What often gets lost in the buzz and excitement around corporate sustainability is that at a certain point, someone has to sit down and figure out how to turn this big idea into a reality. For the past thirty years, that person has been the environmental manager.
Corporate environmental managers have come a long way from the early days, when they were the go-to guys (and gals) for scrubbers and filters, and the lone advocates for environmental process changes.
But in the ‘Age of Sustainability’, when everyone from shareholders to public relations departments are talking about going green, some EHS managers are wondering if their role within a company still has value.
I believe that it does and that we need it now more than ever.
In addition to their technical knowledge and innovative problem-solving skills, environmental managers also have decades of knowledge about how to translate scientific objectives into corporate policies and programs that advance environmental stewardship. And that’s a cool thing.
With the advent of sustainability, the community of practitioners thinking about environmental impact has expanded to include product designers, research and development departments and plant managers. But the next step is for a company to develop actual programs with measurable results and to evaluate whether those initiatives can actually advance sustainability within the framework of their business.
That’s why you still need environmental managers.
When you ask companies about their initiatives aimed at sustainability, the majority remain the responsibility of the environmental manager. What chemicals have least long-term risk? Should we develop an on-site solar project or purchase renewable energy from an outside source? How do we reduce our solid waste? What is the inherent water footprint of our products?
As sustainability continues to evolve, we will still need people who are focused on creative, engineering-driven solutions to today’s corporate environmental challenges. The same people and skills that were required yesterday, therefore, will drive corporate stewardship tomorrow and into the future. On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I believe it’s time for us to acknowledge the progress we have made and to more importantly recognize the ones who helped get us this far.