EPA's Cancelled Performance Track Program Finds New Life as Nonprofit

Fri Mar 18, 2011 10:30am IST

 A federal program that helped companies with environmental goals at facilities and was killed off in 2009 has been recreated as a non-profit with an expanded scope.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Performance Track was around for nine years before being suspended. It gave companies a path to set voluntary goals and work with other companies and groups to share information. When it shut down, more than 200 companies and 500 facilities, along with 22 states, were participating in it.

The concept behind the program now lives on in the non-profit Stewardship Action Council (SAC).

Members of Performance Track that wanted to see the program survive, along with other interested parties, began meeting after is demise to see what aspects of the program they could recreate and expand on, said Anne Vogel-Marr, executive director of SAC. Vogel-Marr was involved in the the early years of Performance Track when she was working for National Energy and Gas Transmission, which had four facilities in the program, and later was involved independently in the creation of SAC.

"There were a lot of very good things happening behind the scenes," she said, adding that former members of the program determined that if there wasn't something like Performance Track around to drive company initiatives, many of them would end.

The bulk of companies in SAC are former Performance Track members, along with some states and organizations that were with the program, but it's brought on new blood as well.

In the lead-up to Performance Track's demise, the EPA Inspector General issued a report saying that only a couple of the members sampled had met all of their commitments and the program lacked standards for measuring progress. The Inspector General also dinged other voluntary EPA programs, saying the agency had no way of knowing which were succeeding or failing. In late 2010, the EPA eliminated another voluntary program focused on greenhouse gas emissions, Climate Leaders, which also helped companies set goals, create strategies, share information and receive recognition.

The main aspect of Performance Track that is being continued, Vogel-Marr said, is the collaboration, information-sharing and learning between companies and other organizations.

"I cannot overemphasize the importance of the learning network, the dialogue that goes on around shared concerns of members," she said.

One way the SAC is trying to differentiate itself from Performance Track is by not having any award or recognition aspects like Performance Track did. The idea, Vogel-Marr said, is that all organizations are traveling along the same continuum, with every company at different stages. The SAC is trying to drive companies along, she said, and not hold up certain ones as leaders or call out top performers.

"We're looking to encourage that positive performance and positive direction over time," Vogel-Marr said.

While the EPA's program required any company participating to have an environmental management system (EMS), SAC has a membership level for those without an EMS in order to give companies an earlier entry point into the SAC. The non-EMS level is also there for school and churches, Vogel-Marr said, entities that want to set goals, but aren't traditional industrial facilities.

Companies in Performance Track were also locked into setting only three-year goals, but SAC is letting companies set any period for meeting their goals.

And in an attempt to cover all types of impacts of facilities, SAC is going beyond just environmental impacts and letting companies set goals on social responsibility topics. SAC is also developing a corporate level of participation for setting and tracking corporate-wide goals, beyond facility-level efforts.

As with Performance Track, there's a membership level for states, academic institutions, social and environmental organizations and investment groups, those that can work with companies to help them on their way, but that wouldn't set goals themselves.

Some of the founding members of the SAC are Johnson and Johnson, BMW, Lockheed Martin Manassas, Michelin, Pfizer, Audubon International and the Wildlife Habitat Council.

The SAC is only a few weeks old, but will eventually have more information public on its website, including companies' goals and progress, case studies and information about collaborative partnerships, the first of which will focus on issues like biodiversity, wildlife habitat conservation and stormwater.

"At the end of the day, this really is about results," Vogel-Marr said. "It's about finding ways to support one another and improve performance over time."

Paper mill - CC license by baekken (Flickr)

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