3 ways to include EHS experts in your sustainability journey

How can your business move forward on its sustainability journey? First, empower your EHS professionals. Then, build upon their knowledge and know-how. 

Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón

by Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón

“What’s faster than the speed of light? Is it sound? Well, no, it’s a person becoming a sustainability/ESG expert.”  Everyone in the room laughed at this speaker’s great opening joke for a recent EHS & sustainability session. Including me – it’s especially creative now with all the buzz around this hot topic. Once I stopped laughing, it got me thinking: Who is best placed to drive and provide insights for a company’s sustainability journey? 

In my opinion, EHS experts are the most suitable people due to their day-to-day experience. Yet many companies don’t know that they have this hidden jewel in their business, or how to best leverage their insights. Below, I share 3 reasons why they’re essential to your sustainability initiatives – and ways to include them in that journey.

1.    Their knowledge of assessing risk is a resource for sustainability

EHS professionals have a general knowledge of what is the “general rule.” If you have a global EHS position, this knowledgebase includes essential foundations for working in healthy and safe conditions – as well as conducting activities in an environmentally sound manner. They have experience and knowledge of risk assessments, implementation of mitigation measures, and measuring results to make sure the measures in place yield the desired results. 

How to empower them: Acknowledge their valuable contribution to the company. Understand the critical role that they can play in managing sustainability aspects. For example, due diligence in the supply chain – which is now one of today’s hottest topics (and is soon to be regulated in the EU through the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence proposal, if adopted, and already regulated in Germany with the adopted Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains).  

Aspects such as this require certain steps such as identifying the risks, addressing such risks, and checking whether the policies and measures in place bring the desired results – otherwise, different measures should be taken. All of which EHS professionals are used to handling in their day to day. 

 2.     Their EHS insights are the foundation for your sustainability goals

It’s the EHS professional’s role to know the current status of compliance and, as such, they can be instrumental in helping you define feasible goals around sustainability.  

EHS professionals have local and global knowledge (talking about a position with global responsibilities) about your EHS requirements. Of course, there are regulatory nuances across different countries in what is legally required for various environmental, social, and governance issues. However, regardless, these professionals can still guide you in a general direction for your sustainability efforts.  

For example, by letting you know what each site is currently doing to reduce its energy consumption. (Remember there are countries with many incentives to reduce energy consumption compared to others without infrastructure and/or feasible ways to support such reduction plans). 

How to empower them: Provide them with the necessary tools and services to keep them abreast of any regulatory and non-regulatory changes in EHS and the broader scope (which is ESG including social and governance aspects) to establish a compliance baseline and to follow up with actions. 

EHS professionals aren’t becoming sustainability/ESG experts – they already have that talent.

 3.     Their implementation experience will help adoption across teams

In their every day, EHS professionals work to achieve cross-departmental and cross-business unit adoption of EHS company global policies or rules. At the local level, an EHS manager must work with site or plant managers along with operations managers to adopt and follow the local regulations. Also, they often must work together to define KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). 

My point is that EHS professionals can serve the same way when it comes to sustainability initiatives. They’ll be an asset to help other teams and colleagues understand your business’s sustainability goals. And beyond that, they’ll help a wider range of stakeholders of the company to adopt those objectives as their own. 

How to empower them: Provide them with the necessary authority, support, and resources to build a team (and/or the budget) to get external assistance on matters that aren’t within their expertise. For example, a cross-jurisdictional comparison on what are the due diligence obligations regarding human rights or what are limitations or restrictions as to reuse and recycling of certain waste. 

Bringing together EHS and sustainability in your business

This isn’t happening out of the blue. The EHS role has already been evolving over the past several years. In my opinion, they’re not becoming Sustainability/ESG experts, rather they already have that talent – even if it’s currently hidden.

Today, not tomorrow, EHS professionals are the best placed to drive your business’s sustainability journey because they have that full-circle view. The knowledge, experience, and information (i.e., data) to support any statement in your sustainability/ESG reporting that you want to make. As a seasoned sustainability practitioner shared with me, a successful sustainability journey is built with a top-down and bottom-up approach, so my question to you is: have you already tried to include them in a strategic position? If not, maybe now is the time. 

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