During the mid-90's, Government regulators began to realize that enforcement, "command and control", was not effective in increasing compliance with OSHA and RCRA programs. METRA began in 1998 as an informal alliance between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Central District (DEP) and local government agencies with a shared goal of improving compliance through private/public partnering in the development of environmental training.
A resolution empowering their environmental departments and creating METRA was signed on Earth Day, 1998 by the leaders of Orange and Seminole Counties, the City of Orlando, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority , Reedy Creek Improvement District and the DEP Central District .
Hazardous waste staff at DEP's Orlando District office was already offering training to industry and facilitating information exchange and assistance to local programs. In spite of this assistance, environmental inspectors found that many businesses did not know where to seek help for environmental questions and training. For example, in 1996 and 1997 various departments within several Central Florida government agencies made imprudent decisions regarding hazardous waste management. These decisions could have been avoided with better internal communications and emphasized the need for more training and improved communications.
Partnerships and Sharing
METRA was conceived as a solution to these needs. The original government participants audited their facilities and developed training modules that could also be used with small businesses. Each discovered changes to their environmental processes were needed and each found a need for improved internal communication. One established an "Environmental Hotline" and all created systematic programs for training existing employees and incorporating environmental training into new employee orientation. The participants were beginning to implement informal environmental management systems.
Recognizing government's limited ability to reach out to private industry, the METRA founders decided early on that partnering with industry was essential for success. Since then, METRA has evolved through a combination of common sense and cooperation, resulting in an extremely successful private/public partnership. METRA partners include agencies and businesses that regulate, produce, store, handle or manage regulated chemicals or waste or provide related services and products. Any group, public or private, that conducts business can benefit from participation.
The METRA that started as a loosely knit group with no funding or formal structure has evolved into an organization with structure and processes to effectively carry out its mission of "Promoting environmental excellence through training and partnerships". Recognizing the need to continue growing, be eligible for grants and better serve the community, METRA qualified in March 2001 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. More than 70 agencies and businesses have actively joined or helped with workshops as contributors and exhibitors.
Since Earth Day 1998, METRA has targeted the vehicle repair, quick lube, medical, manufacturing and construction industries for training. Twenty workshops, attended by more than 1000 "hands on" workers have been conducted in Seminole, Orange, Volusia and Brevard Counties. A METRA participant familiar with the needs and issues of that industry suggested each one. Participants also have the opportunity to network with peers, service suppliers and government inspectors, begin to understand each other's needs, improve communications, and ultimately, increase trust. Workshop topics include pollution prevention, stormwater management, job safety and management of regulated and nonregulated waste. METRA workshops include games like "METRA Jeopardy" to make learning fun.
In late 1999, the issue of stormwater contamination was raised. Inflow of automotive fluids, lawn fertilizer and chemicals, leaves and grass cuttings, etc. to lakes and ponds is a major problem involving citizens as well as businesses. METRA's solution was to collaborate with a local TV station, FOX35, to televise a series of public service announcements. In 2001, industry and government contributed almost $50,000 for the program and more than $50,000 was contributed in 2002 to continue and expand the program and to address additional issues. In total, six spots were produced for the Only Rain Down The Drain and Our Environment Needs Your Help campaigns. In 2003, this media partnership transferred to WFTV Channel 9, and in 2006, became web-based, linking the spots to the five-day forecast, one of wftv.coms most popular destinations.
The Governor's Council on Sustainability recognized METRA in 2000 for its innovation and in 2001 for its leadership.
The METRA concept is designed to effect continuous improvement; i.e., environmental sustainability, within the regulated community through combined training for compliance with OSHA, RCRA, EPCRA and SARA, etc. New programs are continually discussed and training planned and developed, based on identified environmental problems that need improved compliance. On November 9, 2005, METRA launched its first annual Environmental Excellence Day. Hosted by SeaWorld Orlando and attended by environmental stakeholders from across the state, the workshop has become METRAs flagship event, combining a full day of expert environmental training, hot-topic presentations, a complimentary luncheon and prize drawings.