In today’s rapidly evolving world, the importance of sustainability has reached new heights for businesses and organizations. The overlap between sustainability and critical environmental, health, and safety (EHS) goals has further highlighted the significance of aligning these areas for impactful transformation.
Traditionally, when organizations consider sustainability, the focus tends to be primarily on environmental aspects. However, sustainability encompasses far more than just the environment. It encompasses the well-being, health, and safety of employees, companies, and communities at every level. It envisions a world where everyone thrives, with good health, safety, and well-being, and where future generations can enjoy the same benefits we have today.
Recognizing the growing interest in non-financial indicators, stakeholders now seek comprehensive environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data to assess an organization’s sustainability. This shift demonstrates that sustainability and ESG principles are crucial for evaluating a business’s long-term health and success, extending beyond financial metrics.
With the increasing prominence of sustainability and ESG expectations, the responsibilities of EHS professionals have significantly expanded. This means, viewing sustainability through an EHS lens is becoming essential. EHS professionals play a vital role in risk mitigation, ensuring safe operations that minimize the impact on employees and communities. Sustainability goals align with these objectives and contribute to achieving desirable outcomes.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the following:
- Understanding sustainability at the individual level
- How sustainability and EHS are related within many organizations
- How you can leverage the two together to have a positive impact within your organization
Making EHS and Sustainability Goals Personal
When it comes to sustainability, the topic can sometimes feel overwhelming, or too big for any one individual to have a meaningful impact. To combat this, it can be helpful to shift from thinking about the environment to my environment. By reframing our perspective on the topic, it’s easier to see the connection between our daily choices and the impact we have on the health and well-being of our local communities and workplaces. This shift in perspective can help each of us to see our ability to make an impact and our role in making responsible decisions that impact sustainability, rather than considering it an issue we don’t have a stake in.
Let’s take the example of food waste, a global issue that also has an impact at a household and individual level. According to multiple studies, the average American household wastes nearly 1 in 4 groceries they purchase, not only representing a loss of money, but all of that waste also has a negative environmental impact. By meal planning, grocery shopping more intentionally, and using composting facilities, it’s possible to save money and reduce household food waste significantly. In this way, we can rethink the situation to see how sustainable choices impact us personally, and also see how personal actions relate to the more significant issues at hand. Although one individual won’t be able to singlehandedly solve the global problem, it can be combatted by small personal choices.
When looking at “my environment” another thing that impacts many people both personally and at an organizational level is mental health. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Difficult work environments, that involve dealing with discrimination, heavy workloads, lack of control, and job insecurity, pose a risk to mental health. To protect mental health, WHO recommends some key actions:
- Provide manager training on mental health: This enables managers to identify and support employees who are facing emotional distress. It also enhances their interpersonal skills, such as open communication and active listening, while fostering a deeper understanding of how job-related stressors impact mental health and how they can be effectively managed.
- Offer mental health literacy and awareness training for workers: By improving knowledge about mental health and reducing stigmatization surrounding mental health conditions in the workplace, this training helps create a more supportive environment.
- Provide interventions for individuals to develop stress management skills and alleviate mental health symptoms: These interventions may include psychosocial approaches and opportunities for leisure-based physical activities. They equip individuals with the tools to effectively handle stress and promote better mental well-being.
Investing in competency development and mental health resources is not only important for the long-term success and resilience of our organizations, but also good for us individuals.
How EHS and Sustainability Relate on an Organizational Level
There are many shared goals between EHS and Sustainability within a company. There are examples across all areas of environmental, health, and safety where good sustainability practices help improve EHS performance and vice versa.
One example of an overlap between safety and sustainability is related to hazardous chemicals and materials. Safety professionals strive to reduce employee exposures to harmful chemicals and promote safe handling of chemicals. This aligns with the sustainability goal to minimize the use of toxic chemicals, replacing them with alternatives that are safer for human health and the environment.
Health teams have shared goals with sustainability teams advocating for modern green buildings, which can have a meaningful impact on the health of the people within those buildings. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees who work in “green” buildings with sustainable features such as improved ventilation, natural lighting, and reduced noise pollution report higher levels of job satisfaction, fewer sick days, and better overall health and well-being.
For quality considerations, EHS and Sustainability goals also overlap. Reductions in defective products improve quality while helping to reduce waste, energy, and resources. This lowers costs, improves customer satisfaction, and benefits the environment all at the same time.
Technology is another place EHS and Sustainability goals come together. Telehealth can extend the reach of healthcare for workers, improve access to care, and reduce the environmental footprint of that care. Technology can also help to engage with employees, drive awareness, and help foster a responsible corporate culture. With the noticeable shift towards more robust Sustainability and ESG reporting, there has been an increase in the amount and types of data requests received by ESG and EHS teams. As the scrutiny and scale of sustainability and ESG reporting expands, these requests will only increase and EHS professionals will need robust tools to ensure they can provide trusted data quickly to meet the demands. And with the data to properly analyze and assess necessary interventions, organizations are better equipped to protect workers and improve overall performance.
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Making an Impact in Your Organization
Collaboration among stakeholders across the organization and beyond is crucial for successful sustainability initiatives. From EHS professionals to executives, HR professionals, and community members, alignment of EHS and sustainability goals becomes a catalyst for substantial organizational change. By integrating EHS and sustainability, organizations can effectively reduce waste, prioritize worker safety, and foster the development of analytics that optimize operational efficiency. The interconnection between EHS and sustainability goals emphasizes the importance of raising awareness and investing in EHS programs. Tying EHS to sustainability not only drives the much-needed attention towards EHS initiatives but also brings sustainability considerations to the forefront of operational decision-making. Aligning EHS and sustainability goals is one of the most effective ways to see real organizational change.
Here are a few considerations for organizations to align EHS and Sustainability:
- Establishing communication with EHS and ESG teams and ensuring that tools support the increased pace and scrutiny of data exchange is vital. Traditional methods like email and excel may not meet the demands of ESG reporting. Cross-training on ESG and EHS solutions can expedite data reporting and drive improvement.
- Defining the goals of ESG initiatives in collaboration with EHS functions is essential. By aligning specific ESG initiatives with operational workflows, teams can reduce risk and improve performance.
- Familiarizing yourself with sustainability and ESG frameworks such as CDP, SASB, GRI, and TCFD, as organizations increasingly report to these evolving disclosure frameworks. As scrutiny continues to rise, governing bodies will adapt and refine their relevant KPIs and disclosure requirements.
- Fostering a culture that prioritizes safety and sustainability by involving employees in initiatives and empowers them to contribute ideas and solutions. By establishing safety and sustainability as core values, organizations encourage a sense of shared responsibility and continuous improvement.
By embracing sustainability and aligning with ESG initiatives, organizations can drive positive change, mitigate risks, and foster a culture of responsibility. The path to a sustainable future starts with proactive collaboration and a commitment to integrating EHS and ESG goals.