Strong environmental, health and safety (EHS) management helps corporations protect the environment, create safe and healthy workplaces, and fulfill their responsibility to society. Learn more below.
What is EHS?
Companies that aspire to be better environmental stewards typically invest in strong environmental, health and safety (EHS) management. From an environmental standpoint, it involves creating a systematic approach to managing waste, complying with federal environmental regulations, and implementing sustainability initiatives. Strong EHS programs also include measures to address ergonomics, air quality, and other aspects of the work environment that could affect the health and well-being of employees.
How long has the EHS function been around?
The corporate EHS function has its origins in three distinct professions that began to merge at the management level around 1990.
The first area is environmental management, which emerged as a profession in the 1970s following the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other state-level regulatory systems. As companies began limiting waste to prevent pollution, they needed engineers to adapt scrubbers, filters, and other process changes to existing manufacturing systems. Workplace safety and occupational health also grew in importance during this time, with the passage of legislation such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
Over time, as companies began to develop a systematic way of complying with environmental, health and safety regulations, corporations began tracking key measures and looking for ways to improve their performance. In the 1990s, improvements in data technology management made it easier for an organization to analyze its operations. Around that time, corporations began to merge oversight for environmental, health and safety programs through a new management role called EHS. The newly appointed leaders, who began their careers in one of the three sub-disciplines, started to create systems to drive EHS progress across all operations.
Today, with the advent of sustainability, EHS professionals are leading corporate efforts toward sustainability. Building on their decades of experience, EHS leaders are striving to meet this challenge, creating systems to reduce energy use, conserve water, and better communicate with stakeholders. Indeed, a 2009 NAEM survey found that two-thirds of the sustainability initiatives at member companies are being led or managed by the EHS function.
What do EHS managers do?
Engineers or scientists by training, EHS professionals bring a highly specialized skill set to their work, marrying technical expertise with the management skills they need to translate the core principles of environmental, health and safety or sustainability management from policy into practice. Indeed, a 2009 survey of NAEM members found that the majority of corporate sustainability initiatives – such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions – were either being led by, or conducted with cooperation from, the EHS manager.
What is Sustainability? How does it relate to EHS?
A sustainable enterprise is a company that achieves enduring growth and superior long-term financial performance by addressing the social, economic, and environmental needs of present and future generations of stakeholders. For those who have been in this field for decades, "environmental sustainability” is just a new way to describe what leading companies have been practicing for decades.