Reflections on the 2011 EHS Management Forum

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Howard Brown

For me, this year’s EHS Management Forum provided perspective on how the field of corporate environmental management has matured. My biggest takeaway was the repositioning of environment as central to corporate management and the clear opportunities for Environmental Managers to take a leadership role in this transition.

Environment can move from a largely reactive role aimed at keeping the company out of trouble to a proactive role that will reshape whole companies.  I was struck by Andrew Winston’s assertion that in the next decade a sustainability manager might become CEO of a major company.  This comment reflects the changes in the perceived role of environment and that  transformations in our companies, our country and our world are literally happening right now.

There were indicators of opportunity in every session I attended at the forum.  Here are a few:

  • The demand for environmental, sustainable, and social responsibility reporting is growing and is not going away.  Interest from investors and retailers in these issues is increasing in tandem.  The chaos and lack of standards in the reporting arena are working toward a more cohesive metric system.  Customers’ demand for transparency and companies’ interest in protecting their brands and reputation will continue to replace government regulation as the largest driver of corporate interest in these issues.
  • There has been a permanent shift in corporate concern regarding resource prices, availability, and demands.  The commodity-related challenges companies are facing now are not temporary.  Demand will continue to outstrip supply, not just for fuels, but for minerals, metals and other materials.  Major companies are making resource issues a priority; their suppliers will have to adapt over the coming years.  Companies that don’t act to manage resources will find it harder to respond as the situation tightens.  The focus for businesses will increasingly be on finding ways to deliver more value or benefits to customers with minimum resources required in manufacturing, the entire supply chain, and in the products themselves.
  • The right talent is hard to find. Companies are finding it hard to attract new talent that have a well-balanced understanding of technical environmental issues, challenges of resource management and sustainability, and the business implications.  Employees who attain capabilities in these areas will be positioned to play a larger role in corporate decision-making.

What are some of the lessons you learned from this year’s Forum? What ideas do you plan to put in place in your business?


About Howard Brown

Howard Brown is co-founder of dMASS Inc. and chairman of o.s.Earth. For more than 20 years as CEO of Resource Planning & Management Systems Inc., he worked with companies such as Duracell, General Electric Co. and Whirlpool Corp. to establish or enhance their environmental practices and performance. Follow him on Twitter at @BrownHowardJ.

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  1. Clifford Bast

    December 6, 2011

    Thank you Howard for your comments “the right talent is hard to find”. In our EHS succession panel at the NAEM conference, I outlined how the demands and skills mix required of EHS/sustainability leaders have evolved by describing five distinct stages in the EHS to Sustainability evolution from the 1970’s to the present. EHS/Sustainability leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to help their companies embed sustainability into their business by examining their business and their EHS leadership roles and responsibilities through the lens of this five stage framework. I’d be glad to share this framework with those interested and discuss how the insights available from the framework can reveal key strategies for achieving greater cross-functional and management involvement and integration of sustainability into the business.

  2. anthonyrusso

    December 12, 2011

    Excellent article and good insight into the growing trends in the EHS industry.

    In regards to the first point on sustainability reporting, recently at Dakota Software we have seen an increase interest in our Metrics reporting tool coinciding with your findings.

    The importance of keeping track of your resources and carbon output are becoming much more prevalent in our client base.

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