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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Business Sustainability: A cleaner production approach to small business management

Student Manual

Environment Australia
October 2000
ISBN 0642547149

Business Sustainability: Session 22 - Detailed Study - Part 5

Objective of this Session To be introduced to the detailed study, discuss issues with data quality, and introduce quantitative usage maps as a tool for data collection
The following topics will be covered in this session
Improvement Options - Introduction
Improvement Options - Development of Options
Improvement Options - Cleaner Production Hierarchy
Improvement Options - Checklist

Improvement Options - Introduction

Element 3 of Detailed Study

Detailed study elements:

  1. Data collection and validation;
  2. Data assessment;
  3. Improvement options;
  4. Targets for process improvement;
  5. Business improvement plan.


When an improvement opportunity is identified, there is often an obvious "solution". However, while these obvious solutions may be the best solution, they are more often over-simplistic and either don't work or give rise to other problems.

A structured methodology for development and evaluation of two or more alternate options is recommended.

Improvement Options - Development of Options


The development of improvement options is achieved by taking each of the improvement opportunities identified at the end of the data assessment element and using a variety of techniques to develop improvement options. These options are then evaluated.

Ways of Developing Improvement Options

Improvement options are best developed by groups. The group must include the business representative on the team, and preferably management and operators. Development of options can be done in a room or out in the process area. Brainstorming is a useful tool for coming up with new approaches and options.


Brainstorming is a creative process that can lead quickly to new ideas and innovations. Early in this course, we saw that more effective problem-solving is possible with a team than with individuals working alone. Brainstorming options as a group allows an idea from one person to prompt further ideas from other team members.

Observing the Process

A fresh pair of eyes sees opportunities that someone working in the process for a long period just cannot see. As your team observes the process, you will start to come up with novel ideas for reducing the amount of material or energy input or reducing waste outputs.

Involvement of Operators

Operators know the process better than anyone else and should be asked for their improvement ideas. If they say they don't have any, keep talking to them because ideas will emerge.

Class Activity

Objective: to give practice in brainstorming options

Brainstorm ways to reduce household water use.

Improvement Options - Cleaner Production Hierarchy


The cleaner production hierarchy (shown below) was discussed earlier in Session 3. It is useful in deciding the most effective way to address a waste issue. The higher up the hierarchy one acts, the more effective the action.

The six levels in the hierarchy are discussed in turn.

Example of questions that might be asked:

  1. Avoid
    Can inputs or waste be eliminated altogether by changing the process, changing purchasing practice or by innovative initiatives?
  2. Reduce
    Can inputs or waste be reduced by, for example, process or equipment changes, reducing rework, or reducing inputs to the process?
  3. Reuse
    Can the waste be reused in this process or in another process on-site? Can the process be changed to make the waste useable? Have all opportunities for reuse been explored?
  4. Recycle
    Can the waste be reused after some form of treatment? Can it be collected for treatment and reused by someone else?
  5. Reformulate
    Can process inputs be changed to reduce the cost of waste or make the waste more environmentally friendly?
  6. Rethink
    If no solution is found, encourage the client to rethink - suggest they widen their perspective and think laterally. Question assumptions. For example, ask:
    • What are we doing?
    • Why are we doing it?
    • Is there a better way?


Eliminating the waste altogether is the most attractive option. This may entail, for example, changing purchasing or storage practice to eliminate spoilage, changing the manufacturing process to eliminate particular process wastes, or changing storage and distribution of product to eliminate discarded product.

Eliminating a waste altogether will often involve a major process change or change to a new process or technology.


Waste reduction can often be achieved by small changes made to a process, a piece of equipment, a work practice or even housekeeping. The reduction may be in spoilage or loss of a process input, a waste generated by a process, scrapped product or rework.


If a waste cannot be eliminated, it may be able to be reused in the process. For example, washwater may be reused in the process, or hot exhaust gases may be used for heating. The process may be changed to make a waste reusable - this may be as simple as segregating wastes.


Recycling may be a cost-saving to the business, or it may be more altruistic. One business' waste can often be used as another's raw material, and the business client may be the donor or recipient in such an arrangement. Organisations such as Victoria's EcoRecycle can assist businesses to find recycling opportunities.


Changing process inputs may reduce the disposal cost and/or environmental impact of a waste.


If no solution is found, then a rethink may be in order. The rethink should involve some basic questioning about the business' processes and its method of doing business, such as:

Examples of options that might be considered at this stage are:

Improvement Options - Checklist


The following checklist is given for developing improvement options. Some potential advantages of each are given in the following paragraphs:

Optimise the Process

Process optimisation is about making the process and equipment perform as designed. This is achieved, for example, by:

Such optimisation might achieve:

Improve Process Control

Process control is ensuring that a process continues to run as designed over an extended period of time, with minimum variation. It is achieved, for example, by:

This, in turn, may achieve:

Change to a Cleaner Technology

New technology (new equipment or new process) may offer the following advantages:

A cleaner production assessment can provide the client's technological experts with an opportunity to consider the cost and other benefits of introducing cleaner technologies and processes. However, because of your team's limited process knowledge, you should liaise closely with the business on this issue.

Segregate Wastes

Segregation of wastes is simply the process of keeping waste from various sources within the process separate from one another where there is an advantage in doing so. Some such advantages may be:

In some cases, though, wastes might be deliberately mixed to reduce disposal charges (eg. dilute acids and alkalis used to neutralise one another).


If a waste can be reused or recycled within the business, it becomes a free raw material. For example:

Improvement - Waste Reduction- Options Circle

Figure 22.1 (next page) shows how options for waste reduction can be divided into changes in operations, equipment and process. The term 'improvement' is used here in the sense of minimisation of waste and elimination where possible.

Moving around the circle in an anti-clockwise direction, the options increase in complexity and cost.

Improvement options

Figure 22.1: Waste reduction options