Making the case for EH&S: Sustainability, Strength, Stability

I recently traveled to San Diego California and was able to present a talk on demonstrating a return on investment for environmental, health & safety programs. This talk was delivered as part of the Alliance of Hazardous Material Professionals (AHMP) annual conference. The AHMP (formerly ACHMM) is a collection of EH&S professionals from around the world, that represent private industry, government, colleges and universities as well as the health care fields. My talk about demonstrating a return on investment for their activities to executives within their specific industry wasn’t ground breaking stuff. Nor was it intended to be, rather I have spent years in the safety field seeing first hand the benefit of implementing safety policies and procedures, investing in employee training, and educating supervisors and front line foremen on the important role they play in keeping employees safe and thereby reducing costs. My intent was to try to bring the financial view of the benefits of expanding the ROI concept into the environmental field.

Many environmental professionals (safety too for that matter) didn’t spend a lot of time taking accounting and financial classes in college. They focused their studies on the technical applications of environmental issues, as that was their interest. Many colleges are now seeing the benefit of expanding core classes to include financial and business considerations, however that comes as little comfort to those professionals 10-15 years (or more) removed from college. Their world has rapidly changed over the past few years, and as the globalization of business continues, the old command and control model of regulatory compliance isn’t enough to compete for resources within the corporate world. Sustainability has taken root as the 21st century’s mantra. Making the case for why the EH&S aspect of your business could be a key role in future success is more important than ever.

There are of course many driving factors including the pace of the global economy, instantaneous need for knowledge (thank you Google and Yahoo), and increase competitiveness to name a few. In addition the sharp increase on the cost of energy and the increase focus by governments around the world on climate change have redefined the EH&S world. Those professionals, who don’t keep up, will be left out and may indeed find themselves out of work as they are replaced with younger, more current minded professionals. This was the reason I wanted to help, by increasing awareness of the value that EH&S can have within an organization. I outlined some simple starter steps EH&S professionals can take to help both themselves as well their organizations:
• Invest in relationships with top executives: find a champion that will help evangelize your cause
• Sell EH&S programs as a way to build strength, stability, and sustainability to your organization through a value added approach
• Implement an awareness campaign on the value of EH&S beyond compliance
• Integrate EH&S management systems philosophy throughout your organization

Each organization is different and each will define value in terms of their own market. It is important to remember to tailor your approach to your business or organization. Do your homework and educate yourself on various aspects of environmental management systems (EMS). It is already generally accepted and understood that there is a significant and growing correlation between companies’ investment in their environmental programs and their overall competitiveness and financial performance, however that can be lost or confused with other initiatives being implemented by other departments. It’s up to you to toot your own horn a little. Don’t be afraid to celebrate successes!

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