Federal environmental regulations required the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) to install a specific emissions-reducing technology in their plant. But, firm officials knew that an alternate technology could reduce emissions to a small fraction of the federal maximum. With the help of Wisconsin's Green Tier staff, PCA was able to obtain the waiver needed to make its sound environmental decision a reality.
Green Tier, run by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), has many such environmental success stories to its credit. Instead of the minimum-compliance standards usually employed in environmental regulation, this system provides incentive to perform well beyond federal minimums.
Firms with excellent environmental track records are invited to join Green Tier. Companies enrolled in Green Tier agree to create and adopt a comprehensive environmental management system within in a year. The strategies usually involve innovative pollution-prevention strategies, which are often at odds with rigid federal guidelines. Green Tier staff members then help obtain necessary waivers and exemptions that would otherwise be nearly impossible to secure.
This successful strategy produces impactful environmental change tailored to the structure of each program participant. Instead of adhering to a one-size-fits-all regulation, Green Tier capitalizes on the savings made possible by creating solutions suited to each company's equipment and capabilities.
Such flexibility produces dramatic results. One Green Tier energy company received special permission to open up an old landfill, recycling waste ash instead of burning 1800 train-cars full of coal. A home-building firm used its DNR contacts to persuade town officials to support a more efficient way to inspect clean water protections.
Though individualized, Green Tier management strategies often reach beyond the walls of any specific business. Businesses using this program have prompted a trade association and several suppliers to enact environmental changes in their own practice.
Further, Green Tier creates bonds of trust between regulatory agencies and the businesses they oversee. Program participants universally cite an improved relationship with regulators. The DNR works to spread that goodwill; Green Tier staff now review all new environmental standards, even those that will apply to businesses outside of Green Tier, to ensure that the regulations are not too burdensome.
As of April 2006, seven companies were enrolled as Green Tier participants with seven more in pilot programs to monitor their performance. Wisconsin hopes to increase that number considerably, enrolling 1500 business by 2015. Broad-based support in the legislature suggests that Green Tier will continue to improve the Wisconsin environment indefinitely.
Other states are emulating Wisconsin's success. South Carolina has adopted the Green Tier model, almost without change, and several other states are developing programs based on Wisconsin's experience.