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Ask the Experts Content 2003

December 2003

What are the best places to publish articles on EH&S topics?

It depends on the nature of the articles and your objectives. For example, how technical is the information vs. how suitable is it for general readership? Are you trying to build a reputation for expanding your consulting practice or are you satisfying the requirements of an advanced degree? There is no single best journal or magazine. 

Health and safety professionals have unique pre-eminent magazines and journals that most health and safety professionals receive. The Synergist and the AIHA Journal are the popular magazine and peer-reviewed journal, respectively, for industrial hygiene professionals. The equivalents on the safety side are Occupational Safety and Health and the Professional Safety. Health and safety professionals may read several magazines, but in general they all subscribe to their primary professional information resource. 

For environmental articles, the situation is much more ambiguous. There is no defining magazine or journal. The profession has more than thirty professional organizations and many produce newsletters, magazines or journals. For example, the largest professional organization, Air and Waste Management Association, has EM magazine and the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. Environmental lawyers may subscribe to the Environmental Law Institute's Environmental Forum. Wastewater engineers may subscribe to Water Environment & Technology, however the Water Environment Federation publishes eight other publications.

In addition to environmental magazines and journals that serve particular professional niches, there are a number of general, cross-cutting publications. Again, these are segmented by overall topic. For example, Corporate Environmental Strategy and Environmental Quality Management cover a broad spectrum of environmental management issues. Both have the look of peer-reviewed journals, but they are not. There are advantages: the cycle time to press is much shorter. The peer-review process can be tedious and time-consuming; writers and even publishers often feel that it is just not worth the hassle. Academicians publish in peer-reviewed journals to obtain points towards tenure, but for most writers there is no need. Peer-reviewed journals also tend to have very limited audiences and require that authors pay to have their material published. 

Web publishing is becoming more popular because it all but eliminates the lead time. The indexing and search capabilities of electronic media make web publications very user friendly, also.

Finally, general magazines such as Environmental Protection and Pollution Engineering have very large circulations -- numbering in the tens of thousands -- and cover a broad range of subjects. For management consultants such as Steve and me, however, the penultimate is to publish in the Wall Street Journal, the business sections of the Sunday editions of the New York Times or the Los Angles Times, the Harvard Business Review or the MIT Sloan Management Review. 

The key is to determine who you want to reach, what the effective format is, and how quickly you want it published.

Are voluntary environmental initiatives effective?

Yes, but only if they have a clear and measurable positive impact on the bottom line.  Boards of directors are charged with governance functions to ensure that shareholder assets  are protected. This fact has been driven home by the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of  2002. If a company is spending assets, the expenditure must have a short or long-term  positive yield to the owners of the corporations. This benefit can be in the form of brand or  long-term liability protection -- both of which are often difficult to quantify. However, for a  corporation to spend money on environmental protection, it must pass muster with some realistic evaluation of value, even if that value falls into the category of a philanthropic effort that is appropriate for the size and character of the corporation.

The proceeding is the fiduciary analysis of voluntary initiatives. Now, the reality. Voluntary initiatives are taken seriously by the companies who, more often than not, already take corporate social responsibility (including environmental protection) very seriously. In other words, the initiatives serve as information sources and motivation for companies already headed in the right direction. For the Neanderthals, forget it. 

In spite of all the corporate spin, the environmental professionals in many companies are struggling just to maintain regulatory compliance. This comment extends not just to no-name, invisible companies but to some of the largest, brand-name corporations in the world. For the small to mid size companies -- the bulk of all corporations -- the challenge is even greater. Translation: there are many more Neanderthals than there are enlightened corporations.

The Bush administration (and therefore the EPA) may be in love with this concept, but it is largely incapable of driving major change. It is, however, great for public relations. For those of us that have stood in front of boards of directors and had to explain what was going on, the hurdles are unmistakable. Most of what I have read on voluntary initiatives was written by government bureaucrats, academicians, NGOs, or the spin doctors of enlightened corporations. For example, a UNEP Industry and Environment Quarterly Review publication stated that a "Lack of common language and understanding is one of the most important barriers to the appropriate use of voluntary initiatives." Get real!

From my perspective, the most effective "non-regulatory" environmental initiatives (as opposed to command and control) are those that require disclosure, especially where executive management is involved. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, from Section 302 reads: The CEO and CFO of each issuer shall prepare a statement to accompany the audit report to certify the "appropriateness of the financial statements and disclosures contained in the periodic report." This requirement has had a major impact on governance, even trickling down to environmental governance. Similarly, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) had a major influence on pollution prevention programs after business management discovered, often for the first time, how much was actually being released -- and published in association with their company and facilities. Requiring executives and plant mangers to sign off on their environmental reports has brought environmental issues to the forefront.

 

November 2003

After being "right-sized" out of my current position, I am thinking of becoming an independent consultant. What are the chances of success in today's business climate? 

There are ten factors that will determine your chances of success. While the overall business climate is gloomy, some individuals are all but guaranteed a bright future in consulting if they are extremely strong in the first five factors and at least adequate in the others: 

  1. Extensive network -- A single contact may yield a lucrative contract but it takes a strong network to yield a continuing stream of work. What you might consider to be a well developed network may be seen as just a starter list by successful consultants. Also, recognize that many of your "buddies" inside industry may suddenly not return your calls once you join the ranks of consultants. 
  2. Excellent communication skills -- Unless you are well known and in an extremely narrow and intense technical area, excellent communications skills will be needed to bring in the clients and produce a quality work product. 
  3. Reputation --Those with outstanding reputations will have clients calling, even if their personal network is small. An excellent reputation also leads to referrals -- an essential element of success. The reverse is also true. 
  4. People skills -- Managers may have been able to dictate orders to underlings inside industry but dealing with clients takes skill - more than was probably required with their previous management. Consultants have to respond to a much greater array of personalities without much background information on their likes and dislikes. 
  5. Intelligence -- Yes, brains do count. Management puts up with a surprising number of employees in the "slow reader group." Consultants, however, can be dropped in a second if they appear to be less than top notch. 
  6. Willingness to work hard -- Senior managers could be so used to giving orders and going to endless meetings that they may be shocked to discover the effort required to deliver tangible, quality products. 
  7. Self-directed -- Some people just cannot get their act together and need a structured environment. Independence can be freeing, but it can also be lonely; some people require daily, face-to-face interaction. 
  8. Marketing skill -- Some people are just plain shy; others are oblivious to where the new client work may come from. If you are not willing to engage in relentless self-promotion, you may not be able to bring in sufficient new business. 
  9. Niche expertise area -- If the market is already saturated with consultants in your areas of expertise, you may be in for a challenge. On the other hand, if you are in the right place at the right time, your phone could start ringing off the hook: picture the computer expert before Y2K or the security consultant after 9/11. 
  10. Financially secure -- The independent consulting business can be feast or famine. Unless you have the finances to survive the dry periods, which can last a year or more, re-consider your decision.

There are, of course, many trade-offs in the above list. For example, if you do not have a good network and have not yet built a solid reputation you can gradually work towards success if you are financially independent. Also, these factors are interrelated. For example, professionals with good people skills tend to have excellent verbal skills and be good marketers. The key is to be brutally realistic in your self-assessment.

Can junk e-mail affect an environmental consulting business? 

In the past, e-mail spam was not a problem, but it now has us very concerned. A decade ago, most business cards did not even include e-mail addresses. Now, this form of communication is all but a business necessity. Steve and I have clients and colleagues all over the world and they demand instant access to information and work product. Frankly, I do not know what we would do if the Internet were to melt down due to this new form of toxic waste, not to mention endless attacks by computer viruses. 

Approximately 50 junk e-mails get by my Internet service provider's filter each day. At that level, spam is just an annoyance, requiring very careful attention when the delete button is hit. For those of you inside corporations, accidentally deleting an e-mail may mean a business hassle. For independent consultants, it can literally mean a direct hit in the bank account due to a missed opportunity to bid on a new project. 

Most companies are very reluctant to block e-mails because they risk losing legitimate e-mails. Nonetheless, I have witnessed an increase in the use of firewalls that block nearly everything and require the sender to respond with a special request to release the e-mail. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to get our monthly articles out to colleagues and clients (both Steve and I e-mail pdf versions of our articles to select EH&S professionals). 

It is very hard, electronically, to identify the difference between good and bad mailings. Even with individually set filters, spammers modify key words; for example, a subject line reads F-R-E-E rather than "Free." Some of my colleagues have gone so far as to periodically change their e-mail addresses. This is not an option for Steve and me, since our published articles and marketing materials are locked into our domain addresses. 

What really worries us is the exponential increase over the past six months. Will it ever level off without new laws? Unlikely. On January 1, 2004 California's widely publicized anti-spam law will go into effect, but relatively few people know that 35 other states already have some form of anti spam law. Clearly, a Federal law that is enforced would be a better solution. 

If something is not done, yes, spam could have a major impact on consulting businesses.

 

October 2003

How might EH&S departments be organized in the future?

I have written extensively on this subject, the latest being Corporate Environmental Organizations: Evolving Business Management Strategies published in the September 2003 issue of Corporate Environmental Strategy. When EH&S professionals write or speak on this subject, they typically describe how EH&S organizations should be structured, rather than how they may be structured in the future. For example, the move towards greater outsourcing of EH&S functions and the formation of EH&S shared service departments was not driven by EH&S professionals. It was driven by business executives who were interested in cutting the cost of all service-type activities. In other words, EH&S departments became swept up in a larger business reorganization. 

The next reorganization trend to keep an eye on is business-process outsourcing (BPO). Companies in the technology business are broadening their portfolio of offerings by taking over the entire human resources (HR) functions for companies, not just computer services. The most recent, high profile example was IBM's 10-year contract to take over the HR functions for Procter & Gamble. With EH&S functions becoming more systematized, executive management may think that these functions can be directly turned over to a BPO service company. Management may view this as being particularly attractive if the service provider has deep pockets and offers some form of liability protection. 

This second wave of EH&S outsourcing has not yet happened, probably because the major service providers are focused on much larger and more profitable contracts, namely those for information technology and HR. Recognize that BPO has not caught on widely; it's only now emerging. If it does take off like shared services did during the 1990s and if a number of the majors eventually offer EH&S packaged services, it could radically change the EH&S organizational landscape for some companies. Just as there would remain internal vice presidents of HR for various governance, communication and administrative reasons, there may still be a senior internal EH&S person, but without an internal staff. 

Should BPO be applied to EH&S? Absolutely, just as the elements of outsourcing and shared services can be effectively applied today. But it must be done very selectively for specific service areas. EH&S organizations are still recovering from poorly executed, top-down applications of outsourcing and shared services. EH&S managers should get out in front of BPO and make positive recommendations with respect to where and when it may be appropriate.

What are some of the do's and don'ts for partnering with environmental organizations?

Historically, companies have been extremely wary of dealing directly with environmental non government organizations (NGOs). A turning point may have been the McDonalds - Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense) 1989 agreement that completely turned around a tough public relations issue over packaging waste. Companies began to recognize that environmental groups are not a monolith -- all wild-eyed crazies that should be avoided. I recall with amusement an article in the early 1990s scoring NGOs by flaming bomb symbols. Earth First! and Greenpeace had five each (the maximum score) and the National Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy had zero. 

Agreements between industry and environmental NGOs are commonplace today. SustainAbility recently released a report on the changing role of NGOs in today's environmental debate, "The 21st Century NGO - in the Market for Change." Even Greenpeace is getting into the act with its 2002 Earth Summit accord with industry. Reuters News Service reported, "Despite that reservation, both sides said the fact that they were making a joint statement at all was remarkable." Home Depot made headlines with their agreement with Forest Stewardship Council. The mining industry recently embraced the concept of third party mining certification in the report "Finding the Way Forward." On and on it goes. 

One should not assume that all is now risk free. For example, Friends of the Earth strongly praised Shell eight years ago for being more committed to sustainable development and five years ago for pulling out of the Global Climate Coalition lobby group. Recently, it issued a report, "Failing the Challenge", lambasting Shell for what they claim to be its failure at the plant level to maintain a sustainable, socially responsible environment. So what went wrong?

There are some key Do's and Don'ts. Yes, consider partnerships and agreements with environmental NGOs. Business management is more comfortable than ever with such arrangements; the barriers have been lowered by the many successful precedents. But do not loosely structure these deals. From the start, establish very specific, precise limitations on what the parties to the agreement are willing to do or not do. These deals can turn ugly if misunderstandings crop up over original intentions or expectations. You will never be able to anticipate everything in advance; a continuing dialog is essential. The individuals involved can change with time, so the more that is put in writing, the better.

 

September 2003

What are some of the issues you can run into when conducting benchmarking studies or surveys?

I've conducted quite a few benchmarking studies and surveys for clients over the years and have run into a spectrum of issues. Most of these problems can be avoided if you take the proper precautions. The first challenge is to answer the question, "What's in it for them?" Ideally, this is done within sixty seconds of the phone conversation or the first paragraph of a written survey. EH&S professionals are stretched too thin to be philanthropic with their time. Unless you are planning to provide them with a summary of the results, don't expect much in return. The second challenge is to locate the proper person within the company. The top EH&S person may be easy to identify, but nearly impossible to reach. Administrative assistants can be quite good at screening e-mails and calls from strangers asking for information. Corporate switchboard operators typically do not give out numbers or e-mail addresses. Other than the top management, they have no familiarity with the inner workings of the company's organization. For very specific issues, it is sometimes difficult to find the person who is doing the actual work, and in the case of large companies, several individuals may be covering difference aspects of the topic. If you know the individuals (Steve and I know most of the top EH&S managers in major corporations), it can make a tremendous difference in getting into a company at any level. The next greatest challenge is time. Estimate the time needed to collect feedback -- then double it! Face it, your project may be #1 on your priority list, but #125 on theirs. You are generally better off talking to an individual over the phone in "real time." However, this is often not possible for involved projects. If people delegate the benchmark or survey to someone within the organization, the quality may either improve (e.g., with highly technical issues) or diminish (e.g., management strategy subjects). Be suspicious of management strategy surveys obtained by mass mailing; they inevitably get delegated. There are many other factors that contribute to success: structuring the summary report for participants; media selection (mail, e-mail, phone, web); handling confidential information; selecting best in class; and the sequence and structure of the questions. Sometime it's the subtleties that matter the most. We can address these issues if readers are interested. 

What is the most significant issue facing environmental professionals today?

I suspect many would anticipate that I would say either job insecurity or the difficulty in demonstrating business value for environmental programs and projects. They are interrelated and are the most obvious manifestation of a deeper issue. The technical problems are never the issue -- they are the fun! The deeper issue is the one first described by Robert Sheldon in the mid 1990s as the "green wall" that separates environmental managers from the inner circle of business managers. It has not diminished and, if anything, has gotten worse. Management's lack of understanding of the environmental function and its strategic value has led to zany reorganizations, cutbacks and glazed looks when we try to achieve business value beyond the easy to quantify compliance tasks and cost reductions. This green wall exists and has gotten worse due to several factors: 1. Education on environmental dynamics in business college courses is sparse and in years past was non-existent. Few in-company or externally-provided executive training courses provide much substance in this area. Environmental activists have never done a very good job explaining what is going on in business terms. Protests just come across to business managers as fractured wackiness. 2. The media is focused on sound bites and rarely covers the substantive issues. 3. Business information resources rarely contain environmental information. For example, in the past ten years the Harvard Business Review has contained thirteen articles related to the environment -- about one percent of their articles The Wall Street Journal routinely reports on companies facing environmental challenges, but its editorials inevitably convey a message that environmental problems are of little concern. Cognitive dissonance in action? 4. The scientific community has, if anything, confused the situation. Whenever Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute publishes predictions of looming global problems, a book like The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg comes along to throw everything up for debate. This confusing array of inputs allows executives to assume that environmental issues are not strategically relevant to their company. Yes, do what is socially responsible (i.e., legally required), but anything beyond that is just too confusing to invest limited resources. Executives can easily rationalize why the EH&S successes and dramatic failures of other companies do not apply to their own company. It falls squarely on our shoulders to communicate with management and change these perceptions. No one else will do it for us. How this is accomplished it might be the topic of another Ask the Experts column.

 

August 2003

Is it worthwhile participating in environmental surveys?  I am constantly being inundated with these.

Some are worth it, others are a waste of time and potentially detrimental to your company.  The first question you must ask is, "What's in it for my organization (and myself)?"  Unless there is some tangible benefit, you will have a hard time passing the straight face test if your boss asks why you spent the company's resources (i.e., your time) completing this particular survey.

Be extremely wary of a survey that asks for confidential information or information that you would not want to be published on the front page of the New York Times.  There are exceptions, of course.  If you know and trust the organization and the benefits justify your participation, the risks may be minuscule.  For example, Organization Resources Counselors (ORC) recently conducted a confidential survey on organizational staffing.  The reputation of this organization, combined with a track record of two prior surveys on the subject, more than justified participation.

Some surveys are nothing more than marketing tools by vendors.  This may be fine but, again, what are you getting out of it?  Unless the organization doing the survey is providing a summary and analysis of the results, forget it.  Some surveys are so poorly designed that the results are meaningless.  Determining survey ineptness can be difficult; survey design is actually a rigorous science.  It is impossible to summarize in a few words how to analyze a survey.  You need to use your professional judgment to determine if your involvement is a good idea.  It helps, of course, if you are familiar with the organization and you respect their professional credentials.  Thus, any survey by Steve or I is beyond reproach (Note to reader: suppress laughter).

Surveys by major firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers are generally well thought out.  Some of the best are by major universities, since they are either done by specialists or by students under the watchful eye of professors who are interested in research that can withstand the rigors of peer review.  For example, Tufts University is studying the training, communication and accountability measures used in organizations employing an Environmental Management System (EMS).  Participants in the study will be provided with a summary describing the range of activities found and identifying best practices.  If your organization has an EMS and you would like to participate in the study, you can contact the researcher, Carolyn Cooper, directly.

I would like to change careers and work in sales & marketing for a company that creates green products.  Do you know of resources where I can begin my job search?

First, I'll answer your question.  Then, I'll give you some perspective.

There are a tremendous number of resources available to track down that perfect job. Go to the library and scan through several of the standard textbooks on job hunting.  The ones that specifically deal with environmental careers are as follows:

  • Green at Work 2nd Edition: Finding a Business Career that Works for the Environment by Susan Cohn
  • The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century by Kevin Doyle (Editor)
  • Careers for Environmental Types & Others Who Respect the Earth by Mike Fasulo and Jane Kinney
  • Great Jobs for Environmental Studies Majors by Julie Degalan and Bryon Middlekauff
  • Opportunities in Environmental Careers by Odom Fanning and Mark Van Putten
  • Careers in the Environment by Michael Fasulo and Paul Walker

One or more of these may be available at the library, however they are not expensive and can be ordered through the GreenBiz.com Bookstore

There are dozens of job search engines that are either low cost or no cost on the Internet.  In addition to using a shotgun approach, you can target specific companies; more and more organizations are placing their jobs on their web sites.  Green at Work by Susan Choen lists hundreds of companies that are more "green oriented" and thus, more likely to hire professionals in your interest area.  You can also use the Internet to search for companies that may have won special recognition for their products.

All this sounds upbeat and encouraging, but the truth is that finding a good job in today's economy is a challenge.  It is particularly difficult for someone such as yourself, who does not have specific experience in green sales and marketing.  Jacquelyn Ottman, president and founder of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc. and one of the country's leading experts on green marketing and author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation, summarized the current situation this way, "Given the fact that the business case for sustainability still needs to be made, it is quite difficult to find a job in this area in large corporations." My advice is to think like an entrepreneur.  Convince your management or prospective employer to create a position for you.  Join with a start up that has sustainable technology like fuel cells, solar power or organically grown food or fiber, or create your own consulting firm.

 

July 2003

How favorably do environmental regulatory bodies, such as the EPA, view facilities with a documented environmental management system?

"Very positively," states Jim Horne, program manager with the EPA's Office of Wastewater Management. Jim represented the agency in the early Technical Advisory Group (TAG) discussions on ISO 14000 and has been instrumental in promoting the voluntary use of EMS. The clearest example of the agency's views on EMS was provided by the position statement issued by the Administrator last May. 

William D'Alessandro, executive editor of International Environmental Systems Update, a leading resource on strategic corporate environmental management issues, concurs and goes on to state, "National regulatory agencies around the world view environmental management systems very favorably and try to encourage their use." 

From a regulatory standpoint, there are very specific tangible benefits. Federal prosecutors, for example, promote the use of an EMS as a form of injunctive relief in settlements with companies that lack a methodical approach to their regulatory requirements. State agencies will negotiate favorable conditions in permits, including monitoring and reporting concessions, to companies with an EMS. Having an EMS is a threshold requirement for companies wishing to participate in the National Environmental Performance Track. 

However, a number of studies have found that an EMS accomplishes only what companies use them to do and that can vary markedly, depending on the company and the facility. So, the EPA and the states often push for additional requirements to ensure that companies realize the benefits that are important to the regulatory community, such as more public transparency and environmental performance beyond legal requirements. 

Aside from the regulatory dimensions, the more fundamental issue is the need for a systematic way to run the environmental aspects of a business. Would business management be satisfied with production, finance, sales and marketing operated without a plan, a strategy, or a system? Obviously not, yet the "system" that exists at far too many facilities is day-to-day crisis fighting, with an exclusive focus on regulatory requirements. 

EHS professionals try to "sell" an EMS to business management in the same manner that the finance group would justify a new accounting software system. An EMS is viewed as something new, and thus not needed in today's cost cutting mindset. In fact, all sites have some sort of a system in place, even though it may be very limited. EHS professionals should be positioning an EMS as a method of streamlining the current system, not something entirely new.

With so many private companies implementing environmental management systems, why have few federal regulatory agencies, such as the EPA, done the same? 

A good deal of the impetus to implement formal environmental management systems (EMS) has been driven by corporate marketing pressures and public relations. Ford, for example, has instituted an EMS as a requirement for suppliers. Companies wanting to do business in Japan or Europe have recognized the benefits of ISO 14000 certification. Many of the companies issuing EHS and social responsibility reports promote their metrics that track the number of facilities that are ISO-certified.

Federal and state government agencies do not have such pressures. Some might argue that it is also government's slowness to act - bureaucracy in inaction, as it were. Clearly, this is not the EPA's intent, as demonstrated by the specific language in the Administrator's position statement and the EPA's EMS Policy for its own facilities.

Which sectors have made the most and least progress on social responsibility and sustainable development? 

It is too early to label any particular sector as having achieved significant progress. Specific companies have demonstrated sensitivity to these issues and, as a consequence, have developed cutting edge programs that serve as role models for others. Shell, British Petroleum, and Nike immediately come to mind. There are also the "butterflies," as John Elkington calls them; the companies that are inspirational, but do not carry a lot of weight in the marketplace (such as Ben & Jerry's, The Body Shop, and Interface). 

The sectors that have historically received significant public and governmental criticism tend to be more sensitive to these issues. Thus, the mining, chemical, energy, and transportation sectors, at least on the surface, pay greater attention and produce some of the best social responsibility reports. Disclosure is no substitute for aggressive action and results, but greater transparency demonstrates, at a minimum, that management is tracking the issues. 

The sector that I find the most fascinating is the food industry. Few companies within this sector issue social responsibility reports. Research by KPMG in 1999 and the University of Sunderland in 2002 found that this sector lagged behind most. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and SustainAbility, in their 2002 report, Trust Us, stated "Even the most advanced food producers, shippers and retailers are still at an embryonic stage in their reporting, let alone developing and deploying truly sustainable business models." This is amazing in view of the fact that this sector is faced with issues such as: 

The food sector is in the center of a brewing storm of issues yet, from my observations and direct talks with EHS professionals inside the industry, business executives seem either unconcerned or distracted by other issues. How long this lack of a focused response will last is anyone's guess, but the sector is ripe for change. Nestlé and General Mills appear to be making headway and may set the path for others to follow.

 

June 2003

When do you expect to see the traditional EH&S job market recover?

It will never recover, at least not in any "traditional sense." The dynamics have fundamentally shifted and EH&S professionals are much better off understanding these shifts and adapting to and thriving in the new realities. There is not enough space here to describe all these forces at work. I suggest you read the three-part series I am writing for Environmental Protection Magazine called "Sustainable Careers. Part one appeared in January/February issue, Part two in April, and Part three in July/August, 2003. These can be downloaded from my website

What have been YOUR best personal career decisions and proudest professional successes?

My early successes were technical/engineering oriented; they later evolved into managerial accomplishments. At Raychem (now Tyco Electronics), I designed and built a high-energy scrubber that allowed the plant to continue to operate while under intense regulatory scrutiny. The system was unique because it processed incredibly corrosive materials that would have destroyed conventional scrubbers. At General Electric's Noryl plastic facility in New York, I led a team that designed and built a multimillion-dollar wastewater treatment facility that included a fluid bed hazardous waste incinerator. It was the first industrial treatment plant using DuPont's powdered activated carbon process; the plant won awards and I took then Governor Hugh Cary on a tour, complete with press entourage.

At Corporate GE, I was among the first industry leaders advancing pollution prevention by using environmental accounting techniques. Those were exiting times dealing with a host of movers and shakers inside industry and government! One of the first practical waste minimization handbooks was published by GE. I also set up the first environmental council for GE that continues on today as the primary policy body and communication channel among the major business groups.

At Arizona Public Service, my team transformed the company's reputation from "environmental law breaker" to that of a company so progressive that one utility trade association complained that we were setting the bar too high. In this case, it was not one specific accomplishment, but a series of activities that attracted regulatory, public and media attention.

But the greatest success was being able to grow and run my own consulting business over the past eight years. The vast majority of EH&S professionals, and people in general for that matter, depend on a paycheck issued by their employer. Imagine being completely on your own, surviving by your own wits and skill. Well, that is the life of independent consultants like Steve and me. The risks are great, but the personal satisfaction (and personal freedom) derived from being successful is the greatest. 

What are the key steps in building an environmental management system (EMS)?

The most essential first step is to never tell business management that the company needs to "build", "install," or "buy" an EMS. This immediately implies that the company does not have one already. Management's knee-jerk reaction is usually "Things seem to be OK now. Why do we need to spend money on a new program?" 

All companies have an EMS, even if it is Billy Bob in the back room completing waste manifests. You are streamlining, optimizing or upgrading your existing EMS to make the company more competitive, better position it, and save it some money, at least over the long haul. You get a much better reaction using this approach. EH&S managers can get caught in this trap because consultants like to sell distinct "packages," differentiating their service from others. Don't fall for this sales pitch. 

An EMS is the third step in a three part process. Step one is to get in sync with your management over the company's direction. Invariably this involves some delicate probing, prodding, and executive education. They must have the facts necessary to make an informed decision. In other words, you just do not go into the CEO and say, "What is our direction/vision?"

The second step is to do the strategic planning which will turn this vision into a roadmap for progress. (There are some elements of step one in step two.) The final step is an examination of the current EMS. Where are the gaps between the strategic plan and the current tactics? If the current EMS cannot produce the needed results, these gaps serve as the underlying business justification for modifying the EMS. Because business executives are already on board [or should be!] as to where the company is headed and understand the overall plan to get there, there should be fewer challenges to budget requests.

The "normal" course of events is the reverse, namely the EH&S manager tries to install a "new EMS" that was sold by some consultant and management immediately resists. Another typical scenario: the marketing department needs ISO 14001 certification and business management agrees. Certification drives everything but performance will not improve if the EMS is not in sync with any cohesive strategy.

 

May 2003

How important is relevant work experience in selecting a consultant? 

Relevant work experience is extremely important, but often not in the way that many hiring managers think. The first and greatest mistake that managers make is to examine the related project history for the consulting company as a whole vs. the work experience of the individuals who will actually perform the work. Marketing managers will ramble on and on about how their company has extensive experience in some specific technical discipline. This means nothing unless the talent is dedicated to your specific project and not just in some superficial review/oversight capacity. Who will be involved and in what capacity should be specified in the contract. 

Another mistake is to focus too intensely on a firm's experience in a particular industry sector, and ignore the unique issues and experience requirements associated with the specific area being evaluated. This problem has been particularly rampant with organizational restructuring. These projects are often initiated at the highest level, usually the CEO, and both the internal company executives and their management consultants are usually unaware of the nuances of running effective EH&S departments. I have been in a number of companies where havoc was wreaked by MBAs that were clueless on EH&S issues, yet did a fantastic job restructuring the finance, human resources and marketing departments. 

In general, you are better off hiring a consultant that has extensive experience in a particular field, even though they may not have experience in your particular industry sector. For example, you are better off hiring a person who has written scores of emergency plans outside your sector than to bring in someone who is intimately familiar with your industry (or even your company) but has never written one. 

It is also beneficial to choose an individual with practical experience in implementing what they recommend. Developing technical solutions and action plans are generally the easy parts to any project; it is the implementation phase that is often the greatest challenge. By that time, the consultant is often long gone. 

When I subcontract projects, I first look for bright people with a successful record of accomplishment doing work similar to, but not necessarily precisely related to, the project at hand. Hiring managers can be overly focused on finding a precise match between previous projects in their specific industry sector and may overlook the broader question of basic competency. 

In many of your past columns the two of you have discussed career development and strategies for EH&S professionals. What have been your best career decisions and proudest professional successes? 

Many (most?) of us float through life surrounded by events and individuals which prompt the career decisions that later prove to be pivotal to our future. My career started when my mother assessed my interest in chemistry (a.k.a. amateur rocketry and explosives) and concluded that I should be a chemical engineer. Off I went to college, clueless as to what this career choice meant. 

In retrospect, it was the perfect choice. Chemical engineering offered a sound education in science and engineering and upon graduation provided numerous job offers and one of the highest paying starting salaries. It is still a good choice today for those interested in the environment. Employers typically want graduates with rigorous academic backgrounds where effort was required to graduate and not just payment of tuition and attendance. In general, it is much better to seek a degree in a broad field like engineering or science than to immediately specialize when there are so many uncertainties ahead. 

From that point forward, I made deliberate career choices. I left Shell Oil Research and went to Raychem (now Tyco Electronics) because I wanted to work on environmental issues. Four years later, one of the best career choices I ever made was to go to work for General Electric at its NorylÒ Plastics Business as EH&S manager. From then on I made career decisions to keep one step ahead of the events that swirled around me -- instead of trying to hold onto the same job in one location, I advanced at just the right time before becoming a "victim" of circumstances. In some cases, businesses went stagnant. In other cases, oppressive management moved in. 

If there is a bottom line to the preceding personal career stories, it is to gain control (as best you can) of your own career decisions. Far too many people transfer in or out of their jobs because of some move initiated solely by management. Yes, there will always be things that happen totally outside your control, but that does not mean you have to be a casualty. Often, you can recognize the warning signs or opportunities to position yourself better to meet your career goals, not just your management's marching orders. The challenge is to act, not just complain.

 

April 2003

How do you determine which are the most worthwhile EH&S conferences to attend?

As your question implies, in these tough economic times you want to make the most of these limited opportunities. Most EH&S professionals have the budget and/or time to attend only one or two conferences per year. Local meetings are generally not a problem (other than the time factor), but anything involving travel and hefty conference fees can be problematic. Many EH&S professionals attend their respective annual society meeting. Aside from making and renewing network contacts, the larger organizations such as the Air & Waste Management Association and the American Industrial Hygiene Association offer training sessions with continuing education credits. If you have not depleted your budget on one of these annual conferences, what else might be high on the priority list? The very best way to select a conference is through recommendations from colleagues. I am the most familiar with management-oriented conferences; several have a solid reputation. The most well known, and well attended is the Global Environmental Management Institute. Organization Resources Counselors and the World Resources Institute (specifically the BELL meeting) also run good conferences. Here again, your professional society is one of the best resources for getting good leads on which conferences are best suited to your particular field or interest area.

If you do not have a specific recommendation on a conference with a historical track record for excellence, there are a number of things to watch for. First, is this a commercial undertaking with a primary objective to make money for the conference organizers? Does the agenda seem overly opportunistic -- latching onto some issue of the moment? The glitz may be there, but is there substance? Is the agenda dominated by consultants or will company, NGO, academia, and government authorities be participating as well? Are the speakers nationally or internationally known?

Be particularly wary of agendas with the term "invited" after the speaker's name. I can invite the President of the United States, but that does not mean that he will show up to my conference. Government representatives from the EPA are known for being on agendas, only to not show up at the eleventh hour. This is not a negative assessment of EPA staffers; their first obligation is to perform their regular duties for us, the taxpayers.

What are the EH&S core competencies required for professional success?

EH&S professionals, like most technically oriented professionals, have historically concentrated on improving their specialized skills. There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that technical skills are only one dimension of competence. Indeed, virtually all trained EH&S professionals are highly knowledgeable in their respective areas of expertise, yet some are able to achieve far greater success than other colleagues.

Dr. James E. Leemann, adjunct professor at TulaneUniversity, colleague, and former DuPont safety, health, and environmental manager, defines a competency as "a fundamental characteristic of an individual that can predict meaningful superior performance in a job." In both Dr. Leemann's research and his work to improve competencies inside companies, he has identified 16 competencies that distinguish superior performance among safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental professionals. When compared to other technical professional occupations, EH&S must master two to three times as many competencies to be considered superior performers.

Dr. Leemann states that the areas where EH&S professionals need development and improvement are in the cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal competencies. Cognitive competencies focus on helping the EH&S professional figure out what's causing a problem and what to do about it. Some of these competencies include analytical thinking, conceptual thinking, and information seeking. Interpersonal competencies provide an EH&S professional the skills to reach out to the appropriate individuals in the organization to obtain agreement on what the problem is and subsequently commit to identifying, developing, and pursuing solutions to the problem. Some of the characteristics that distinguish interpersonal competencies include involving others and relationship building. Finally, intrapersonal competencies are all about personal effectiveness and maturity, which are internal traits that permit an individual to be successful. Some of these traits are self control, perceptual objectivity, perseverance, and achievement orientation.

Fortunately, all of these competencies can be improved through training programs that are individually tailored to a person's current skill level in each area. Before training can commence, however, it is important to understand the roles and functions of the EH&S group within the business so that the training can be linked to both the success of the business and to the improvement in performance of the EH&S professional.

 

March 2003

What are the major forces that will affect environmental career prospects long term?

I believe that there are six major trends, both positive (+) and negative (-), that will influence career prospects in the United States. All of these are under way; whether career prospects are improving or declining will be a function of the relative dominance of each at any one point in time. 

1. (-) Skilled technical jobs will move offshore. Over the next 20 years, we will witness the equivalent of the blue-collar job exodus that has plagued U.S. manufacturing workers over the past 30 years.

2. (-) Manufacturing facilities will continue to migrate overseas. Typically, it is manufacturing, not the service sectors, that demand environmental talent.

3. (+/-)Communications technology will continue to improve. This allows the best, lowest cost resources from around the world to work in real time (-), and at the same time better global communications techniques will also bring EH&S issues to the public's attention faster (+). Transparencies will increase and place additional demands on companies.

4. (+/-)Regulations have gone about as far as they can. While traditional command and control regulations will stabilize (-), a new generation of market-based and incentive mechanisms will grow (+).

5. (+/-) Environmental concerns will migrate into project and process engineering. The framework for environmental requirements has been codified and is nothing more than another design specification for process and product engineers. This is bad news for those stuck in an 80s mindset (-), but for those who migrate to jobs in these areas (e.g., design for the environment, green products, green architecture, etc.) the opportunities will grow (+).

6. (+) One or more "triggering events" will galvanize public opinion. This is the "wild card" in the equation. A major environmental issue could propel efforts towards triple bottom line accountability.

The world is changing and one must move with the times for continued career success. If you want to substantially advance your income, security, and influence, do not look to the traditional, higher-level EH&S roles of the past. It may sound crass, but if your current title contains the word "environment," maneuver to purge it from your title if you want to be taken seriously by business executives. The significant future issues will be about resources, both human and natural capital. That's where the action may be. It's still environmental work, but with a different name.

In your articles you often describe environmental trends. Have you ever been way off?

Ouch! Overall, I've been fairly good at anticipating major trends, but I really blew it in an article "Environmental Politics and Strategy" appearing in the June 2001 edition of Environmental Protection. In that article, I predicted that the Bush administration would bring an end to the stagnation that occurred during the Clinton years. Yes, the Democrats had the reputation for being the "green" party, but with Congress in an endless deadlock, nothing significant really happened during the 90s. I laid out two possible scenarios: first, "Scorched Earth," a repeat of the Watt/Gorsuch era that would lead to a revolt against the Republicans and prompt significant action; and second, "Buildup-Breakthrough," with Christie Whitman rising to the challenge and building momentum for significant change. "Same-Old-Same-Old" was a third scenario, but immediately rejected because "someone with the talent and political skills to be elected governor is not going to plod along," as Carol Browner, Clinton's EPA Administrator, and Katy McGinty, Gore's White House policy advisor, did in the 1990s.

Was I ever wrong! The Bush administration has managed to continue "Same-Old-Same-Old" because of 9/11 and the economic downturn. The environmental activists have not been able to get their collective act together and counter these major forces consuming public attention. Initially, the administration fumbled the public relations ball (remember arsenic?), but now they run circles around their opponents by saying the good green line, but working behind the scenes to bypass restrictions and torpedo efforts through budgetary cuts and other stealth mechanisms such as legal loopholes. Green issues, as a result, played no role in the midterm elections.

Until there is the equivalent of the "green 9/11 disaster" not much will change. I gave a lot of weight to Christie Whitman as a good manager to force change, but I totally underestimated the politics. She is first and foremost a politician -- loyalty to the powers in charge ranks highest. So much has been made of her possible resignation that even if she resigned tomorrow, it would be a non-event. Any replacement will most likely be merely another loyal supporter of the party line, not an effective agent of innovative change.

 

February 2003

What are the key things to look for to determine if a company has an outstanding EH&S program?

Richard: I suppose that some people may look for a state-of-the-art social responsibility report and a string of national awards. Not me. I look for the substance behind the flash. The number one ingredient, from which all quality programs flow, is a top-tier EH&S leader. These individuals are rare; they are as endangered as the Giant Panda. There is an abundance of managers, but few leaders

Leadership requires a person who is dedicated to the stated mission and not just maintenance, self-promotion, and self-preservation. The second thing that I look for is the type of access this leader has to other executives (e.g., through an executive council), the CEO (e.g., either as a direct report or no more than one layer away), and the board of directors (e.g., through a formal, at least quarterly reporting mechanism, sometimes through a subcommittee). There should be a well-established reporting system that utilizes both leading and lagging indicators. Company managers should be held accountable for specific targets based on those indicators (e.g., through a bonus system). 

Next, I look for the mechanism by which the company seeks outside input. EH&S managers talk amongst themselves, read journals, hire consultants, and attend conferences where NGOs and regulatory agencies talk about their hot button issues. None of these sources provide, however, a substantive challenge to the company's status quo. Outside stakeholder advisory councils have this power, as long as they are not subjugated by handpicked, safe "good-old-boys." The best councils are comprised of very senior, independent experts or community leaders that cannot be discounted. The typical EH&S manager would be torn to shreds by senior councils such as those in place at Dow or BHP Billiton. It is no wonder that there are so few companies that have these councils.

Finally, I look for a custom-designed EH&S management system based not on a conformance oriented system, such as ISO 14001, but on a performance-oriented system, such as Baldrige. If you see: (1) leadership, (2) access to business executives and directors, (3) reporting systems with accountability, (4) stakeholder input of substance, and (5) performance driven systems, you have found a company with an outstanding EH&S program. Sounds simple, but it is amazing how few companies meet these five criteria.

What is the latest on corporate EH&S and community report verification?

More and more companies are providing verification statements. As a point of comparison, verification was up fifty percent in the top 50 reports between 2000 and 2002, as measured by SustainAbility in their evaluation The Global Reporters -- Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting. I predict that within five years, any company that intends to produce a serious corporate report (as opposed to a PR "green glossy") will have some form of verification.

The question remains, however, what type of verifier will be used and what protocol will be used? The Global Reporting Initiative has released updated guidelines for attestation (Annex X in the GRI 2002 Guidelines) but, at the moment, it does not seem to be positioning itself as the definitive standard. In June 2002, the UK-based AccountAbility released its Guiding Principles document, which further refined the AA1000 Series Assurance Standard. This standard was created in 1999 and updated in March 2002 with the introduction of specialized modules covering:

1. AA1000S Assurance Framework

2. Governance & Risk Management

3. Integration with Existing Management & Accounting Systems

4. Measuring & Communicating Stakeholder Engagement

5. Accountability in Small & Medium Sized Organizations

The Belgium-based Fédération des Experts Comptables Europééns released a Discussion Paper in April 2002 asking for input on an updated standard for independent assurance of sustainability reports. This follows the original Discussion Paper released in 1999. With no clear standard, companies appear to be using a combination of techniques and, more often than not, an ad-hoc approach, depending on their budget and the organizations doing the verification.

Traditional accounting firms appear to be taking the lead in supplying verification statements over specialty consulting firms or NGOs. This is not very surprising since they are already well entrenched in companies, and business executives are familiar (and comfortable) with these verification services. The irony is that among the verified reports examined by SustainAbility, accounting-verified reports ranked lower than those verified by consultants or NGOs. So, where is this headed? The determining factor may be when and if more companies add EH&S and social responsibility metrics to their financial reports. France is now requiring such combined reporting. Novartis, Shell, Tricor and others are headed in this direction voluntarily. Combined reporting will favor the accountants and formal verification protocols.

 

January 2003

More and more companies are producing corporate social responsibility reports, but are these reports also getting any better?

Yes and No. Yes, because first time reporters are benefiting from the templates created by industry leaders and the numerous reporting guidelines that have emerged over the past ten years. The recently revised Global Reporting Initiative guidelines (GRI) will, no doubt, accelerate progress for new reporters and there are a lot of them. The KPMG International Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting reveals that 45% of the Global Fortune 500 top 250 companies in 2002 produced reports compared to 35% in 1999.

No, because the top-tier reports have reached a quality plateau. SustainAbility in Trust Us, The Global Reporters 2002 Survey published in November 2002 found that the reporting scores have stagnated since the 2000 Global Reporters survey. Top-tier reporters using the earlier GRI guideline scored only 8% higher compared to other non-GRI top reports, while those at the bottom gained 17% relative to non-GRI reports.

One of the leading experts in the world on reporting, Folkert van der Molen, who runs the International Corporate Environmental Reporting Site, states, "I recently was a judge for the best Dutch reports. There was general agreement among the judges that there has been not much progress in the quality of the reports since last year. Many reports do say that they use GRI, but it's hard to see it. I think the top of the developments is a bit over now."

My opinion of the current situation is that corporations are nearing the point where they have mastered the art of social responsibility disclosure, but they are far from integrating the principles of social responsibility into business practice. Thus, Scottish Power produces a report with mind numbing detail, but one wonders how this has been factored into the business strategy.

In many respects, my assessment is supported by what the 2002 SustainAbility scoring reflects: few companies reach even 50% on the scoring scale. A high score can only be obtained by demonstrating "how reporting is linked to general business decision-making and core processes to improve sustainable development effectiveness." Progress beyond this point will not be through fine tuning existing reports, but by demonstrating that the reporting process is just an element of a more important activity: an intensive management strategy to improve sustainable development performance. 

Do the environmental non-governmental organizations ever fight amongst themselves?

There have been a number of highly publicized internal battles within individual environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Population control, immigration laws and, more recently, the "War on Terrorism" have sparked a number of these internal debates. But, high profile disputes among environmental groups remain relatively rare. This is not to say that they have distinctly different positions on how to go about "saving the plant." It is just that they seem to respect each other's right to their own opinions and methods.

Indeed, compared to the legendary battles between the Republican and Democratic parties, the environmental NGOs are just plain civil to one another. With the downturn in the economy and once flush foundations becoming increasingly judicious on who gets their money, the financial pressures have intensified and maybe we will see some spats erupt in the future.

For example, one very recent wrangle between the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a consortium of NGOs caught my attention. ISO has never been considered an environmental organization, however, it controls the very influential environmental management standard (ISO 14000 series). Recently ISO touched a raw nerve by moving forward to create standards in four areas: climate change, water management, corporate social responsibility, and environmental communication.

This movement by ISO ruffled the feathers of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, CA which formed the International NGO Network on ISO (INNI) in response. According to the INNI, "ISO's headlong rush into new areas of standardization can only be addressed by a more informed and coordinated response from members of the environmental community. With funding support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Pacific Institute is creating and will lead an international network of NGOs that will track, and work to influence, the activities of ISO."

ISO 14001 has been around since 1996 but environmentalists are only now voicing concern. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has also issued environmental standards in areas such as property investigations (E1527) disclosure of environmental liabilities (E2173). It seems that as long as these influential organizations stick to the technical stuff and stay away form the policy realm, all is calm. But as the saying goes, "Who elected any of these organizations?" Why can't all of the NGOs play the policy game?

 

 

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