How will the Wall Street meltdown affect EHS and sustainability?



Carol Singer Neuvelt, Executive Director, NAEM




The professionals who are responsible for environmental, health and safety (EHS) regulatory compliance in their companies and institutions have been enjoying a lot of attention the last few years as a result of the focus on climate change and the emerging recognition by the “C suite” of the need to address sustainability as a business strategy.


EHS functions have been expanding to drive, influence and implement corporate sustainability strategies, but will the newly energized focus on corporate stewardship be thwarted by the melt down on Wall Street? 


From where I sit, it’s hard to tell.   On one hand, an increasing number of our member companies recently reported that they have some type of sustainability initiative underway, yet more and more of our professionals are also telling me that their companies have frozen budgets, reduced staffing, and stopped all non-essential travel.   


Will sustainability be lumped under the “nonessential” category as the ripple effects of the Wall Street meltdown and a slowing global economy play out over the next few months and beyond?  Or will CEO’s embrace corporate sustainability even more tightly as they look for ways to drive competitive brand value and cut costs through better resource management?  What’s going on in your company in these areas? 


I would be eager to hear how you, your company and your sustainability programs are being impacted by the current financial crisis.

About NAEM Staff

The National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), is a non-profit professional association that empowers corporate leaders to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability. As the largest network for environmental, health and safety (EHS), and sustainability decision-makers, we provide peer-led educational conferences and an active network for sharing solutions to today’s corporate EHS and sustainability management challenges. Visit NAEM online at

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  1. Daniel S.

    October 6, 2008

    As a Principal Environmental Engineer for a major aerospace defense corporation (should we mention specific corporate names on this blog?), I would say that we are more about green wash than going green. At the highest level of management the belief seems to be that sustainability and going green consists of two activities:
    1. Implementing energy cost reduction projects with a payback of less than three years;
    2. Compiling data on multiple ad-hoc employee green activities (e.g. waste recycling, carpooling, ownership of hybrid cars, etc.) that are initiated and implemented by employees with no corporate financial support.

    Maximizing next quarters return on investment is the bottom line. CEO’s believe they not only have the ethical right, but they also have the moral obligation to provide maximum near term share holder value. Typically this implies minimizing costs (including minimizing employment), maximizing profits, and not planning beyond the current fiscal year.

  2. David Williams

    October 6, 2008

    If one or more compelling drivers don’t exist for sustainability for any given company or organization, then it is a “nice to have” and certainly will fall to the ax during times of tight financials. However, if clearly defined compelling drivers do exist, then it likely won’t since it is important for moving the company or organization forward. For example, if a company is interested in water sustainability because water plays a key role in their business (think beverages and semi-conductors here), then water sustainability projects with sound return and linkages to their drivers will move forward even in tough times.

    Another key factor is how well sustainability is integrated with other things a company considers important. Sustainability integrated with EHS management systems, lean manufacturing, six sigma and CSR efforts is much tougher to carve out and leave behind than a sustainability “initiative” that is not integrated and stands alone.

  3. Gary Niekerk

    October 9, 2008

    Congratulations on your new blog. It may take some time to build readership, but it’s nice to see NAEM embrace this new media.

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