Thanks to COVID-19 everyone in the company knows your name now. The pesky pandemic has catapulted the EHS function to the forefront of business operations – which is great (and might we say long overdue)! But, with this new visibility, comes opportunity. Here are some ways that EHS managers can help ensure they keep their seat at the proverbial table in a post-pandemic world.

Be a Champion of Stakeholder Engagement

Successful EHS programs require buy-in and support from a variety of organizational functions – from operations and HR to facilities and security – the list of stakeholders is long. Prior to COVID-19, most EHS managers considered themselves lucky if any of these stakeholders responded to emails, attended a meeting, or did anything beyond what was absolutely required by the EHS function (especially in low-risk environments such as office spaces). Needless to say, things are very different now. “I’m actually being asked for my opinion!” says one EHS manager, and “important people are listening to me now and following my advice!” says another. So, what can you do to make sure these stakeholders continue to seek your valuable input into the future?

  • Contribute Your Expertise: Everyone has specific expertise that they bring to the table and yours is no exception. Add your expertise to the discussion whenever possible.
  • Show Your Passion for EHS: Cheerleader is kind of a strong word, but you get the point. Combine your technical expertise with energy and enthusiasm – this combination is hard to dismiss.
  • Be Transparent: It’s okay not to know everything. If stakeholders have questions, do your research, connect with other EHS experts, and report back when you have answers.
  • Keep Your Promises: A good team player always keeps their word. If you agree to do something, do it – stakeholders will remember you as being reliable and trustworthy.

Bone Up on ESG

Don’t know what ESG is yet? Well, you’ll want to. Here is a quick primer:

  • E is for Environment: This element represents company performance with respect to its impact on the earth including environmental compliance, air emissions, water usage, and waste management.
  • S is for Social: This element represents people-related aspects of a company, like company culture and issues that impact employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. Health and safety programs are included under this element.
  • G is for Governance: This element represents topics related to company management and oversight, including the board of directors’ activities, transparency, and ethics. Written EHS programs, policies, procedures, and ISO 14001 and 45001 certifications are part of governance.

When combined together, ESG – or Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance – are three areas increasingly being used to measure the future sustainability, financial health, and reputation of a business. Formerly known as sustainability or corporate citizenship, ESG is the latest business buzzword garnering attention in the C-Suite – and now that the CEO knows your name, you have an opportunity to leverage your EHS acumen and apply it to the ESG conversation. Here is how:

  • Make sure that EHS metrics are incorporated into your company’s sustainability report. Many EHS programs will have opportunities to add ESG value – so make sure performance indicators, as well as certifications, awards and other achievements are published and communicated. For example, a waste inventory program that was developed for regulatory compliance can be used as a starting point to identify waste reduction options, an important topic under the Environment element of ESG. Additionally, office health, safety, and wellness programs demonstrate that your company cares about employees and can be a strategic pillar for recruiting and retaining critical talent as part of the Social element.
  • Understand what ESG risks are most material to your company. Do some research to better understand the biggest ESG issues in your industry. You’ll want to be able to gauge what is your company exposure to ESG risk and identify any unmanaged risks that could impact enterprise value. Ultimately, you’ll want to propose risk management strategies to leadership that would mitigate significant ESG risks – the same way you would for EHS risks. The key here will be prioritization – focus on the risks that you can manage.

If you want to learn more about the ESG tipping point and how companies are increasingly being valued and invested in, take a look at Blackrock ESG Integration Statement. How a company identifies and manages ESG factors can have a significant impact on market value and growth. If your company is involved in merger and acquisition activity, it’s even more important to understand these ESG risks and opportunities to ensure material issues are not overlooked.

Remember, It’s Always About the Money

With any business, it all comes down to dollars and cents. And given the COVID curveball of this year, organizations are looking to balance their lost revenue with cost-saving strategies. Many executives are widening their views of where cost-saving opportunities may exist. If your EHS function hasn’t been pulled into these discussions yet, be prepared to answer questions like “where can we reduce cost or reduce liability?” or “how can we modify our strategy on this to save money?”

As an EHS manager, you’ll want to highlight how EHS performance ties into overall business performance and shareholder value. And this will require you to monetize EHS programs and benefits in a tangible way. Here are some things to consider:

  • Look at your auditing and training programs: Is there cost avoidance value linked to findings from audits and training programs?
  • Examine merger and acquisition activity: Is there cost reduction associated with eliminating or not absorbing liabilities identified through the M&A process?
  • Revisit your legacy liability reserve program: Connect with Legal and Finance on policy, process, and tools to determine savings in frictional costs and overall reserve reduction.
  • Project cash flow of legacy liabilities: Review your environmental remediation program, understand your quarterly spend projections, and communicate to leadership how you can control your spend throttle to better align with business plans.
  • Showcase the interplay between EHS and ESG: We discussed this in the section above, but it’s important, so we’re telling you twice. Highlight EHS programs that align with ESG elements and that are having a positive impact on shareholder value.

These conversations might seem scary or uncomfortable at first, but through them, you’ll have the opportunity to deepen organizational commitment and visibility for EHS programs. Instead of being under the microscope as a cost center, the EHS function can flip the script by showing real value to the executive team in a language that they understand.   

Congratulations on your well-deserved seat at the table. Be prepared to work hard to keep it!

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