By-Product Synergy – A Collaborative Approach to Waste Elimination

Dr. Joseph Fiksel

As we begin a new year, EHS managers will continue to look for ways to demonstrate the business value their programs bring to the company. To give you some food for thought as we look at our programs for the year, I wanted to share some information about a new project we are working on in Ohio. As you know, one effective way for you to improve your company’s financial and environmental performance is to increase resource productivity. Consider this simple performance metric: Dollars of profit per pound of material purchased. As your productivity increases, your raw material requirements decrease and you discard less solid waste, while increasing your profit margin.

3M figured this out 30 years ago with their pioneering “Pollution Prevention Pays” program, and today most companies practice both source reduction and recycling of industrial wastes. If you cannot achieve closed-loop recovery, you may be able to sell your wastes as by-products; for example; electric utilities have found many applications for coal ash and other combustion products.

However, there is still a huge amount of waste flowing into landfills—over 20 billion tons annually in the U.S. An emerging practice called “By-Product Synergy” (BPS) offers a new, collaborative approach to divert waste from landfill. Your waste stream could be a viable feedstock for some other company in a completely different industry. Similarly, you might be able to purchase lower-cost recycled materials from another company’s residuals.

Around the U.S., a number of regional networks have formed where companies work together to discover and implement these types of BPS opportunities. The Chicago network ( has diverted over 165,000 tons of waste and its members have saved close to $16 million dollars. In Columbus, Ohio, we have launched a new network ( with the help of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which originally developed the BPS approach. See the website for a brief video that explains more about how to get started. I welcome your thoughts and experiences with any efforts you’ve made to develop a collaborative approach like BPS. Any success stories out there that might inspire your peers or help them overcome common hurdles to getting a network going in your area?

About Joseph Fiksel

Dr. Joseph Fiksel is the Executive Director of the Center for Resilience at The Ohio State University and co-founder of the consulting firm Eco-Nomics LLC, an internationally recognized authority on sustainable business practices. His latest book, Design for Environment: A Guide to Sustainable Product Development, was published by McGraw-Hill in 2009.

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  1. William D'Alessandro

    January 14, 2010

    I have no journalistic inhibitions stating publicly that if anyone can make by-product synergy work, in my opinion that would be Joe Fiksel (even though he is native of Montreal, Canada, and, so, to a Boston Bruins season ticket holder, an enemy who may be shot on sight).

    Still, I dare to say this concept has been “promising” (the kiss of death for novelists and artists) for decades. As editor of Crosslands Bulletin, I have been attentive, I think, to the idea for a long time and even wrote up your Ohio initiative in the newsletter. But comparatively speaking, it has not made much of a contribution. Why is that? Does by-product synergy depend too much on too many institutions, corporations, and public agencies working together in too perfect a harmony? Or is my perception of this entirely wrong (heck, I admit, that’s possible).

    • Virginia Hoekenga

      March 1, 2010

      I agree with you William–the concept of BPS seems wonderful, but the idea of getting independent corporations to work towards a common environmental goal, completely outside of their mandate seems unlikely. I’d be curious to hear from any members or EHS managers who’ve tried to advance a BPS effort and what the roadblocks were as well as who they felt were the most successfulchampions of these efforts.

  2. Musa Fuseini

    March 22, 2010

    Its been very interesting reading your articles and approaches to waste elimination. I must say that I am very much impressed with this approach. By-product synergy I think should be given a critical and positive consideration in order to really achieve the aim of waste elimination. As the saying goes, “one man’s poison is another man’s food”. Companies and organizations must really consider by-product synergy for positive results…

  3. DS Dumond

    April 14, 2010

    I think BPS is a promising untertaking relative to true sustainability and its ability to positively impact corporate economics. Yes, it will take significant input from the industrial and public communities. Time, Focus, and Tenacity will be major players outside of the science involved.

  4. Columbus Jobs

    December 20, 2010

    Anything focused towards waste elimination will be beneficial in the long run.

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