As we embark upon our semi-regular, three-year strategic plan update here, I have been reflecting upon the above question. I strongly suspect it is a familiar question for many of you. Notwithstanding a strong commitment to environment, safety and sustainability in general, many EHS executives and managers struggle with other indicators that the commitment is thinner or more precarious than we would like.
As they say on television, do you suffer from these telltale signs?
- Is your budget shrinking? Despite some surveys that suggest EHS growth is occurring in some sectors, I rarely encounter colleagues who are boasting of budget increases.
- Is your headcount increasing? Any increases generally have to be offset somewhere for a net decrease.
- Are your executives and senior managers consistently active participants in your EHS management system (EHSMS, i.e. do they participate in inspections, do they cover EHS in all-hands meetings, etc.)? The trouble sign here is that participation can wax and wane dramatically as other business conditions intrude.
- Is EHS built into the key plans for the company, operating plans, personal performance plans, etc.? Many executives expect or demand EHS performance, but they may also resist being measured and rewarded (or penalized) for it.
- Does EHS have a seat at the table when strategic planning is taking place? There is often a perception that EHS and sustainability are no broader than compliance or that EHS programs are largely tactical in nature as opposed to strategic.
- Where does EHS report in to and does that structure meet EHS’ needs (i.e. is EHS highly placed and placed in such a way as to create synergy)? The EHS organization can be grafted on to many organizations (e.g. security, legal, government affairs, operations, HR) and runs the risk of being misunderstood or neglected.
I could probably go on, but I think the idea should be clear enough – a compelling business case for EHS and a commitment to strong performance and continuous improvement are still subject to other business conditions and constraints. Is this an inevitable and unending challenge for EHS professionals? What are you experiencing in your companies? Are you viewed as core or context, support function or key business partner, candy or breath mint?