The professionals who manage a company’s environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance risks are also responsible for leading corporate sustainability initiatives, according to a new report by the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM). The association’s latest benchmark of the profession, which was conducted by independent research firm Verdantix, draws insights from 199 corporate EHS and sustainability leaders at large, U.S.-based corporations.
The “EHS & Sustainability Staffing and Structure” report reveals that the EHS function either leads, or shares responsibility for, the majority of the top 15 initiatives identified by the respondents as ‘sustainability’. These programs include developing sustainability strategies, setting sustainability goals, carbon footprint tracking, energy management, resource conservation and stakeholder engagement.
“Over time, our benchmarks have reflected the evolution of the environmental management profession to include health and safety. What this report shows is that today it also includes sustainability,” said NAEM Executive Director Carol Singer Neuvelt. “While EHS professionals do not always have sustainability in their titles, this research demonstrates that they are, indeed, doing the job.”
Most responding companies manage sustainability through a cross-functional team, led by the EHS function or a combined EHS and sustainability function, according to the results. The other members of the team are representatives from corporate communications, operations, legal, and sales and marketing.
Ms. Neuvelt said this collaborative approach reflects the growth of sustainability as a business management paradigm.
“Large companies are embedding sustainability into their operations by bringing a variety of perspectives to the table,” she said.
The second most common approach to managing sustainability, according to the data, was assigning the program to the EHS function. This approach may reflect the history of strategic environmental management, Ms. Neuvelt said, which often emerged as a grassroots effort from inside EHS.
Additionally the report reveals how business leaders define sustainability in terms of a broad range of programs addressing traditional and non-traditional business risks.
“While each company defines the term for itself, what we see emerging from the data is a definition of sustainability from the perspective of those who are leading these programs every day,” Ms. Neuvelt said. “While we realize that this list of activities is not exhaustive of all aspects of sustainability, it does provide a solid, working definition that could help drive clarity in the conversation about what is happening inside of companies today.”
To learn more about this report or to download a free Executive Summary of results, please visit http://www.naem.org/?survey_2012_staffing
About this Research
To understand how companies staff and structure their EHS and sustainability programs, NAEM and Verdantix, an independent analyst firm, fielded an online survey among full-time, “in house” corporate EHS and sustainability professionals. The research also included 14 qualitative interviews with senior EHS and sustainability leaders from across industries. The results reflect the perspective of 199 senior leaders (manager, director, vice president) working within a variety of industries at mostly U.S.-based companies with revenues ranging from $250 million to more than $50 billion.