RIT’s ‘heroes’ of pollution prevention

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Larry the H2O Hero helps spread the word on Facebook about water pollution and prevention.

Pollution is a continuing challenge for public policy makers, business leaders and communities, inhibiting efforts to improve environmental quality and create more sustainable systems. Experts argue that to properly address the negative impacts and ultimately reduce air pollution, water pollution and solid waste, technologies and processes need to be modified to stop the creation of pollutants at their source, a concept known as pollution prevention.

“By implementing more sustainable design methodologies and greener chemistries we can drastically reduce the generation of pollution in industry and everyday life,” notes Anahita Williamson, director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute housed at RIT. “In addition, pollution prevention seeks to lower the overall cost associated with these processes, making businesses more productive while also making them greener.”

In an effort to foster environmental stewardship through pollution prevention, the Pollution Prevention Institute was formed 
in 2008.

Awarded through a competitive grant process conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the institute is a partnership between RIT, Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University at Buffalo and the 10 New York State Regional Technology Development Centers. NYSP2I seeks to make New York more sustainable for workers, the public, the environment and the economy through pollution prevention technology research and development, outreach, training and education. 

“The Pollution Prevention Institute takes the adage ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ and makes it real,” says Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis. “This means developing green chemistry methods and crafting new tools and practices to prevent pollution upfront, putting New York at the forefront of a new environmental model.”

“We hope to serve as a model for other states and help pollution prevention become a central tool for both environmental and economic development,” adds Williamson. 

Over the last two years the institute has worked with over 40 companies throughout the state, conducting environmental assessments of manufacturing operations to identify product and process improvement opportunities. These efforts have resulted in the reduction of more than 740,000 pounds of hazardous waste and materials and saved approximately 540,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. In addition, the work has saved companies more than $370,000 annually.

The institute also works to promote environmentally friendly practices in specific business sectors. For example, NYSP2I worked with the state of New York and Audubon International to pilot a Green Lodging Certification program, which assists hotels and motels in saving energy, trimming waste disposal, using water efficiently, conserving resources and reducing overall costs. The effort seeks to promote sustainable tourism and make the New York state hospitality industry more competitive overall.

In addition to its industry work, the institute provides funding and technical support for community outreach projects that raise awareness and understanding of pollution prevention practices and lead to implementation at the local level. Through this initiative, the Rochester Water Education Collaborative received a grant to create a public exhibit at the Seneca Park Zoo featuring Larry the H20 Hero. 

Targeting children and their families, the exhibit, which will be unveiled this November, features interactive components and educational materials designed to teach visitors how to prevent pollution of local water resources through actions taken in their own homes and increase overall awareness of water conservation. The effort will also enhance the collaborative’s H2O Hero mass media campaign which includes television, radio and print advertising, additional community events and a strong Web presence, including the site www.h2ohero.org and Larry the H2O Hero on Facebook, all designed to increase overall knowledge of water pollution and prevention.

“There are numerous actions families can take to reduce water pollution in their homes and neighborhoods,” notes Paul Sawyko, coordinator of the Water Education Collaborative. “Through our partnership with the Pollution Prevention Institute we hope to educate people on simple steps they can take to improve water quality and help make our community greener.” 

Over the next year, the institute will continue its research, development and outreach initiatives to further promote the use and advancement of pollution prevention technologies and practices in all aspects of society. Additional information regarding NYSP2I programs 
can be found at www.nysp2i.rit.edu.