Alternative ways to dealing with bad winters should be sought to help protect the environment, conservation body WWF Scotland has said.
Director Dr Richard Dixon said there was "no question" using tonnes of road salt had an impact on wildlife.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said keeping essential public transport moving should be a priority.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said there were strict rules on the use of salt and de-icing chemicals.
Thousands of tonnes of salt and grit has been spread on Scotland's roads network over the last two weeks.
Local authorities have been using a mix of salt and sand because temperatures have plunged below levels where rock salt works effectively.
Airports also had to to de-ice aircraft and runways.
Dr Dixon said: "Although some work has been done to reduce the environmental impact of de-icing chemicals, there is no question that these, and the many tonnes of salt we use, have an impact on wildlife.
"More work needs to be done looking at different ways of managing icy conditions and alternatives to salt and de-icing chemicals."
He said the public, business and government faced challenges adapting to extreme weather.
Dr Dixon said: "The best way to avoid things getting even worse is for Scotland to set a strong international example by delivering on our tough climate change targets.
"For the changes that are already coming down the line we do need to make sure that our railway system can cope with frozen points and overheated rails.
"But we also need to harness technology so people can work more flexibly, helping many more people stay at home when travel is disrupted and schools shut."
Friends of the Earth Scotland's head of projects and campaigns, Juliet Swann, said prioritising public transport links and warming every home in Scotland efficiently should be key to coping with bad winters.
She said: "The inconveniences of the freezing conditions to most of us are nothing compared to the life and death dilemma faced by those living in fuel poverty in Scotland.
"One in three households have to decide daily whether to eat or heat.
"It is also worth bearing in mind that for the majority of Scots the public transport system is the only way to get around. Prioritising essential public transport provision is absolutely the right decision in the face of snow-blocked roads."
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) has been among airport operators having to tackle heavy snow and ice over the past few days.
Infrastructure services manager Ellis MacRobbie said rock salt and grit was normally restricted to its car parks and walkways.
He said de-icers were used in line with rules set by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
"We have invested heavily over the past few years to comply, where practicable, with limits set and agreed with Sepa to reduce impact on discharge to neighbouring waterways and outfalls," he said.
"De-icing is only part of a process to remove snow and ice and control the surface acceptability for safe aircraft use."
He added: "Only sufficient de-icer is used for a given situation and is controlled to reduce its environmental impact."
Sepa said it had advice on the disposal of snow on the severe weather page on its website.
The regulator warns against large piles of snow being dumped directly into rivers.
A spokeswoman said: "Grit and salt that has been put down on roads and pavements can be washed into roadside drains and on into local watercourses.
"However, the amount of melting snow should ensure that this is diluted enough not to have an adverse effect on the environment."
She added: "Once the snow starts to melt we would also recommend that any excess salt or grit is swept up if possible, which will also reduce the changes of drains being blocked."
Sepa said de-icer has the potential to be very polluting if high concentrations get into a watercourses.
The spokeswoman said the discharges from airports are authorised under The Water Environment (Controlled Activities)(Scotland) Regulations 2005 and were regulated by Sepa to ensure that pollution does not occur.