In today’s world, environment, health and safety (EHS) is a core component of every business, going beyond meeting compliance requirements as a key driver of company’s overall business strategy.
Here we dive into a brief history of EHS and how it’s evolved over the years, its importance in today’s business world, the core responsibilities of EHS professionals, and future trends to be conscious of.
What is EHS?
As a concept, EHS is a collection of processes, rules, standards, laws and regulations that aim to protect the environment, company employees and the public from harm.
In practice, EHS is a business initiative for companies that want to not only comply with regulations and industry standards, but also be better environmental stewards, and provide their employees with a safe and healthy workplace.
The History and Evolution of EHS
In the United States, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other local regulatory systems, and the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 were the catalysts that spawned the environmental, health and safety management professions in the early 1970s.
In the early 1990s, the holistic role of an EHS manager came to life—both in the U.S. and around the world. According to the National Association of Environmental Management (NAEM), thanks to advances in technology, companies began to merge the three disciplines together, eliminating silos and kick starting the creation of internal systems to drive EHS progress across all business operations. In addition, a handful of formal EHS management approaches and guidelines such as the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18001) were established through international collaboration.
By the 2000s, increasing global awareness of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and climate change spurred more robust social and corporate sustainability movements. As a result, for many companies around the world, sustainability became intertwined with their EHS initiatives.
Why EHS is Important to Businesses
Compliance is no longer the sole purpose of corporate EHS programs. New technology and regulations, strong competition, and changes in consumer attitudes have made EHS a vital and valuable tool. Here’s how:
- EHS makes financial sense. From fines for failing compliance checks to workers’ compensation claims to finding cost-saving efficiencies, there is a strong business case for EHS.
- EHS can protect and enhance a company’s reputation. Thanks to new research, as well as the Internet and mobile technologies, the public is more aware and conscious of sustainability and EHS-related issues. This presents an opportunity to promote your company’s EHS efforts and protect your reputation by mitigating risks that could prove damaging.
- EHS is a fantastic employee retention and recruiting tool. Workers are becoming more environmentally conscious and expect their companies to be on board, too. EHS and sustainability programs allow companies to show their commitment to the environment, their employees and the greater good—and they can be a great recruiting tool for top talent.
The Responsibilities of Today’s EHS Professional
Over the last five decades, the roles and responsibilities of EHS professionals have changed dramatically. Rather than being siloed, EHS professionals are now wearing multiple hats within their organization, including:
- Ensuring compliance. While not the sole focus, compliance is still a fundamental and important part of an EHS manager’s job to avoid costly fines and incidents.
- Risk management. As part of ensuring compliance, EHS departments are also tasked with identifying, mitigating and managing risk, sometimes across global operations.
- Reducing costs. Experienced EHS managers regularly review program data to identify areas of opportunity to improve initiatives, and find efficiencies and cost savings.
- Streamlining operations. With EHS being an integral part of a company’s strategy, EHS managers are directly tied to ensuring processes and procedures are executed efficiently.
- Employee training and communication. In order to achieve all of the above, EHS managers know they need employees on board and engaged. As a result, ongoing training and being a visible, active leader is essential.
The Future of EHS
As our world continues down its path of innovation and awareness, EHS will also continue to evolve and change the roles and responsibilities of EHS professionals across all industries. From Antea Group’s perspective, some trends and areas of focus will be:
- Technology. While technology has provided companies with the tools to refine operations and drive revenue, innovation can also be disruptive by spurring new regulations or the need to redesign EHS guidelines and processes.
- Materiality. In order to make the business case for sustainability initiatives, materiality will be increasingly important for getting buy-in from internal and external stakeholders.
- Global expansion. As our world becomes increasingly connected, companies will continue to seize opportunities for expanding their businesses to new geographies. However, EHS departments must be prepared for local regulations, cultural nuances and local considerations if they want to succeed.
Find actionable insights and tips for creating, implementing and managing your company’s EHS program now and into the future on the Antea Group blog.