Two dozen Iowa companies are implementing environmental improvements recommended by interns with a Department of Natural Resources Pollution Prevention Program. Program coordinator Danielle Dilks says the interns are some of the top engineering students at Iowa’s colleges and universities.

They spent 11 weeks at the host companies this summer. Dilks says the improvement should save the businesses a combined $1.2 million dollars. “A company is not likely to implement a change just because it’s going to be good for the environment,” Dilks said. “But, if it’s going to save them money and improve their bottom line, then they’re more likely to implement and they’ll have the environmental impact and save money at the same time.”

Many of the recommendations divert waste from landfills, reduce hazardous waste and cut greenhouse gas emissions. One intern, Heather Copeland, spent her summer researching water usage at Tyson Foods plants in northwest Iowa. “She went through the systems and identified the ways that they used water, the similarities and differences in the different facilities, and then helped come up with a plan that will go into their environmental management system,” Dilks said. “(Tyson) can incorporate and all of the facilities can implement and hopefully reduce the amount of water that they use collectively.”

Copeland is a mechanical engineering student at Iowa State University. One of her classmates, Zack Young, spent his summer as pollution prevention intern at Flexsteel Industries in Dubuque. Dilks says Young performed an audit of the lighting in the building, which is a 100-year-old facility.

“It is a historic facility, but they still want to be efficient, so a lot of the fixtures in there needed to be upgraded,” Dilks said. Flexsteel’s current lighting system, which includes more than 3,200 fixtures, accounts for one-half of the company’s electric bill. Dilks says the lighting improvements could save Flexsteel nearly $75,000 a year. The DNR is now accepting applications from companies and students to participate in the 2010 Pollution Prevention Intern Program. Applications are available on the Iowa D.N.R. website.