The energy was high this year when more than 500 environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability leaders met in Montreal on Oct. 23-25 for NAEM’s 21st annual EHS Management Forum.
Organized around the theme of “Bringing the Pieces Together” the 23 sessions and two keynote presentations were designed to address the full range of EHS and sustainability management challenges, according to conference co-chair Michael Miller, Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety for Dean Foods Co.
“I think we were really able to tie things together,” he said. “I think there was this energy around the information that was being shared whether it was successes or whether it was failures. I think there was truly a level of excitement.”
NAEM Executive Director Carol Singer Neuvelt said the dynamic energy also came from the Forum planning committee, whose leadership ensured that the topics were timely and relevant.
“It was great to see how much ownership each of the chairs had over developing their sessions,” she said. “NAEM’s Forum is really the only grassroots program out there and it was great to see the results of that collaboration.”
The variety of topics on the peer-developed agenda reflected the evolution of the EHS and sustainability profession, according to Mr. Miller.
“EHS practitioners and sustainability practitioners now have a seat at the table in a lot of cases,” he said. “We have access to the C-Suite and the way we have to manage our function, we have to be aligned to the business drivers and the leadership drivers that are going to make our companies, our personal careers and the function in general, sustainable.”
For first-time attendee Olivera Blagojevic, Regulatory and Environmental Manager with Vereson Inc., the conference program addressed the range of issues she juggles every day.
“My role is to really manage different things, not just one piece. That’s what I found really, really interesting,” she said. “It wasn’t just talking about emissions or only about sustainability, it actually had lots of different pieces to it. That’s what was surprising to me—how much variety was offered in just two days.”
Among the most popular sessions this year was the keynote panel discussion with Andrew Savitz, author of “Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line,” who emphasized the importance of involving human resources (HR) in cross-functional sustainability teams. Partnering with HR, he said, is the key to building a sustainability culture that engages employees at all levels of the organization.
Jamey Jones, Vice President of Environmental Stewardship for The ServiceMaster Co., said the message hit home.
“I chair an environmental stewardship council at ServiceMaster, and as I think about it, that council is comprised of a variety of members across the organization… [but the] one group of folks who aren’t involved at all currently is HR,” he said. “I think I need to go and make sure they are at the table both literally and figuratively. So that’s definitely a takeaway for me.”
Another secret to this year’s success, Mr. Miller said, stemmed from the focus on interactivity. In addition to sessions that featured peer case study presentations, the Forum also included sessions dedicated to spurring conversation around “The Future of Sustainability”, “PreparingYour Organization for the Phase out of R22” and “Leading EHS Organizations”. On the last morning of the conference, attendees had an additional opportunity to connect via the Mergers and Acquisitions working group meeting, and a variety of organized tours.
Mr. Jones attended a tour of a Bell Helicopter manufacturing facility. He said he was impressed by the factory’s impeccable conditions, which extended to the care the employees took in producing the aircraft as well.
“There was a worker there with a small paintbrush, probably the size of a Q-Tip, and he was on his back on a rollerboard under this helicopter looking for any touch-up that needed to be made,” he said. “So it just kind of showed that for that type of product the attention to detail even for the paint job, let alone anything mechanical.”
The strong program and attendance on the last day, he said, was a testament to the value the Forum continues to add.
“As far as [meeting] my counterparts in other companies and listening to the topics that are current and of interest, the NAEM Forum is really the place to be,” he said.