A Teachable Moment in Wisconsin

ERCO Worldwide's decision to eliminate discharges of that villainous pollutant mercury from its Port Edwards chlorine plant beside the Wisconsin River is much more than a landmark win for efforts to promote environmental cleanliness in the greater Great Lakes region of the United States.

The move also demonstrates the outstanding economic benefits that accrue to companies and communities that embrace and invest in a sustainable development strategy.

In fact, Grant Billings, the CEO of ERCO's parent company, says the $95 million investment to upgrade their Wisconsin facility, and end mercury pollution, will not only extend the profitable life of the plant by some 25 years. It will generate some $17 million in additional cash flow in the first year alone and provide investors with an average rate of return on investment that exceeds 15 percent.

That means big profits and less toxic fish to eat at the same time. And therein lies the real story that's gaining steam in America's upper Midwest. The cant-doers are becoming marginalized.

The conventional industrialists erode their credibility when they reflexively argue that minimizing pollution - and thereby accelerating the Rust Belt's transition to a cleaner, more prosperous, and healthy place to live and work -will cost too much money, force too many job cuts, and restrict economic growth.

Just look at the intense public fury that continues to swarm BP's plan to expand their facility and ramp up pollution into Lake Michigan.

ERCO reportedly is the largest source of mercury pollution in the state. And now they're going mercury-free. In doing so, the company further illuminates the idea that a sustainable development strategy that balances economic and environmental goals is the key to modern prosperity. Not the barrier.

"When our competitors are making the switch, pretty soon you are the only guy making horseshoes in the automotive industry," ERCO President Paul Timmons told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You have to make changes if you want to compete."