A friend at the end of our senior year of college once said, “Four years ago I couldn’t spell engineer… and now I are one.” Lately I have been hearing a similar comment only it goes like this, “Five years ago I’d never heard the word sustainability and now I’m in charge of it.”
Based on experiences at the recent NAEM EHS Management Forum, it seems to me that the current state of understanding in the EHS community about the “practice of sustainability” goes something like this:
10% – Get it, embrace it, know exactly what to do with it, and are racing ahead with it.
10% – Hate it, don’t want anything to do with it, and would prefer that you not bring it up, especially around their management
80% – Are trying to figure it out, wonder what to do about it and contemplate how it’s going to impact their work load and budget.
Not only are companies trying to figure out what sustainability means, they are trying to find the right process owner for it, and often that is EHS. Sustainability, unlike any other new initiative that I have experienced in my EHS career, requires more involvement and buy-in from more parts of the organization.
If you don’t believe that, just ask that EHS Manager that has been given the assignment of reducing their company’s GHG emissions, improving their packaging, eliminating old growth forest products, or for ensuring the working conditions of all it’s suppler employees in China. It takes a whole new set of management skills and relationships with senior management, procurement, investor relations, human resources, and most other functions.
As if that’s not challenging enough, we are supposed to lead this effort during a historic economic downturn. Seems like it’s not, “do more with less;” it feels more like, “do something completely new with nothing at all.”
While we’ve become competent managing the old S, the challenges that come with sustainability make reducing the injury rate look simple.
Time to start thinking and acting very differently.