Archive for May, 2010
While recently holed up in Amsterdam for five days due to volcanic ash from Iceland, I added another scenario to my “predictable surprises” folder…airborne volcanic ash.
When I left Michigan expecting to reach Glasgow, Scotland some 12 hours later, I never thought I would be part of travel history. I saw first-hand that things go well until they don’t. Chaos quickly descended as travelers realized that they were stranded and airline officials ran for cover from the questioning horde. With Icelandic volcanoes having a history of “disrupting weather and history since 1783,” why was the airline industry caught speechless — and without a plan?
On a professional and personal level are we really any better prepared for the winds of change that might disrupt our tranquility at any time? How can we “ash-proof” what we deeply care about?
- What should we be doing as EHS professionals to “ash-proof” our careers? (I read recently that our well-being actually recovers more quickly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment. More on this in my next blog.)
- What should we be doing to “ash-proof” those EHS programs/initiatives that we’ve labored so long and hard for? (Change of boss coupled with budget cuts can be a deadly combination.)
I could ask many more questions but by now you’ve grasped my theme. Please share with us your “ash” stories, what you learned from them and lessons you’d like your EHS colleagues to take away from your experiences. Let’s learn from each other!
In today’s world, where it seems like everyone is selling you their recipe for sustainability, I am convinced that the best recipe still comes from a trusted network of professionals who are earnestly going through the process and can teach you what works and what doesn’t.
In effect, it’s like when I learned how to make chicken soup: After I consulted the cookbooks and tried it a few times on my own, I called my grandmother to ask what made hers taste so good.
This is what NAEM’s Sustainability conference in Palo Alto, Calif. last week was all about. No matter the industry sector or size of the company, we learned that there are some ingredients that remain the same, such as the need to define the business case, collect data and assemble teams to execute the strategy. But from that basic recipe, several variations quickly emerge, and it was fascinating to hear first-hand how individual companies are solving the problem for themselves.
We started the day with Bruce Klafter, head of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Applied Materials. As a producer of sophisticated equipment for the high-tech sector, the key question his company asked was, “How do we frame sustainability within the larger business supply value chain?” So for them, sustainability not only meant risk mitigation, energy-efficiency and pollution prevention, but also offered new business opportunities in the area of product design.
For Kaiser Permanente, on the other hand, the process of defining sustainability within a health context articulated the link between environmental stewardship and human health, according to Joe Bialowitz, project manager for environmental stewardship. What Kaiser said was, “Although we’re the largest non-profit health system in the country, our mission is really about making people healthy. And healthy people exist in healthy environments.” So in addition to addressing energy usage and LEED certification, Kaiser’s recipe also involved reducing waste, minimizing patients’ exposure to toxins and improving the quality of food in the cafeterias. Their focus on organic food, interestingly, extended their efforts beyond their own walls in support of an ecologically and economically sustainable food system.
When NAEM began some 20 years ago, our members got together to talk about RCRA, TSCA, or how to comply with the Clean Air Act. What we’re talking about today is how do we develop programs that ensure better risk management of our operations, while also adding value to the business entity?
Although the dish we’re making today may be different, the way we learn to cook remains the same. It’s still about connecting with others, sharing ideas and discussing the challenges of implementation. For me and everyone else at last week’s meeting, hearing others explain the process of developing their own recipes was, in the end, as valuable as learning how the dish actually turned out.