Companies that aspire to be better environmental stewards invest in strong environmental, health and safety management, otherwise known as EHS. From an environmental standpoint, it involves creating a systematic approach to managing waste, complying with environmental regulations, or reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Successful EHS programs also include measures to address ergonomics, air quality, and other aspects of workplace safety that could affect the health and well-being of employees.
What does an Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) manager do?
Management-level environmental, health and safety, and sustainability leaders are the environmental stewards of the corporate world, working behind the scenes at many of the country's largest companies to comply with regulations, advocate for progressive environmental policies, and protect workers' safety.
Engineers or scientists by training, EHS Managers bring a highly specialized skill set to their work, marrying technical expertise with management skills to translate corporate policy into practice.
How does EHS relate to sustainability?
With the advent of sustainability, our members’ skills and experience are more important than ever. EHS leaders are increasingly responsible for designing and implementing strategies to take companies beyond compliance.
These initiatives involve tasks such as:
- Developing and leading a formal sustainability program
- Creating successful internal partnerships to integrate EHS values and practices across the business
- Communicating enterprise risks associated with environmental, health, or safety failures
- Establishing global corporate EHS standards and practices
- Publicly reporting progress on a full spectrum of EHS and sustainability initiatives
- Responding to stakeholder inquires about their company’s EHS and sustainability performance
- Working with supply chain
- Global auditing
- Ensuring safe and healthy workplaces around the world
What is the history of the EHS profession?
The corporate EHS function, which oversees environmental, health and safety compliance 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, companies developed systematic way of complying with environmental, health and safety regulations. Corporations began tracking key measures and looking for ways to improve their performance. Then, 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.
NAEM members will have the chance to put their environmental expertise to work at this year’s EHS Management Forum in Charlotte, through an ecosystem restoration project along the shores of Lake Wylie. NAEM Deputy Director Virginia Hoekenga, who leads the Forum development committee, said adding a volunteer activity to the conference agenda was a natural fit with the values of the EHS and sustainability professional community.
As NAEM prepares for its 2015 Sustainability Management Conference in Minneapolis on August 4-5, we spoke with Program Director Mike Mahanna to learn about the current state of play inside of companies today.
This week, NAEM announced the preliminary program for the 2015 EHS Management Forum in Charlotte. To get a peek at the thinking behind this year’s theme and the sessions-in-progress, we spoke to Virginia Hoekenga, NAEM Deputy Director, who guides the development of the Forum program.