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The municipality of Porsgrunn in the south of Norway has slashed its greenhouse emissions by 40 tonnes in six months, and saved 500,000 kroner (around £41,000) in the process. This feat was achieved using a robust inventory of all the different chemicals used in various municipal facilities — from nursery schools to fire stations and workshops to hospitals — managed with the aid of tools developed by the software firm EcoOnline. Armed with this data, the 2,700-odd municipal workers in Porsgrunn were able to identify where they were needlessly buying excess amounts of given chemicals, as well as where substitutions to more economical, safer and more environmentally friendly products might be possible. And, with the aid of a method developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, EcoOnline has helped Porsgrunn to quantify not only the financial benefits of each change, but also its impact on the municipality’s carbon footprint.
For example, EcoOnline explains, many harsh cleaning products were able to be replaced with simple water and microfibre cloths. While substitutions might be more complex in the municipality’s workshops, pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities, the project has raised awareness of the benefits — and also the risks associated with certain chemicals.
Porsgrunn Municipality Engineering Department operations manager Per Våtvik said: “We must ensure that all our people have easy access to the information they need to know how we should handle chemicals safely. We are actively looking for products that we can substitute with less harmful alternatives.”
Having initially pledged to reduce the number of chemicals used by 10 percent by 2023, the municipality has already hit a reduction of 16 percent — ditching more than 640 products.
Porsgrunn councillor Rose-Marie Christiansen said: “I think many people associate chemicals with test tubes in laboratories. But when they learn that everyday products like detergents, glue and paint are also chemicals, it is easier to understand and relate to the fact that this is important for everyone.”
Porsgrunn municipality slashed its greenhouse emissions by reducing the chemical products they use
Pictured: Per Våtvik demonstrates how QR codes are used to track chemical stocks
The idea to overhaul Porsgrunn’s municipal chemical usage, EcoOnline‘s Global Head of Sustainability Helene Brodersen told Express.co.uk, came out of their efforts to draw up their first “climate budget” earlier this year.
She explains: “Norway submitted an enhanced climate target under the Paris Agreement — to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent and up to 55 percent compared to 1990 levels.”
(In fact, in the last few weeks — in the run-up to the COP27 climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt — Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced that the country is aiming to reach a reduction of at least 55 percent by the end of the decade.)
To achieve this, each municipality creates a climate budget that details proposed methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provides an estimation of the effect of said measures, and establishes who is responsible to ensure such are enacted.
As Ms Brodersen notes, “the climate budget can include climate measures to reduce direct emissions (those within a geographical area) and indirect emissions (those that occur outside the area due to consumption of goods and services), climate adaptation measures, or energy measures.”
EcoOnline helped Porsgrunn make the connection between the chemical inventories they were already routinely taking for health and safety purposes and the climate budget they were looking to establish.
This made Porsgrunn the first municipality to include a reduction of chemicals as a concrete measure in their climate budget — although other regions are now following suit.
Ms Pracon said: ‘The most important thing about the project is to be able to save the environment’
Ms Pracon and her colleagues have been rethinking the paint and cleaning products used at Vestsiden
Ms Christiansen said: ”We are very proud to see that the climate budget, which is part of the municipality’s action program for 2022–2025, is already showing such positive results. As a municipality in the country’s largest industrial region, we are keen to work with sustainability at all levels and to reduce our climate footprint in everything we do.
“In addition to the financial and environmental goals, we also see the great value this project has for the health and well-being of the municipality’s employees and residents.
Porsgrunn municipality HR advisor Tove Sørensen — who is responsible for leading the project — added: “Several people probably thought reducing chemicals as a separate decision in the climate budget would only interest a small group. Some said the project seemed only to fit ‘the nerds’!
“However, the fact that we got approval for this project had meant a lot to the employees. When I am out to guide the various businesses, I hear that they feel that they are helping to make an effort for society and that they are making a difference that has an impact on health and the environment.”
In fact, Ms Brodersen said, many of the municipal workers have been taking the lessons learned at work back to their homes — and reducing their carbon footprint there too.
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Rita Borg said: ‘We have cleared and standardised which types of chemicals we will use’
One of Porsgrunn‘s employees who is directly involved in implementing the program is Ewalina Pracon, who is the safety representative at the Vestsiden nursery school, where they have been rethinking the cleaning products they use and the paints they give the kids.
She said: “For me, the most important thing about the project is to be able to save the environment, as well as create a safer working environment for the staff and for the children to play in.”
The cleaning department, Ms Brodersen notes, was one of the departments that used to employ a large number of different chemical products. Local resident Rita Borg — who supervises 85 cleaners — said: “When I started, there were a lot of chemicals.
“Now we have cleared and standardised which types of chemicals we will use. Previously, we had to buy large quantities, but now we have negotiated to buy only what we need.
“In this way, we avoid large stocks of chemicals we need to throw away as they get old and expire. And throwing away chemicals is a complex and costly process in itself.”
While the project has seen tremendous successes already, it is far from over. As Ms Christiansen explains: “The next step for us will be to investigate the possibilities of using the principles of the circular economy to better utilise our chemical reserves across businesses.”
Exactly the same approach, Ms Brodersen notes, could be employed here in the UK by councils — and beyond. She concludes: “It’s not only for municipalities. Every business can do this. It’s so easy for other companies to do the same.”