Take the Long View


Stephen Evanoff

Yes times are tough. President Obama has said repeatedly, “things are going to get worse before they get better.” If you listen to the news long enough, you’ll want to assume the fetal position. But, before you do, hold on. I think we EHS professionals have sound reason to be optimistic if we take the long view.

Here’s why.

Our profession is inextricably linked to and directly affected by politics, legislation, and regulatory agency policies. The incoming administration has already demonstrated it is serious about EHS issues by its appointments and executive orders. The other evening one of the Pundit Class on a TV news program said that this administration is going to be “friendly” to “environment, health and safety issues”. Yes, the phrase EHS came out of the mouth of one of the talking heads. Astonishing. Tom Friedman has practically trademarked the phrase “green is the new gold” and has been writing and talking for several years about environmental protection as a business opportunity. The term “green” has entered the mainstream lexicon and is infused into advertising for consumer products and business branding.

So, what’s our strategy for creating a bright EHS future? Let’s turn to three well-known American economic experts: Watergate’s Deep Throat, Wayne Gretsky, and Don Corleone’ for advice.

Follow the Money.
– Watergate’s “Deep Throat”

Figure out where government agencies and businesses are making long-term investments. Keep your eyes on the economic stimulus package. For example, in one subject area of interest to me, lead-based paint, the current proposal allocates $100,000,000 to “reduce the hazards of lead-based paint.” That’s real money even by today’s standards. It’s gonna get spent somewhere, somehow. Try to position yourself to benefit from this knowledge.

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.
– Wayne Gretsky

Seek career opportunities in emerging areas, such as global warming, sustainability, the new energy economy, high performance buildings, new urbanism architecture, city planning, innovative vehicles, public transportation, alternative energy technology R&D, etc. If we think broadly and strategically, and move outside our traditional roles, we will find opportunities to prosper. It’s also a good time to sharpen up the non-technical skills (writing, speaking, meeting management, giving presentations), network with innovators, entrepreneurs, and business developers, and policy makers, and look for emerging companies, products and lines of business.

It’s not personal, it’s just business.
– Don Corleone’

At every opportunity, highlight to the leaders within your organization how you add value by saving money, reducing risk, and improving business process efficiency. It’s also a good time to remind management of the value of the traditional EHS function under an Obama Administration (there’s a new sheriff in town, he’s hyperkinetic and armed; we’re cheap insurance, so keep us around). Add to this the fact that the first wave of EHS professionals are retiring and it suggests that there will be opportunities for EHS professionals, who have consistently demonstrated bottom line value, to move into EHS leadership positions.

So don’t hunker down, buck up. I truly think our profession is on the brink of being rejuvenated to a level we haven’t seen since the 1980s.


About Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff is Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety for Danaher Corp. and President of NAEM’s Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveEvanoff.

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  1. Bruce Klafter

    February 9, 2009

    I share your guarded optimism and I have given the same advice about new “challenges” to EHS professionals. There is one real important caveat, however, that EHS professionals should keep in mind. The emerging areas of sustainability, energy efficiency, etc. are by no means the sole province of EHS professionals. There are professionals of all stripes hanging their shingles out as being expert in these areas: MBAs, marketing professionals, engineers, and so on. If an EHS professional wants to retool and thrive in these newer undertakings, they have got to be aggressive, presentable and sharp. I personally feel a good approach is to take environmental and safety management systems expertise and extend it into the sustainability area.

  2. David Williams

    February 9, 2009

    Your last point – “At every opportunity, highlight to the leaders within your organization how you add value by saving money, reducing risk, and improving business process efficiency.” – hits the nail right on the head. I think everything else hangs off of this. Have this mindset backed up by actions and you can adapt to any new circumstances or changes in the macro-level conditions.

    Might sound like semantics, but I believe a key thing to do is define yourself as a professional first – not an EHS professional, but a professional. David Maister authored an excellent book on what this means – True Professionalism : The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career. Concept can be used regardless if you are in consulting or are an “internal services provider” within a company. Professionalism transcends any given discpline or domain and can open up new options.

  3. Stephen Evanoff

    February 18, 2009

    Bruce and David make two very important, timely and insightful points.

    Bruce’s point that sustainability is not automatically going to be the domain of the EHS professionals is absolutely correct. From my experience and observations, I’ve concluded that we will need to fight hard to have a meaningful role in our organizations’ sustainability initiatives. Because of our past success, we run the risk of being pigeon-holed as the EHS compliance people and nothing more.

    David’s point that we need to focus first on being professional in all we do is key to rising to the top-tier within your organization. Technical skill and subject matter expertise are “necessary but not sufficient” as the old saying goes. I’m going to get a copy of “True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career.” Thanks David!

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