When it comes to managing environment, health and safety (EHS) compliance at offices and facilities around the world, there’s one thought all EHS professionals at tech companies share: It’s complicated.

From new mergers and acquisitions to rapid innovation within company walls, tech company EHS teams face a myriad of complex compliance challenges that require tailored solutions.

In late April, EHS and sustainability leaders from an array of tech companies came together for Antea Group’s sixth EHSxTech® event. While there, attendees discussed their most difficult global EHS compliance challenges, as well as shared best practices for tackling those challenges.

What did they have to say? We share some of their top challenges and best practice insights below.

Challenge 1: Staying up to date on changing local regulations

With facilities spread across diverse geographies around the world, it’s no surprise that one of the top challenges reported by EHS leaders at tech companies was simply keeping pace with local regulatory changes. In addition, many attendees said this challenge is compounded by another tough pain point: lacking the local expertise and insight to understand how local regulations apply to their operations.

Best Practices:

When it comes to proactively monitoring changes, several EHS leaders pointed to subscription and software services that provide updates on the latest news, as well as analysis and tools for managing risk. In addition, others said their companies have created homegrown internal tools to help share intel and trends, and track changing regulations.

As for gaining local expertise and insight, many are forming local partnerships or have engaged the help of a global EHS consulting firm that has experience and connections to local experts. For examples of such insight, see Inogen’s presentations at EHSxTech on local regulations in China, India and Mexico.

Challenge 2: Keeping up with changing operations

As operations change, regulatory requirements can also change. And the tech industry is known for being fast and furious when it comes to change. To name just a few: there are often multiple acquisitions within a single year; offices grow and/or consolidate; new equipment and chemicals are brought in for a “special top-secret project”; or a new contractor is brought in and they use different cleaning chemicals.

Most of the time, EHS is not consulted or informed of these changes. What was compliant one day may be out of compliance as soon as the number of employees exceeds 50 or when one extra liter of chemical is brought on site. Given the limited EHS resources, this can be a daunting undertaking. As one EHS leader said, “you don’t know what you don’t know!!”

Best Practices:

Identify and empower individuals at your facilities to be EHS ambassadors and to notify you when changes happen at their location. EHS leaders said they’ve used targeted stakeholder engagement to assemble a team of employees from multiple departments, and ultimately gain local buy-in and support, unique perspectives, and help position people on the ground as EHS leaders.

Read: Smart Stakeholder Engagement: 6 Tips for EHS & Sustainability Managers

Challenge 3: Determining where accountability lies in a multi-employer setting

For many global tech companies, their portfolios include multiple entities—all of which are structured and operated in their own unique way. As a result, EHS managers and their teams often struggle with knowing where EHS compliance accountability should live.

Best Practices:

For many EHS leaders, tackling this challenge comes down to collaboration and communication—something they acknowledged as simple in theory, but more difficult in practice.

As a starting point, identify and reach out to all key stakeholder contacts at each facility to get the conversation going. Then create a detailed workflow that maps the roles and responsibilities for people at every level to help minimize communication breakdowns and make sure every team member knows their role.

Challenge 4: Protecting their brand’s reputation

As EHS becomes more intertwined with a company’s overall business strategy, EHS leaders are finding that compliance isn’t just about keeping workers safe and meeting requirements—it’s also about helping preserve their company’s reputation. One incident can cause major PR headaches, and ultimately damage a brand’s reputation and credibility.

Best Practice:

While you can’t prepare for a PR disaster with absolute certainty, you can take steps to plan for possibilities, leaders said. Include key stakeholders such as risk management, public relations, and human resources. Craft an action plan that outlines team member responsibilities, contingencies and key messages for possible scenarios.

Challenge 5: Managing compliance from a distance

Despite an EHS team’s best efforts, when offices and facilities operate thousands of miles from headquarters—and often in different time zones—things can be missed. As a result, managing compliance from a distance is one of the top challenges EHS leaders at tech companies face.

Best Practices:

From leveraging software and tools to creating tailored communications plans, EHSxTech attendees shared a variety of examples of how they’re tackling this major issue within their organizations. In the end, the big takeaway was: Don’t rely on an out-of-the-box EHS program strategy to manage global compliance. Instead, leverage existing company systems and tools, your knowledge and local relationships, and perhaps an experienced consultant, to design a program strategy that’s tailored to your unique business needs and compliance risks.

Challenge 6: Prioritizing the most important or urgent compliance requirements

EHS leaders at tech companies are tasked with evaluating and addressing compliance liabilities across their organizations. But with limited internal resources, time and budget, they’re often challenged to prioritize risks and opportunities based on importance, severity or urgency.

Best Practices:

For many EHS leaders at tech companies, prioritizing where they spend their time and resources comes down to knowing their risk tolerance. For example, as one leader put it, their team is striving for “compliance in everything that counts,” factoring in stakeholder expectations, the financial and reputational risks of noncompliance, and severity versus frequency of incidents.

The big takeaway? Assess your level of risk for noncompliance. Get started by conducting a high-level gap analysis of all your facilities to uncover gaps in program management, reporting, monitoring, record keeping and analysis, then prioritize them based on risk level. In addition, leverage insights from your key stakeholder groups to understand what’s most important to them to help you refine your list of key priorities.

Get More EHSxTech Insights

Our April 2017 session was a huge success, bringing together some of the top EHS minds in the tech sector for a day of collaboration, best practice sharing and insight gathering. 

In the meantime, get more insights and tips that can help your tech company overcome common global EHS compliance challenges.

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