, Ameren, CMS Energy and American Electric Power. Conversely, PG&E and Sempra Energy have no coal in their energy mix.
Along similar lines, the report says the Clean Power Plan could impose financial penalties on greenhouse gas emitters. According to a Michigan Technical University analysis, Southern, NextEra Energy and AEP face the biggest potential liability. PG&E, Exelon and PSEG have the least risk.
Other good sources from which to mine competitors’ EHS data include the CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, both of which ask companies to disclose their climate and sustainability-related performance via an annual questionnaire, then score companies based on their answers and performance.
As companies are increasingly asked to submit data — where it be to comply with environmental regulations or to satisfy consumers’ and other stakeholders’ demands for disclosure and transparency — the amount of publicly available information on EHS data is going to grow exponentially. Don’t be afraid to take a peak at competitors’ data and then use it to benefit your own performance.
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