Environmental, health, and safety professionals are leading the way to a sustainable future.
What does it mean for an organization to be sustainable?
For environmental, health, and safety professionals, it’s a question that may not have an easy answer. There’s economic sustainability, for instance, or a company’s ability to profit over time, but there’s also social and ecological sustainability—the business of doing good for people and the planet.
In the EHS world, it’s not always obvious how these various areas fit together. Ask an EHS leader how they’re making sustainability a reality, and there’s a good chance they won’t know what to say.
Here, we’ll attempt to demystify sustainability with a three-part look at its connection to the three main pillars of EHS. While environmental compliance, and especially workforce health and safety, may seem removed from this emerging field, on closer inspection it becomes clear that EHS and sustainability go hand in hand.
The Role of Environmental in Sustainability
The environmental connection to sustainability is probably more evident than that of health or safety. The reason, of course, has to do with global trends: With growing awareness of the threats posed by climate change, and increased demand for sustainability reporting from regulators and investors, many organizations are leaning on EHS leaders to design programs that bring them in line with long-term environmental expectations.
Whether it’s a plan for curbing carbon dioxide emissions or an effort to reduce waste or energy consumption, they’re all key parts of the sustainability journey, and they’re all part of the “E” in EHS. These initiatives typically include compliance plans that not only streamline and standardize compliance management, but ensure employees and executives keep their eyes on the organization’s wider sustainability goals. They entail, at a minimum, adapting to regulatory changes and proactively identifying environmental issues before they become serious (and potentially costly) incidents. At many organizations, effective environmental data management is also critical to success.
Not only does environmental program management tie directly into Sustainability, but it often plays a direct part in safety and health programs. Metrics tracking, audits & inspections, and incident management & root cause analyses are other important components of environmental (and health and safety) sustainability initiatives, as is ongoing communication about these efforts to stakeholders across the enterprise. Additionally, there’s the need for comprehensive mitigation strategies that can be put into motion at a moment’s notice: When something goes wrong—and something eventually will—everyone should know exactly how to fix it.
The Role of Health in Sustainability
While workforce health is solidly in the wheelhouse of the EHS professional, how it relates to corporate sustainability may not be immediately apparent. To get at the answer, the first step involves considering what sustainability is really all about.
When organizations are sustainable, they’re built to last. They’re always looking ahead to the future, weighing how decisions made today will impact their ability to operate down the road. Environmentally, this means that they’re abiding by government regulations and listening to shareholders who demand they don’t sacrifice the planet in the name of profits. And health-wise, the calculus is similar: You can’t have a healthy company if your workforce isn’t healthy as well.
That’s because an organization’s employees are, by far, its most valuable asset. Productivity and profits, and long-term survival, all begin and end with your people.
Most organizations either understand this intuitively or learn it the hard way, through experience. And some look to teams of health professionals—from occupational nurses, to ergonomists to industrial hygienists—to proactively provide care for their employees and keep them as healthy as possible.
For EHS leaders, the “H” in their work typically means they’re focusing on assessing and measuring and mitigating risk. They look to gather data through advanced analytics to employ a “total worker health” model to consider, assess, and manage any health risk (from any source) that might impact employee wellness and, by extension, overall productivity. They may also be involved in compliance initiatives and tasks related to regulatory reporting.
Simply put, maintaining employee health is fundamental to any organization’s economic and social sustainability, and therefore to ecological sustainability as well. Not to mention, people want to work for employers who show tangible examples that they care for workforce wellness, through both risk management and proactive health promotion. This not only helps employers attract suitable job candidates, but also retain the best talent. Success here drives success across the enterprise and makes other sustainability initiatives possible.
The Role of Safety in Sustainability
Safety is connected to sustainability in much the same way as worker health. Safety in the workplace is important for many different reasons, from regulatory compliance to operational success. Sustainability becomes impossible when people are injured and departments or processes are forced to shut down.
Again, the EHS professional’s job is to manage workplace safety as efficiently as possible. The focus is on reducing the organization’s safety risks—on ensuring workplace hazards are identified and addressed.
Organizations that make safety a top priority drive sustainability by providing employees with the resources they need to do their work without fear of getting hurt. They put processes in place for reporting safety issues, and they accurately assess potential workplace dangers while following the requirements of regulatory agencies. To prevent workplace incidents and enhance sustainability, organizations should shift their focus towards a more proactive risk management process by tracking lead indicators and metrics that enable them to effectively detect and control risks before adverse events occur.
How Technology Can Help
At Cority, we know that most EHS professionals are busy and the idea of adding “yet another task” in the form of sustainability management to their full workloads is not enticing. But we also believe it’s possible for organizations to meet their sustainability initiatives without the need to overburden their staff or hire new teams of people.
They can do so with EHS software that spans the full spectrum of environmental, health, and safety while incorporating sustainability in a single “corporate-sustainability” or responsible business platform. Tools designed to help with data management, compliance, auditability, and reporting while automating many common EHS processes to streamline data collection, analysis, and reporting, allow EHS professionals to better reveal insights, establish goals, and measure progress to inform future sustainability strategy.
Sustainability isn’t viewed in addition to EHS, because it is already a part of the profession. Sustainability encompasses all three areas —it’s in the work already being done every day.