On March 14-15, EHS managers gathered in Shanghai to discuss regulatory challenges and emerging trends at the second EHS&Q Summit. The event came on the heels of China’s latest “five-year plan,” which emphasized “green development” and strengthened the country’s environment, health and safety policies. Kelvin Roth, Director of EHS for AMCOL International Corp. presented at the conference and shared some of his key takeaways with us.
GT: Who did you meet? Was this the same crowd you’d expect to meet at an event like this in the U.S.?
KR: All of the speakers talked about what they were doing things in Asia, and most of the speakers were from Asian operations. At NAEM events we get to hear the corporate-level EHS leaders talk about how they run their programs on a global basis. This was an opportunity to hear the regional people talk about how those global programs are interpreted and implemented on a local basis. Most of them were regional managers or directors, or country directors.
GT: What did you learn?
KR: The biggest takeaway for me was that despite the cultural and language challenges, most companies are running their global systems effectively in Asia. There weren’t as many surprises or even the kinds of excuses you might have expected to hear. To me it was encouraging because it told me that the way we’re approaching things at AMCOL, we’re on the right track.
GT: What is that approach?
KR: Our approach at AMCOL is that we start with global or company-wide expectations and standards and under that, each region implements the corporate or global standards. Of course, this enables them to address any regional differences or nuances. And finally, there may be some accommodation needed for any facility specific nuances. You hope that as it progresses from corporate down to the location is that the differences are minor. What I thought was encouraging about this is many of the speakers talked about their corporate program and how it translated beautifully into their Asia or Asia Pacific operations.
GT: You mentioned nuances—what kinds are we talking about?
KR: Some regulatory, some cultural and sometimes even nuances associated with the location (if they’re located in a residential area, for example, versus an industrial park). Cultural differences seem to be the main issue when working in Asia. There are regulatory differences too, although to a lesser extent.
GT: Were there other surprising similarities?
KR: There certainly were some similarities: Everybody’s concerned with emerging regulations on a global basis because China exports a lot of products. So from a Chinese standpoint, it’s very important to know emerging global product regulations.
The sustainability aspect also plays a very large role in a lot of the companies. Most presenters talked about how to engage their employees, how to build better workplaces, and how to improve their communities. In fact, the opening speaker was Dr. Xia Guang, director general of the Chinese Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy, and how they hope to work with industry to address the environmental and sustainability challenges facing China. He talked about how the public is really in tune with and upset about certain environmental issues – like air emissions and water quality.
I just happened to be in China during the week when they found the more than 900 dead pigs in the river. He was very candid in saying, ‘These are issues we are looking to partner with industry to address. We have to set the right standards, but this is the group that can make that change; this is the group that can improve that. It was pretty consistent with how we talk about things over here, where often the leading edge practices aren’t coming out of regulatory drivers; they’re coming out of business drivers.
GT: Any parting thoughts?
KR: It’s clearly a global marketplace. The same language being used to discuss issues in the U.S. is being used to discuss issues in China and Asia Pacific. We talk about the same things because we’re all playing in the same global marketplace. There are no exemptions. So I’d also say, stick to your guns: best practices are best practices and can be implemented anywhere.