Protecting air quality: Good for people and for business

Every year, the Northwest Clean Air Agency recognizes businesses for their outstanding efforts to protect air quality by presenting the Partners for Clean Air Business Awards.

This year, of the 389 businesses registered with us, 31 received awards. Efforts ranged from maintaining compliance for at least the past three years, to company-wide improvements in every award category: Energy efficiency, emissions reductions, improvements specific to their business sector and transportation.

Our inspectors judge the applications submitted by businesses and review their compliance history to determine who wins.

Outside of the Partners for Clean Air awards, our inspectors’ interactions with businesses often include compliance inspections and pursuing enforcement when the businesses do something wrong. So it feels good to our inspectors to reward the businesses we regulate for doing things right.

And while we think this award program is good for promoting a cooperative relationship with the businesses we regulate, it’s about more than that. It’s about businesses’ responsibility to protect air quality in return for the privilege to operate here. It’s about fostering a sense of healthy competition. It’s about demonstrating that going beyond laws and regulations to protect the air can be good for a businesses’ bottom line. And it’s about demonstrating that protecting air quality is an important way to protect our own health, the health of our co-workers and the health of our neighbors.

Bellingham coffee

roaster honored

This year, we awarded Tony’s Coffee of Bellingham our top honor – platinum – for outstanding achievements in all four categories of the business awards.

You might not think a coffee roaster would be a source of air pollution – but roasting anything can produce smoke and odors, and Tony’s has taken excellent steps to limit them.

Here are highlights of Tony’s clean-air efforts:

Energy efficiency: Invested in high-efficiency lighting throughout its facility. In addition to seeing a significant decrease in energy bills, Tony’s employees say the quality of the lighting has improved. The company also buys 100 percent renewable energy.

Emissions reductions: Ships 90 percent of its raw coffee beans, or green coffees, into the Port of Seattle instead of the Port of Oakland, reducing the miles trucks must travel to supply the Bellingham roaster. For the benefit of neighboring noses, the company uses an afterburner system, called a thermal oxidizer, which significantly reduces odors and smoke.

Sector specific: Reduced waste to nearly zero. Coffee sacks are donated to local gardeners. Packaging is recyclable and compostable when possible. Expired coffee is donated to soup kitchens and food banks.

Transportation: Converted its delivery fleet from box trucks to fuel-efficient Sprinter vans.

In a conversation with Tony’s director of coffee, Andrew Bowman, we learned that Tony’s employees’ interest in air quality is part of a collective interest in maintaining their exceptional quality of life in Bellingham.

Which businesses

entered and why

The Northwest Clean Air Agency regulates stationary sources of air pollution through a variety of laws, rules, requirements and permits.

The businesses that we refer to as “registered sources” of air pollution can compete for our business awards. These businesses, in general, release less air pollution than what we call “major” sources, such as oil refineries, chemical production plants and electric power-generating plants.

In addition to coffee roasters, some categories of registered sources include asphalt plants, auto body shops, boat builders, dry cleaners, gas stations and cereal makers.

Part of the value of the business awards is to raise awareness in the community about businesses’ responsibility to find out if they need a permit or should be registered.

Rather than realizing you are polluting the air and scrambling to avoid enforcement after you’ve already started your business, we suggest you learn and begin following the requirements before you open a business, consider air quality protection as part of your business plan and compete to be the best at protecting air quality in your work.