Posts filed under ‘Past Presidents Series’
As I get older, the memories seem harder to come by, but I still remember very vividly attending what I think was the second EHS Management Forum in San Diego. Who could forget cocktails by the bay watching the sun go down? What was really memorable, though, was the information we shared, the ideas we generated and relationships we formed over those three days. It has only gotten better over the last 20 years. But much has changed.
For the better, environmental management is now more strategic and more visible in the organization. I remember my first meeting with the Chief Executive Officer — 20 years after I started with the company. We now meet with the Board of Directors annually.
I am also impressed with the quality of the younger environmental professionals that I work with and those that I interact with through NAEM. They are enthusiastic, dedicated and want to make a difference. They are smart, they have a global view and good business sense. I have no doubt they will continue to make improvements in the global environment.
Unfortunately, with the added visibility comes more stress and pressure to perform. Even as government enforcement has increased over the years, so too has the business pressure to do more with less. More challenging still, is that there are fewer black-and-white issues and more with shades of gray. We are not doing things because the government requires it, but because our shareholders expect it, NGOs are demanding it or the public thinks we should. But what is the impact on the bottom line? Sustainability provides an opportunity to be even more integrated with business processes and to become more strategic. But that requires environmental professionals to be more cognizant of business issues and to provide environmental leadership tempered by business reality.
As I look back, I am a little disappointed in my generation, despite the progress we’ve made. Yes, the environmental movement took hold and blossomed during our tenure, and the environment in the U.S. is cleaner today than it has been possibly since before the turn of the century. However, the choices still seemed to be framed as “black hats versus white hats” and many in the public believe the environment is dirtier than ever.
Having spent more than 35 years toiling for “big business” it is rather disheartening that there is little or no credit for everything business has accomplished through the years. Still, I’m an optimist. I think the environmental profession can continue to drive progress if we can develop a more nuanced understanding of environmental issues. What do you think?
How can we help people understand the true state of the environment? How can we better frame the environmental problems that do exist to develop better solutions? How can we educate the public better on environmental issues? And how do I get rid of this black hat?
Mike McGuire is Manager of Global Environmental Strategy for Deere & Co., where he is responsible for sustainability strategy development, environmental assurance, external reporting and supply management environmental assurance. He served as the President of the NAEM Board of Directors from 2003-2004.
I read with interest the blog from Mark Posson on August 8, 2011 entitled “Community Engagement is the Key to Climate Action.” My immediate thought was that perhaps he was right. After all, didn’t we all agree that it takes a village to raise a child? The more I thought about it, though, I was drawn to the fact that perhaps by community he must have meant individuals and not organizations.
Isn’t it really the choices that individuals make that will impact any changes that we wish to bring about?
It is individual behavior changes that will result in progress really being made. Not government, not corporations, and not organizations, but in reality the individuals who make up all these entities. While you can try and make an individual’s choice easy, financially attractive and provide some type of immediate gratification, when you get below the surface the reasons an individual makes a choice is because they really believe it is the right thing to do. The personal satisfaction of “doing the right thing” is the gratification people get. This premise is what we have always been told. When you face a question the best course of action is to do the right thing.
Now, I am not saying that the decision of what is the right thing to do will always be easy. In fact some of our greatest internal issues have dealt with what is right. Just Google the term, “doing what is right”, and you will find more than 10,200,000 entries, ranging from moralists and philosophers all expounding about how they approach the question. It is interesting to note that there is even an online course at Harvard, taught by Michael Sandel, where one of his critical sessions is entitled “What’s the right thing to do?”
To get the major changes we desire then we must look to the individual to make the right choices and these choices should be based on what they perceive as their person responsibility. What is your personal responsibility?
I am not a curmudgeon, but since Andy Rooney is no longer with us to continue his long-time “60 Minutes” tradition, I thought I would take a crack at being one…
During the 32 years I’ve worked in the EHS/Sustainability field, I’ve noticed that many EHS professionals inherently want to do “the right thing,” and are much more comfortable than most people using science as a means to help decide what is right. Traditionally, one of our profession’s biggest challenges has been convincing senior management that what is scientifically the “the right thing” to do can also be good for the business. And using a scientific rationale has typically been more appealing to the public as well. Customers and end users are more likely to rally around an idea based on good science rather than one motivated by political ideals, and I think trust has much to do with this.
Have you noticed, though, that recently there seems to be a growing tendency to defer to the short and simple solution regardless of what may be scientifically correct?
One example of this that you might have encountered is the use of recycled paper. Everyone agrees that using recycled paper is good for the environment because it keeps paper out of the landfill and reduces carbon emissions. So, the simple solution has been to use as much recycled paper as possible in every type of paper. But what if good science (Life Cycle Assessment) tells you that it is not that simple and finds that it actually depends on which type of paper you are reusing it in?
Using recycled paper in magazines can require significant processing to remove the inks before it is bright enough for use, while using recycled paper in cardboard boxes would require less de-inking with their lower brightness requirements. This extra processing usually involves fossil fuel-based electricity along with higher CO2 emissions. Most of the energy used to make virgin magazine paper, on the other hand, comes from renewable energy. Although it requires more energy to make than recycled paper, virgin paper may wind up having lower carbon emissions (thanks to the use of renewables).
So, which is better to use: recycled paper or virgin paper? The answer is, “It depends.” Unfortunately, many people don’t like that answer or want to spend the time to understand the issue more clearly. I find one of the biggest challenges in our profession is being able to communicate that complex, scientific “right thing to do” in simple terms that are persuasive. I am sure you all have similar stories on digging too deep into the weeds.
What have been your successes in communicating complex solutions in simple terms?
Craig Liska is Vice President of Sustainability for Verso Paper Corp., where he is responsible for integrating Verso’s sustainability philosophy of balancing environmental, social and economic values into decisions affecting all aspects of the business. This involves decisions from wood/fiber procurement and manufacturing to product development and final disposition of products. Prior to joining Verso, Mr. Liska worked for Motorola, where he was Corporate Director for International EHS and had a history of increased EHS responsibilities both at the manufacturing plant and corporate management level. He also has experience at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, holding various positions of increasing responsibility. He was the President of NAEM in 2005.
Starting this month, we’re kicking off a new series on the Green Tie, featuring blog posts by the former presidents of NAEM. First up? Dick Pastor, Vice President of Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Group.
During his term as president of the Board from 2002-2004, Mr. Pastor oversaw the implementation of the Association’s Management Excellence Certificate at Carnegie Mellon University.
Recently I had a chance to reflect on how time changes things. With the arrival of my first granddaughter, I thought about the differences that I have seen since my kids were born.
I started my career in the environmental field in 1969. The same year the Cuyahoga River actually caught fire in my hometown of Cleveland, and just a few years after an inversion caused a four day air pollution incident in which 80 people died in New York.
So what has time changed since then?
- Size and Concentration: Back then regulators were striving to reduce the amount of pollutants being discharged. Primary wastewater treatment was state-of-the-art, but direct untreated discharge was the norm. Today we are fighting to get to part per billion in discharges and have elaborate treatment technologies to ensure the water is of a better quality than drinking water standards. Exotic scrubbers, injection technologies, and continuous monitoring have replaced the smokestack, and modeling now takes into account not only local impacts but regional transport and soon global impacts as well.
- Workforce Composition: In the early days, if there was a woman involved in the environmental field most people thought that she was there to take notes or get coffee. Today some of our most respected professionals are women heading environmental or sustainability departments for major, worldwide corporations.
- Skills Required: It was understood in the early environmental days that you just had to be an engineer to be able to do anything meaningful in environmental work. Most thought that a bachelor’s of science was not enough but you really needed at least a Masters in a specific engineering discipline to lead and make decisions regarding the environment. If you were not an engineer then you were relegated to a sample taker. Today the skills required to be proficient in environmental work not only require technical skills but also business acumen and interpersonal skills. You now not only understand BOD but also the social impacts of your operations.
So time changes things, but does it change everything? I would say that throughout my career, the one most prevalent thing that has not changed has been the dedication and enthusiasm of the professionals in the field. And for my granddaughter’s sake I hope that it never changes. What have you seen change in your career?
Dick Pastor has more than 42 years of experience in the environmental field, including 18 years of government service with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and 15 years with the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Before joining Shaw he was Director, Environmental Services for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., where he developed the environmental management and services program for the company, going from a staff of 1 to a staff of 27 professionals. He also played a significant role in the early development of the company’s sustainability program.
During the course of Dick’s career he has taken a personal interest in assisting others in the field with their personal and professional growth. Dick has served as President of the National Association for Environmental Management where he was instrumental in developing an executive training program for EHS professions that helped bring the profession into the Board room. Dick also served as Chairman of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, a Board of Director of the National Solid Waste Management Association and a Trustee of the Institute for Professional Environmental Practice.