Executive Engagement: A Roadmap for Driving a Culture of EHS Accountability
While some business leaders may regard EHS as a purely regulatory concern, those who truly understand these programs know there is more at stake for their organizations. Approaching EHS merely as a necessary means to avoiding fines and other punitive measures is to ignore substantial threats to business performance and public perception. When done right, transforming threats into opportunity will generate positive attention from executives.
Strategies for Driving AccountabilityWhile engaging and educating executives are important initial steps for advancing EHS performance, the greater challenge and rewards come from establishing real accountability with top-level leaders. There are several strategies that can be used to drive executive-level accountability:
- Align with company values and customer demands
Executives are driven by achieving strategic goals relating to brand and operations. Aligning EHS with company values and operations helps tie EHS to those strategic goals. Approaching executives with a compelling vision and forward-looking solutions that advance large-scale initiatives is a win-win
- Leverage heightened interest in ESG and sustainability
Heightened Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability awareness, often driven by investors and customers, represents an opportunity to gain more visibility to EHS culture and performance. Sustainability disclosures and goals in many companies have the full attention of executives responsible for decarbonization and net-zero ambitions. Drawing attention to the integration of EHS and ESG as a social license to operate will help broaden the message to executives
- Know your audience – make it personal!
It is important when approaching executives to understand your audience, their goals, and objectives. Make sure you are engaging them at an appropriate time to gain their full attention, but also to allow time for them to reflect and act accordingly. Reinforcing executive-level accountability requires building explicit procedures that bind leadership to EHS outcomes. One strategy for achieving this is to have the person leading your EHS program report directly to top management, ensuring performance is always on the radar of company leaders and offering opportunities to guide and influence activities
- Embed EHS in Company Culture
Establishing a culture of EHS accountability demands open and frequent communication. Leadership should encourage communication up, down, and across all levels of the organization to empower teams and allow engagement to flourish. Anonymous surveys of safety culture provide opportunities to learn directly from staff as to what day-to-day EHS accountability looks like in company operations. Introducing EHS topics through regular conversations and understanding employees’ perceptions regarding safety culture and psychological safety can help encourage employees to speak up when they see a problem or an opportunity without fear of repercussions. Encouraging EHS to work together with operations, looking for synergies with operational tasks will inspire collective, company-wide safety behaviors. Leadership that walks the talk and hosts regular candid, organization wide EHS communications around requirements, goals, and performance helps embed EHS in a company’s culture
EHS is a Team SportAs EHS professionals, we know why health, safety, and wellness are so critical to our operations and business performance. When appealing to leaders and colleagues, there are ways to frame the information to better capture their attention and drive home how EHS fits into the bigger picture.
Individuals at all levels of your business may consider EHS a siloed function — something that doesn’t impact their day-to-day work and vice versa. While illustrating how EHS performance ties into company values, sustainability, and market performance is a good introduction, it’s important to make EHS personal. Knowing your audience, understanding their responsibilities and concerns will allow you to help colleagues see the connection between their roles, EHS performance, and business outcomes.
Like matching your communications style to your audience, it’s equally critical to tailor EHS solutions to your unique operations. A compelling vision coupled with solutions that are synergistic with the business structure are keys to success.
About the Author
Mary is Woodard & Curran’s Environmental Services Director of Technical practices for our sustainability, climate, air, EHS and ecological practice areas. Throughout Mary’s 28 years of environmental consulting, she has advised private and public sector clients on environmental data management solutions, climate vulnerability risk assessments, climate action and hazard mitigation planning, sustainability program management, and environmental compliance. Mary formerly served as the first Sustainability Director at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and opened and established its Office of Sustainability as an outsourced employee.
Erika Lloyd is a dynamic Senior Client Account Manager with 25+ years of experience in providing innovative, programmatic solutions to national and global clients to meet their business objectives in the environmental services industry. She has a diverse background in operational leadership, program and project management, environmental information management, and the use of technology to support and optimize operations. Erika is an exceptional leader skilled in building and managing trusted client relationships, seamlessly orchestrating complex projects, and working with cross-functional teams to deliver successful project outcomes. She serves as clients’ trusted advisor and is proficient in developing and implementing efficient and cost-effective strategies to meet sustainability and ESG, EHS compliance and oversight, and operational goals.