Skip common site navigation and headers
United States Environmental Protection Agency
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
Begin Hierarchical Links EPA Home > OW Home > OWM Home > NPDES Home > Stormwater > Menu of BMPs End Hierarchical Links
Menu of BMPs Home
BMP Background
Public Education & Outreach on
Stormwater Impacts
Public Involvement/
Illicit Discharge Detection & Elimination
Construction Site Stormwater Runoff Control
Post-Construction Stormwater Management in New Development & Redevelopment
Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations
Stormwater Home


Search BMPs

Filter by Minimum Measure
GO Browse Fact Sheets Search Help
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Home

Stormwater Outreach for Commercial Businesses

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Promoting the Stormwater Message

Photo Description:  Signs can be posted to educate both employees and the public about the impact of business activities on water quality


A successful outreach campaign must tailor its message to a targeted audience. The target audience may be industry or business groups whose activities influence the health of watersheds. Many commercial activities contribute to stormwater pollution (such as vehicle washing, landscape fertilization, and improper hazardous waste disposal). Therefore, it is important to address commercial activities specifically in an outreach strategy and recognize that in most cases incentives must be provided to encourage businesses to change their behavior.


There are numerous ways to provide education and outreach for commercial activities. Materials designed for businesses include posters, magnets, calendars, flyers, brochures, and best management practices (BMPs) fact sheets and handbooks.

For example, if the target audience includes restaurants and auto maintenance industries, you might consider developing and distributing educational brochures and posters that outline BMPs that reduce urban runoff volume and pollutant concentration that result from their operations. Several stormwater programs also offer rewards to businesses that participate in a "stormwater business" program and meet specific criteria. Such commercial stormwater pollution prevention programs have been very successful across the nation.


Depending on time, financial, and resource constraints, a municipality might wish to target several or all types of commercial activities. Some common practices apply to most industries and can be used in a variety of outreach materials. At all businesses, workers should "know their site," notice where their property's runoff goes, and know where their drain inlets go. Good housekeeping practices are required to keep pollutants out of storm drains. They are especially important if the property drains to the sanitary sewer or combined sewer. The business should avoid toxic materials as much as possible, store liquids where they cannot be knocked over, and consider the best place to conduct specific activities. For example, it might be better to clean a fleet of company vehicles at a commercial car wash rather than washing vehicles on the company's property because dirt, grease, and detergents can be treated effectively at car washes (See Residential Car Washing fact sheet). To help keep rain from washing away pollutants, companies should be advised to keep dumpsters and other containers securely closed; store containers under cover; and cover stockpiled materials such as gravel, wood chips, and building materials (for example, by using plastic sheeting). Businesses should be asked to clean up their sites, but not by washing grit and grime into the storm drainage system. Instead they should pick up litter, sweep areas and dispose of sweepings in the garbage (unless they are hazardous and require special disposal). Businesses should use absorbent materials to absorb oils. The City of Fortworth, Texas has developed a pollution prevention fact sheet for restaurants Exit EPA Site. The City of Golden, Colorado also developed fact sheets Exit EPA Sitefor many types of businesses .

Some commonly recommended BMPs for commercial activities include:

As an example, if the targeted areas are parking lots and parking garages, one might develop a slogan such as "Clean Lots and Clean Waters." Under this slogan, a colorful booklet could be produced. This booklet might describe proper parking lot cleaning procedures, such as the following:

  • Promptly cleaning up vehicle leaks
  • Using a rag or absorbent material to properly dispose of automotive fluids
  • Regularly sweeping the parking lot and picking up litter
  • Avoiding washing down the parking lot unless a mop for spot cleaning is used
  • Disposing of the mop water to a sanitary sewer
  • Rinsing the parking lot with water only (no soap) after first sweeping it up and cleaning up oil spots with an absorbent, or collecting the soapy rinse water and pumping it to the sanitary sewer

After the booklet has been developed, it can be distributed to local garages and parking lot authorities. The effectiveness of the outreach strategy should be evaluated using Attitude Surveys or Volunteer Monitoring at the outlets of or downstream from targeted areas.

Automotive Service Centers and Garages. The solvents, oils, and paints used in automotive garages and service centers can become major storm water pollutants if handled improperly. Consequently, garages are typically targeted for stormwater education campaigns. Outreach materials specifically tailored for the automotive repair industry can be created. The materials can describe how to develop the outreach message and select appropriate materials and provide information regarding distribution of a combination of materials such as posters, which can be hung in the garage, and flyers or brochures, which can be distributed to employees and kept in the shop's office or lobby. Titles should be eye-catching and meaningful to the audience, such as "Keep Your Shop in Tune . . . and Protect the Bay!" or "Is Water Quality Going Down the Drain in Your Garage?"

The following are recommended topics with practices to control waste from auto shop activities:

  • Changing automotive fluids (brake fluid, transmission fluid, gear oil, radiator fluids, and air conditioner Freon or refrigerant)
  • Working on engines, transmissions, and miscellaneous repairs
  • Preventing leaks and spills
  • Cleaning up spills
  • Identifying and controlling wastewater and discharges
  • Fueling vehicles
  • Removing and storing batteries
  • Cleaning parts
  • Metal grinding and finishing
  • Storing and disposing of waste
  • Selecting and controlling inventory
  • Outdoor parking and auto maintenance
  • Vehicle washing, engine cleaning, and automotive steam cleaning
  • Training and educating employees and customers
  • Pretreating water discharged to the sanitary sewer
  • Installing a roof over fueling areas or outdoor working areas (to keep stormwater off these surfaces)
  • Regrading or repaving outdoor areas
  • Recycling spent fluids on-site

Home mechanics. In addition to targeting automotive service facilities, many stormwater programs also provide outreach materials for automotive "do-it-yourselfers." Pamphlets, brochures, and flyers can be used to outline how to properly dispose of used motor oil and other automotive fluids. Contact information for local commercial recyclers of automotive fluids should be included. To target home mechanics specifically, materials can be placed in automotive supply outlets or mailed to members of a mechanics club or subscribers to home mechanic periodicals.

Municipalities should provide incentives for businesses to participate in pollution prevention activities. Participants can be rewarded with technical assistance, promotional items, and public recognition. In Austin, Texas, "Clean Water Partners" receive banners, T-shirts, and are mentioned in newspapers and newsletters. King County, Washington's "EnviroStars" are promoted through the Green Business Directory, a directory of environmentally friendly businesses distributed to the public.

A municipality can choose to establish a better business program, which provides assistance, incentives, and recognition for businesses that use practices to effectively reduce stormwater pollution. Some programs target all businesses in the community, whereas others focus on a specific industry, such as automotive shops, power washers, and carpet cleaners. Hawaii's Green Business Program Exit EPA Site recognizes businesses that use environmentally-friendly operations. Palo Alto's Clean Bay Business Program offers recognition and promotional advantages to vehicle service facilities that implement certain BMPs (NRDC, 1999).

In Portland, Oregon, the metropolitan Portland public agencies, known as the Pollution Prevention Outreach (P2O) Team created the Eco-Logical Business Program Exit EPA Siteto advise automotive shops on ways to manage wastes and reduce environmental impacts. To date, 25 automotive service operations and 8 fleet services have volunteered for this new program and subsequently met certification criteria. These criteria recognize shops that use management practices designed to limit waste creation and prevent releases to the environment through spills or improper disposal. In most cases, these practices go beyond the minimum to comply with environmental regulations. Some automotive shop pollution prevention and environmental protection practices include recycling or reusing automotive fluids and solvents, using less-toxic cleaners and degreasers, and using secondary containment structures to prevent spills. The program provides an incentive for conscientious businesses to go beyond basic compliance expectations and take extra steps to protect the environment. This sets a new standard for the industry and leads to improved environmental protection. The public is notified of these Eco-logical Businesses. Program coordinators hope that recognition as an environmentally friendly business will be a useful marketing tool for the shops, while attracting other businesses to join the program as well.


One of the benefits of outreach programs for businesses, as with all outreach programs, is an increase in public awareness about water quality issues. Additionally, because many business practices use materials and chemicals that are harmful to the environment, it is important for municipalities to inform owners, operators, and employees about practices that should be avoided to maintain and improve water quality. Also, businesses that are more aware of environmental issues might be willing to partner with municipalities and sponsor programs and activities that reach a wider audience in the community. The businesses receive advertising in return for donations of materials, personnel, or use of their facilities.


Commercial outreach programs do have some limitations. There are many different types of commercial activities, and outreach programs might not be applicable to some of them. Before developing and implementing an outreach program, municipalities should prioritize business types that they think might impair water quality or that might be most receptive to outreach. Because the measures that the municipality proposes for businesses are voluntary, owners, operators, and employees must be convinced that changing their behavior is valuable and worth their efforts.


Municipalities can gauge the effectiveness of their outreach program for commercial activities through surveys of employees. The survey can determine if outreach materials and programs have changed business policies or employee behavior. Also, if a municipality has an incentive program that encourages businesses to register to be listed as a better business, the registration process can be used to gather information about which pollution prevention practices are being used at each business. Additionally, the number of registrants can be used to gauge the effectiveness of the advertising campaign for the program.


The costs associated with developing an outreach campaign for commercial activities depend on the types and quantities of materials produced, the resources needed (for distribution, contacting businesses in person, etc.), and the general scope of the campaign. Photocopying or printing prices can vary widely, depending on the complexity of the brochure, pamphlet, or poster. Municipalities should consider financial constraints when developing outreach materials. Implementing a "Better Business" program will require dedicated labor, database management, and educational information.


City of Fort Worth, Texas. 2003. Menu for a cleaner (and healthier) environment: A guide for the the food service industry. [ Exit EPA Site].

City of Golden, Colorado. 2003. Pollution Prevention. [ Exit EPA Site].

City of Portland. 2004. Eco-Logical Business Program. [ Exit EPA Site].

NRDC. 1999. Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Runoff Pollution. National Resources Defense Council. Washington, DC.

Santa Clara Valley NPS Control Program. 1991. Keep Your Shop in Tune . . . and Protect the Bay! Poster. Santa Clara Valley Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, San Jose, CA.

Santa Clara Valley NPS Control Program. No date. Best Management Practices for Automotive-Related Industries. Santa Clara Valley Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, San Jose, CA.

Santa Clara Valley NPS Control Program. 1992. Best Management Practices for Industrial Stormwater Pollution Control. Santa Clara Valley Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, San Jose, CA.


Office of Water | Office of Wastewater Management | Disclaimer | Search EPA

Begin Site Footer

EPA Home | Privacy and Security Notice | Contact Us

Last updated on February 19, 2014