How are EHS and sustainability initiatives managed in your org chart?

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James Strock

A number of companies maintain some or complete separation between their EHS divisions and those specifically aimed toward sustainability initiatives.  Sometimes this is the result of the serendipity of organizational development.

Sometimes it an arguably incomplete conception of sustainability—not recognizing that reducing liabilities and creating asset value can be related, indeed mutually reinforcing.

Have you noticed this phenomenon? If so, what do you think about it? Is it a missed opportunity or a sensible approach?

About James Strock

James Strock is an author, speaker and executive educator who works in the nexus between sustainability and leadership. In addition to these endeavors, he also served as the founding secretary for environmental protection for the state of California, and the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His third book, Serve to Lead®, was released in 2009.

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  1. nope

    June 30, 2009

    I think Sustainability should be outside of EHS (it is included where I work). It is primarily a public relations and business job that draws little on the skill set of EHS.

  2. Richard MacLean

    June 30, 2009

    For an article that explains the dynamics in play go to:

    Also, here are excerpts from an upcoming article:

    Governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have reported numerous “sustainability success stories” when, in reality, these programs or projects have done little more than reduce the rate of unsustainability. There is a big difference; one that is rarely communicated.

    Environmental activists, once so proficient at influencing public opinion, are now challenged, if not bettered, by industry and governments that have hired talented individuals and applied significant resources to persuade all stakeholders and especially the media.

    This point was driven home to me nearly a decade ago when the very first sustainable development vice presidents were assigned to their positions at corporate headquarters. I was intrigued that most had limited backgrounds in environmental science, regulation and technology, but were extensively trained in communication, marketing and product development. I concluded that they were hired to increase profits, build the brand and reduce the rate of unsustainability.

    By shifting the discussion to sustainable development, companies have been able to both change public perceptions and make a profit by marketing “environmentally friendly” products that are, nonetheless, based on increasing consumption, at least for their brand of products. Sophisticated public reporting and/or partnerships with NGOs that industry once battled in the courts are now used to deliver this new generation of corporate messages.

    These “win-win” strategies cost pennies on the dollar relative to significant manufacturing process changes or the building of yet another, even more elaborate, level of pollution control infrastructure. The danger to companies is that they start to believe their own headlines and ignore what it takes to be truly environmentally and socially responsible.

  3. Greg

    June 30, 2009

    The EHS and Environmental Stewardship functions are together at our place, and it works great. How you treat your people and the environment is about more than compliance.

  4. A

    July 1, 2009

    Should we leave it up to Public Relations and not EHS to determine how an organization should make operational changes such as determining energy efficiency goals, water consumption reductions, green house gas reductions, etc.?

  5. Rick Ramirez

    July 2, 2009

    In our company, EHS excellence is a core area of our sustainability business platform and strategy (which we call the Shaw Green Edge) but certainly not all of what we embrace under the sustainability umbrella. Our sustainability platform is built around 3 pillars: Corporate Governance & Social Responsibility, Operational & Environmental Excellence and, Uniquely Designed Products & Services. EHA plays an important role in each of these pillars, whether in governance (e.g., compliance), or environmental excellence (e.g., environmental management systems, performance, goals) and product design (e.g., design for the environment). Our sustainability platform reaches beyond our four walls to the supply chain and partners and to our customers and end users as well as product use and end of product life solutions. The Corporate Sustainability function acts as a “hub” to facilitate and drive the cross organizational nature of sustainability among such groups as Sourcing, Innovation/Product Development, Manufacturing, Energy, EHS, Human Resources, Logistics and Finance, among others. Sustainability is a transformational business strategy to ensure a broad set of business, social, market and regulatory requirements are considered in successfully positioning a company for the future. In our company, we have a Growth & Sustainability Council which brings together the executive team, business and functional leaders to drive our strategy, set goals and approve initiatives. EHS is part of this Council and reports dotted line to Corporate Sustainability.

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