What’s the big deal about nanotechnology?

Kate Sellers

Perhaps you can relate to this situation: Just as our client’s sales force was poised to ship a hot new product to a dozen market countries, one of the process chemists happened to mention to the environmental manager that the product contained a “nano” component. Suddenly these small particles became a very big deal to the environmental manager, who needed to determine the relevant regulatory restrictions on a tight schedule.

Although the use of nanomaterials dates back centuries, commercial use has increased dramatically over the last decade as manufacturers have used their unique properties to create competitive advantage.  In response to this increased use, environmental managers now must navigate an ever-evolving suite of regulations and health and safety precautions for those employees working with nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials can offer increased strength, conductivity, or reactivity, but particle size can also affect certain physicochemical properties, and even the toxicological effects of the substance. These may include:

  • Decreasing the size of a particle increases the relative proportion of atoms on the surface. Consequently, the dissolution rate and the relative rate of reactivity can increase, for example.
  • Each atom on the particle surface has fewer bonds than it would have if it were located in the middle of the particle. As a result, the energy associated with those atoms, known as the “surface free energy” differs from the free energy associated with atoms in the center of the particle. The surface free energy can affect such physical properties as the melting point, equilibrium solubility, and reactivity.  The latter explains why nanoscale catalysts can be so effective.
  • When the diameter of the particle is of the same magnitude as the wavelength of the electron wave function, so-called “quantum effects” occur.  At this point the electrical and optical properties of the particle may change, allowing for carbon nanotubes to conduct electricity, or silver particles to appear blue, for example.

Managing the potential risks of nanomaterials can be a daunting challenge for environmental managers. One of the most difficult issues to solve is that  regulators around the world define “nanomaterial” differently, with the size cutoff ranging up to 2000 nanometers (nm) and some definitions including other parameters. An environmental manager concerned with product registration must carefully parse the regulatory definitions and their application to nanomaterials, to determine if their products are regulated differently than bulk materials. Other environment, health and safety (EHS) risks associated with nano-scale materials include:

  • Evolving product registration requirements;
  • Appropriate health and safety precautions for workers;
  • Waste management;
  • Perceptions and misperceptions by customers; and
  • Other life cycle concerns.

The scenario described at the beginning of this blog ended with a twist.  Although the raw material supplier characterized their product as a nanomaterial, perhaps for the “cool factor” associated with the name, it did not actually meet the regulatory definition of a nanomaterial in any of the market countries.  No special registration, classification, or labelling provisions applied to the material, and our client’s product could be shipped without delay.

Kate Sellers is Principal Environmental Engineer with Arcadis and co-author of the book, “Nanotechnology and the Environment”. She will continue the discussion about managing nano-scale materials during NAEM’s upcoming webinar “Understanding the EHS Opportunities and Challenges of Nanotechnology” on August 16.  

August 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm 1 comment

Does your crisis communications plan involve social media?

Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing

The power of social media recently became crystal clear following a couple of major events that captured much of the nation’s attention. When the lights went out June 29 for millions of electric customers in the wake of a super “derecho” that hit the Midwest and East Coast, many turned to their mobile devices for information and to make contact with the outside world. The companies whose infrastructure was damaged or destroyed by the severe weather relied on social media to provide updates of restoration efforts, safety information such as what to do if you encountered a downed power line, how to report an outage and to engage with customers who were very frustrated about being without power in triple digit heat.

More than 1.4 million American Electric Power (AEP) customers in six states lost power following a series of  storms that began that day — and that was just one company. To try and satisfy customers’ hunger for information, AEP burned up the Twittersphere with regular updates almost around-the-clock, and posted videos and photos to its web sites and to company YouTube, Facebook and Flickr pages. We were able to answer customers’ questions in real time and give them information about restoration times and tips to survive the heat with no power.

As one would imagine, there was plenty of frustration over the duration of the outages. But when customers realized how bad the damage was, many began to understand why it was taking so long to turn the lights back on. As the work progressed, customers increasingly took to the airwaves to thank our crews and express appreciation for the information they got via social media. AEP received thousands more followers and significantly increased traffic to all of its web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube videos.  It became a life line for many and allowed us to interact directly with our customers during a major crisis.

Not long after that event, the horrible mass murders in Aurora, Colorado occurred. Amid the grief, shock and anger over those senseless shootings, something else interesting happened. Reporters in the field were getting updates from law enforcement officials via Twitter – and sharing news as the story unfolded, in real time, without waiting for periodic briefings. As a news junkie, it met my insatiable need to know what was happening as it happened. That’s when it became clear as day: Social media are critical during a crisis. It is vital to the flow of information and is an invaluable communications vehicle; one might even say it has become as important in a crisis as a business continuity plan. When crisis strikes, will you be ready with a social media strategy?

Sandy Nessing is the Director of Sustainability & ESH Strategy & Design for American Electric Power Co. Inc. She wrote and published AEP’s first Corporate Sustainability Report in 2007 and in 2010 published AEP’s first integrated Corporate Accountability Report, a combination of the annual sustainability report and Annual Report to Shareholders. Follow her on Twitter at @Watts4U.

August 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Sandy Stash: “Not on my watch”

With more than 30 years in the oil and gas, and hard rock and coal mining industries, Sandy Stash has significant experience representing business on controversial natural resource, public health and environmental issues.   A petroleum engineer by training, she spent her early career as one of the first women to work as a drilling engineer and drilling rig foreman at ARCO locations across North America. Today she is the Global Senior Vice President of Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Operational Assurance at Talisman Energy. Her current project is introducing a holistic operational management framework that will govern risk management across Talisman’s global businesses. We spoke with her at NAEM’s recent Environmental Women’s Leadership Roundtable about her career.

GT: You were one of the first women to work as a drilling engineer. What was it like for you back then?

SS: Actually, it was a blast! In all seriousness, I made a conscious decision, particularly as a woman, to get some good solid field experience. The first thing I learned about was the equipment. I also gained a better understanding of the culture of the oil industry.  And finally, I learned an awful lot about influencing people because as you might imagine, I was a 22-year-old female thrown on a drilling rig, ostensibly to be “the boss,” yet I really didn’t know what I was doing. I think I learned a lot about how to listen to people, how to influence them and how to build the teamwork necessary to make me successful.

GT: Throughout your career, you’ve also been involved with driving change in a lot of complex organizations.  What are some of the strategies you’ve used?

SS: Well, first of all,  it’s very, very hard work because I think that as human beings we tend to be change resistant, so I think it’s important to take the time to understand everyone’s perspective.  Number two, there’s a bit of collaborative work that needs to be done to come up with a common vision.  In other words, it’s a lot easier if you own part of the change, rather than having someone else telling you that you need to change. The third thing is that once you’ve made the decision, you need to be very clear about who is accountable for the outcomes. And finally, and this may be the toughest part, you’re always going to have some people who don’t want to get on board, and you need to get them out of the way.

GT: You have been involved with structuring the EHS guidelines for Talisman’s hydrofracking operations. One of the most important components you identified was a commitment to transparency. Could you explain why you included that?

SS: Hydrofracking or ‘fracking’ comes under a lot of pressure because of the concerns that people have about the materials or the chemicals that go into the frack jobs.  Truthfully, it’s a very, very small percentage because mostly it’s water and sand, but we feel that we can dispel a lot of concerns and bad information by just fully disclosing  what chemicals are in our frack jobs. And finally, by being transparent about chemical usage and whatever it is, the next very important step is that you actually set metrics to improve, reduce or increase whatever the metric is. So transparency leads to very important target-setting, which is important for all of us to continuously improve our businesses.

GT: You also said that your attitude when it comes to incidents is “Not on my watch.” What did you mean by that?

SS: I think that as HSE professionals we should be preventing accidents, not responding to them. We may always have the need to respond, but the more we can do in the way we design our plants, operate our plants, train our people and create clarity around people’s accountability, the better we will be at preventing accidents in the first place.

For more interviews with speakers from the Environmental Women’s Leadership Roundtable, please visit www.youtube.com/NAEMorgTV.

July 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm 2 comments

EHS Success at the Intersection of Engagement and Coordination

Brad Waldron

When I first decided to take my current position with Caesars Entertainment Corp., I was concerned about the prospect of managing more than 40 properties across a dozen states and at least twice as many regulatory agencies.

In the absence of on-site staff exclusively dedicated to environmental affairs, I thought it would be difficult to educate and motivate employees.  But the first couple of weeks brought a great discovery – the employees were already educated and motivated.  The property-level employees who carry environmental compliance responsibility at Caesars are among the most dedicated I have ever met.  The engineering staffs at the properties are truly interested in being successful and doing the right thing.  Even if they can’t cite the regulatory reference, they are familiar with work practice standards and operating guidelines, which have enabled them to largely remain compliant.

Each property has developed its own environmental strategies to comply with the things that are relevant to them.  Some of the larger properties have either relied on external consultants, or had a senior engineer on staff that happens to know something about it from a prior position.  Sometimes it’s a relationship they have with a former colleague outside the company; many times it has been research and a desire to be compliant.  But whatever the reason, they have found a way to accomplish what they need to.

I soon transitioned into a role focused on sharing more effective management strategies, consolidating record-keeping, streamlining inspections, opening communication channels, and ultimately, making environmental management feel more like a base requirement.  In my past experience with heavy industrial sites, environmental compliance was a way of life for every position.  Each employee had it engrained in them because of the vast number of requirements and experience with past penalties.  Within the hospitality industry, we have significant and diverse requirements, and people are aware of them, but true success will only become possible through integrating roles into every job around the organization.

Once employees have a basic understanding and the desire to comply, the next step entails giving them the tools to be effective and showing them the methods to make those tools most efficient.  Efforts are now being made to accomplish environmental tasks within everyday duties.  Doing the right thing is often surprisingly easy, and making employees aware of how to reduce the company’s environmental footprint seems to increase everyone’s willingness to be involved.

Brad Waldron is Corporate Manager of Environmental Affairs for Caesars Entertainment Corp.,  where he manages efforts to maintain Caesars’ position as an environmental leader. He will talk about how he collects and tracks his programs’ metrics  at NAEM’s EHS Compliance Excellence conference on Aug.1-2 in Chicago.

July 27, 2012 at 11:39 am Leave a comment

Leading the Way in LCA Means Defining Boundaries, Success

Scott Kaufman

As consumers continue to inquire about the environmental footprint of the products they purchase, companies are beginning to respond with life cycle analyses and green product labeling. This week we caught up with PeerAspect founder Scott Kaufman to discuss the challenges of life cycle analysis and how the development of new standards could help improve product transparency efforts.

GT: For those who are unfamiliar with the term, how do you define life cycle analysis (LCA)?

SK: There are five main stages of a product’s life cycle, and life cycle analysis is a cradle-to-grave accounting of the environmental impacts of a product or a service for each of those stages. For each of the main stages of the life cycle, you have resource inputs in the form of materials and energy, and environmental outputs– emissions into the water and air). A full LCA accounts for all those raw inputs and outputs and translates them into environmental impacts. A carbon footprint is an LCA as well, but one that is limited to the global warming impacts.

GT: When it comes to supply chain, how far do you go?

SK: That’s the question of where you draw the boundaries and where you cut off your efforts to actually measure things. You could theoretically go on forever by going down to the most minute detail and never stop measuring. There is, unfortunately, no perfect answer to that question. The only solution to that is to have industry standards that everyone agrees on. This is what we’re going to agree on. So when we measure a specific type of product, we know that it’s a fair playing ground with other people who are doing this kind of work.

GT: Isn’t it possible that when a company reduces its impact in one area, it increases its impact in another area?

SK: It’s like Whack-a-Mole, right? I think that that’s part of the issue I saw with just doing carbon footprinting. I think that carbon gets a lot of the attention, but sometimes, when you make a reduction in carbon it might kick up in another impact area. So you want to be as broad, but as thorough, as possible. So it’s important to have specialists with knowledge of the supply chain issues we’re talking about so that they can identify those tradeoffs.

GT: Life cycle analysis is an exciting concept, but it’s still in its nascent stage. How do you evaluate a product’s LCA in the absence of widespread disclosure and common standards?

SK: It’s still fairly new, but I would that that’s not a reason not to do it.. Yes, there are leading edge companies that are blazing trails and that’s one reason to be in that camp of companies is to be defining the rules as you do the rules. The companies that are pursuing this area are, by default, defining the rules of the game.

One example of that is the beverage industry. The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable is a group of roughly 16-20 companies such as Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola Co. and Diageo that got together and basically wrote a set of product category rules with the help of a consulting group, non-profits and Columbia University. So standards exist but it depends on the industry and the companies within the industry that want to take a leadership stance.

The cross-industry body that’s doing the most work and has the most industry buy-in is The Sustainability Consortium. They have the most funding, the most momentum and have done the most work marrying nongovernmental organizations and academic inputs as well. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about what they’re going to do based on that.

GT: What is the role of third-party entities in the LCA process?

SK: As companies increasingly model the life cycles of the products they produce, there is a greater need for a third-party to look at those models and make sure they accurately represent the environmental effects. A lot of the time, companies are making a public claim that a particular product has less of an impact than a product made the good old-fashioned way. If we’re going to make real reductions and make real progress toward more sustainable products, we need to make sure that these models and these claims are vetted.

GT: As standards are developed, ESG analysts may start looking to LCAs as a reflection of a company’s performance. How do you account for the ‘use’ phase of the product, which contributes to a product’s footprint, but which are beyond the company’s control?  Is it fair to evaluate a company’s environmental  performance based on how consumers use its product?

SK: That definitely depends on the product. There are some products where most of the life cycle impacts are upstream, but certainly if you’re talking about something like an air conditioner, the consumer decisions play a large role. I certainly think that the action needs to take place before the consumer make the decision, ideally there would be a policy to ensure a clear set of rules everyone is playing by and there would be clear targets that everyone has to meet and we just figure out how to parse out the emissions allowances associated with that.

I know that the Consortium is handling this right now on a “check this box” basis, asking questions of their members, like, ‘Do you have a well-funded advertising campaign, informing consumers about the benefits of washing in cold water?’ An objective, but still broad ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question is the way to get at it first. I guess you have to start drilling down from there until you hit the jack pot.

Scott Kaufman is co-founder of PeerAspect, a global network of experts that helps companies verify environmental models and solve sustainability problems. He will be sharing more insights into the state of life cycle science at NAEM’s 20th annual EHS Management Forum in Naples, Fla. on Oct.17-19.

July 25, 2012 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

Sustainable Procurement is Efficient Government Spending

Nancy Gillis, Director of Federal Supply Chain for the U.S. General Services Administration, talks about the benefits of integrating sustainability into government purchasing decisions.

July 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm Leave a comment

Aspiring Leaders Take Smart Risks


Amy Franko, Founder and CEO of Impact Instruction Group, shares her advice for the behaviors and attributes aspiring leaders should develop.

Continue Reading July 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm Leave a comment

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