NextGen and Manufacturing: What Does It Mean for You?

By Michael Benedict on May 25, 2016

NextGen and Manufacturing: What Does It Mean for You?Over the past few years and continuing into 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out what it calls Next Generation Compliance, or NextGen, to reduce costs, make its programs more effective, and facilitate compliance.

While some in the industry initially called the program far from revolutionary, it does contain a number of changes that are likely to affect how your manufacturing business works.

With five major pillars in the effort, all aimed at increasing compliance, transparency, and efficiency, it’s important for all manufacturers to read up on the initiative and be aware of what’s coming.

What is NextGen?

EPA describes NextGen as being made up of five components:

  1. Design regulations and permits that are easier to implement, with a goal of improved compliance and environmental outcomes.
  2. Use and promote advanced emissions/pollutant detection technology so that regulated entities, the government, and the public can more easily see pollutant discharges, environmental conditions, and noncompliance.
  3. Shift toward electronic reporting to help make environmental reporting more accurate, complete, and efficient while helping EPA and co-regulators better manage information, and improve effectiveness and transparency.
  4. Expand transparency by making information more accessible to the public.
  5. Develop and use innovative enforcement approaches (e.g., data analytics and targeting) to achieve more widespread compliance.

While the specifics of how some of these initiatives will play out is still unknown, other initiatives are already in effect. The EPA has been using new sensors and technology, such as fence-line monitoring, to track pollution on a more real-time basis. They have installed solar-powered water-quality buoys in a much-used river and used infrared cameras to detect pollution invisible to the naked eye.

Perhaps most worth noting: The agency has also indicated that going forward, it won’t just be looking at traditional “bad actors” within each industry sector but at all companies within the industry sectors. That makes it more important than ever for you to stay compliant, and to have the data to back that up.

How Will NextGen Impact Your Business?

You definitely want to be ahead of any potential problems before the EPA comes around. Your own sensors, monitors, and data collection must be on point and incontestable. Fortunately, the ubiquity of cheap measurement tools means that you can take more frequent measurements from more places, just as the EPA is doing.

“Many companies are themselves adopting this technology to manage their operations and to help them quickly identify and fix problems, saving money, reducing pollution, and avoiding compliance problems,” notes the EPA’s Cynthia Giles.

But these tools generate a lot of data. Keeping it all organized, searchable, and manageable is crucial.

Electronic records, checklists, and mobile forms from GoCanvas are key to your efforts when it comes to improving compliance. If you end up needing to contest an enforcement action, the last thing you want is to be digging through a filing cabinet to look for a paper form in order to prove that your plant has been testing clean for the past 18 months.

There’s a reason the EPA itself has moved away from paper documentation: Data captured in the field and entered directly into a GoCanvas mobile form is more accurate, and it’s richer. Fields can be required — so inspectors and quality control agents can’t skip a section — and you can include photos. Also, some fields can be prepopulated, saving time and keeping data standardized.

You’ll also save money by moving from paper to electronic record-keeping, as the EPA itself can attest. By shifting to electronic reporting for Clean Water Act-related reports, the agency is saving $29 million a year.

But don’t stop there. By storing your inspection records online in the cloud, they can easily be accessed from anywhere at any time. The data can be sliced, diced and analyzed in any number of forms or just viewed from an online dashboard. Such analysis allows you to catch problems early — before they become costly mistakes.

While the “value of electronic reporting from EPA’s perspective is clear,” there are also clear benefits for the regulated community, writes Thomas Echikson of law firm LeClairRyan.

“As with EPA, it should simplify data analysis so that industry can better identify whether compliance problems actually exist.  If implemented correctly, it could also reduce the costs associated with data submission…. At bottom, the days of manually sifting through boxes of paper discharge monitoring reports are coming to an end.”

And that’s something that we can all agree is an excellent thing.

With Next Generation Compliance in full swing, don’t wait to switch from paper to digital forms. Take steps now to tap into the power of big data to improve your compliance efforts and save money. Browse our collection of free Manufacturing mobile templates.