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Pollution Prevention (P2) Internships: Measuring the Impact of the Internships
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Getting Started - Scope of the Program
Recruiting Students
Recruiting Internship Clients
Technical Assistance and Support
Internship Tasks
Student Training
Program Costs
Measuring the Impact of the Internships
Where to go for Help
Complete List of Links

Measurement is an important aspect of any P2 internship program. By measuring the impact of the internship, the host client can realize and quantify the benefits they obtained and the program gains information to use in future years for recruiting students and companies, as well as maintaining or growing the program. Depending on the facility, program, and the P2 project, environmental data is collected differently.

For example, Nebraska's Partners in Pollution Prevention (P3) Internship Program uses interns to conduct re-assessments at companies that previously participated in the internship program. This method has proved to be an effective way of measuring results and maintaining a relationship with the businesses. The students follow-up with the company to see which P2 recommendations have been implemented, if any, and how these changes have affected the company - have they saved money; have waste or emissions been reduced; have they come into compliance with environmental regulations? The aggregate of measures collected through this method of following-up provide an overall measure of the P2 internship program itself. Specific results from using this method and results from other P2 Internship programs may be found in the "Results" section.

P2 internship programs generally recommend that at least one year should pass before re-assessing a company - even longer if the company is trying to implement complex P2 projects or if these changes involve capital investment. As can be expected, simple P2 suggestions are often implemented first, while the more costly and/or time-consuming options may take longer because of financial issues and staff and the management commitments. Also, since P2 technologies are constantly evolving, better opportunities might arise in the meantime, and the company could choose to implement something entirely new, therefore any follow-up should explore these possibilities.

For New Hampshire's Pollution Prevention Internship (P2I) program, potential and actual measures are collected by the students on-site during the length of their internship. The way that the students collect this data varies, but may include reviewing site manifests and disposal costs. Because most of the P2 recommendations are implemented by the facility once the internship is completed, most of the P2 and environmental data measured by the interns represent the potential savings.

Similarly, Kansas State University’s Pollution Prevention Institute (PPI) E2 and P2 Program measures a company’s potential savings for reducing or conserving hazardous materials (inputs and outputs), air emissions, waste discharges, water use, energy use, and non-hazardous inputs and solid waste. Interns utilize the Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC)’s P2 Cost Calculator to determine potential financial savings and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Greenhouse Gas Calculator to demonstrate the link between P2 actions and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.24 The results of these calculations are included in the interns’ final report. In 2009, PPI hired interns to conduct site surveys and follow-up with the participating companies on the P2 recommendations made by their summer interns. This additional follow-up serves as a way to compile actual measures based on the P2 practices or technologies that have been implemented by the company.

In the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) P2 Internship Program, there is an internship coordinator that works with all three parties: the company, the student, and the technical assistant to ensure that the projects run smoothly and everyone is pleased with the progress and aftermath of the internship. The internship coordinator maintains communication with the host company, which is helpful for getting results. In addition, the technical assistance person assigned to each project often follows up with the host company post-internship and works with them on implementing the recommended P2 actions that may not have occurred during the internship.

There are limitations associated with trying to measure the environmental impacts resulting from a P2 internship program. However, despite these challenges, direct placement of interns with companies has a greater potential for yielding measurable results than providing P2 information without on-site assistance. Many of the pollution prevention changes that occur as a result of a company or organization participating in a P2 internship program have to do with increasing their awareness of pollution prevention and subsequently modifying their overall behavior. The attribution of environmental outcomes that result from these behavior changes can be subjective and difficult to measure. In addition, it may take a long time for a company to actually implement a pollution prevention project or to realize significant and measurable results that can be tied directly to the project.

There are also significant variations in the cost savings and waste reduction realized because of the type of P2 project, the differences in the technical assistance provided, and the company's needs. Certain projects deliver greater results than others, and sometimes it is because of the nature of the project itself. Companies with greater pollution emissions have a greater potential to reduce those emissions. The level of support provided by the intern can affect the measurable outcomes of the project. Students working on one particular project for the entire length of the internship become more familiar with the process and might be able to make a more applicable P2 recommendation; students involved with multiple companies or many different projects may be able to make a greater number of P2 recommendations. The P2 opportunities available for a given sector or process also vary - for some processes toxins can be totally eliminated, while others can only reduce the frequency or the amount of toxins used.

There are many cost-savings benefits that should be considered when quantifying program results. These include reductions in labor costs (e.g., it is cheaper to have an intern conduct research as compared to a staff professional), operating costs (e.g., higher productivity, reduced production time), regulatory burdens (e.g., increased compliance, better relations with regulators), and liabilities (e.g., insurance costs, workers compensation costs).

Indirect benefits that are likely to occur as a result of implementing a P2 practice include improved company image, reduced potential for environmental damage caused by a spill or other incident, and reduced worker exposure. A follow-up survey conducted by Nebraska's P3 Internship Program showed that companies that participated in the internship program perceived these indirect benefits as more valuable than the direct monetary benefits.25 In many cases, indirect benefits play an important role in a company's decision to implement a P2 recommendation.

In addition to cost savings and environmental benefits, the people participating in the internship project benefit greatly. Students gain valuable work experience and make lasting contacts at host companies that may lead to future work. At the conclusion of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (NYS DEC) Green Engineering Internship Program, a host company evaluated the intern's on-the-job skills and was so impressed that they offered the student future employment. Participating in a P2 internship can be a valuable addition to a student's resume, as it shows that they have work experience. As Dr. Bruce Dvorak, University of Nebraska notes, "The [P2 internship] program not only carries the [P2] message to communities, but the students continue to employ P2 in their future careers."26

In 2007, Nebraska's P3 Program conducted a mail- and internet-based survey to measure the educational impact of the pollution prevention internship experience on past student interns.27 The survey was sent to P3 interns that had graduated from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL), and a control group of UNL engineering students with similar backgrounds and education that had also graduated but had not participated in the P3 program. P3 intern alumni consistently responded that they were applying P2 and source reduction techniques on the job at a higher rate than their counterparts. The results showed that they were 16 percent more likely than the control group to implement source reduction suggestions at work. In addition, 63 percent of P3 alumni that responded stated that the internship was a valuable experience that influenced the type of work they pursued after college. These results suggest that intensive hands-on P2 experience can lead to long-term changes in the professional behavior of students. Other benefits to the students include improved communication with businesses, higher recognition of potential P2 opportunities in a real-life setting, and better implementation and utilization of P2 and environmental management concepts that realize dollar and waste reduction savings.

Last Updated: 12/23/08


24 National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR), “P2 Measurement Tools: Methodologies Report,” August 2009.
25 Youngblood, Doug J., et al. "Indirect Benefits of P2 Technical Assistance Estimated Using Fuzzy Set Theory." Journal of Cleaner Production. April 2007.
26 University of Nebraska - Lincoln P3 Program Website:
27 Department of Biological Systems Engineering and Civil Engineering, University of Nebraska. "Excerpt from Final Project Report: Incorporating Sustainability into Business Pollution Prevention Assistance in Nebraska." October 2008.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Pollution Prevention (P2) Internships Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
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Hub Last Updated: 10/8/2013