Friday, January 1, 2010

Sustainability & Safety

By integrating ourselves into the CSR movement and by contributing to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit in all areas, we can demonstrate our value to employers.

Welcome to the start of a new year! I’m sure you have all spent some time reflecting on the past year and planning for the year ahead. New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to commit to improving our lives, behaviors or priorities. Do your resolutions focus on you, your family, your work?

Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” One of ASSE’s goals is to promote the SH&E profession. Achieving this requires that we all are engaged in identifying opportunities where we, as professionals, can demonstrate value to employers and show our positive impact on the bottom line.

Most of us think about profits when we mention the bottom line. However, a new definition has emerged thanks to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability movements. If you are not familiar with CSR, it is the vision that companies can self-regulate to conduct business in an ethical manner, balancing profits with the expectations of customers and communities. Measuring success means focusing on the “triple bottom line”: people, planet and profit. This redefines success to include doing the right thing for our employees and our neighbors, protecting the planet and maintaining profitability. Closely tied to CSR is the concept of sustainability. While this typically elicits an environmental focus, it also includes the targets of the triple bottom line.

SH&E professionals have two distinct roles in CSR. One involves an understanding of environmental sustainability issues. Learn the key environmental issues for your organization, competitors and industry in general. Be familiar with your company’s initiatives to address environmental concerns. Look for opportunities to use the company’s environmental performance to competitive advantage. In this context, sustainability means sustaining the planet’s natural resources and protecting people from environmental harm.

Our second role is to understand the safety function from a sustainability standpoint. After all, the triple bottom line includes people and that is what we do. Safety should be viewed as the cornerstone of the people component. In this context, sustainability means implementing and maintaining programs that keep people safe, facilities intact, communities protected, supply chains secure and the organization’s mission uninterrupted. Sustainable organizations are, by definition, safe organizations, and we play a key role in ensuring that safety. We must show business leaders that the base of the sustainability triangle is the social component which incorporates workplace safety.

Why is this so important? By increasing our involvement in the sustainability movement, we could create new safety-related jobs and identify opportunities to integrate occupational safety and health into green and sustainability. For example, in construction, a safety component could be added to the green building certification process.

Many groups are seeking ways to attach themselves to the sustainability movement. To ensure that SH&E professionals have a leading role, we must communicate our value in this area. To ensure that the SH&E profession has a voice in CSR policy setting, ASSE is working to educate the business community about the importance of safety as part of good corporate governance and CSR. In addition, our new Sustainability Task Force is assessing how we can advance our role in CSR and sustainability. This includes integrating safety into the measurements companies use to rate CSR performance. It also includes providing education and information that will help you function in this new arena and demonstrate your value to your employer.

By integrating ourselves into the CSR movement and by contributing to the triple bottom line in all areas, we can demonstrate our value to employers. This will help secure a seat at the table for our profession and that benefits us all. Take another look at your New Year’s resolutions and see how you can help contribute to advancing our great profession.


  1. Chris,
    I always enjoy reading your blogs. I believe this one is essential for safety professionals to embrace. Many safety professionals have struggled to show the importance of the safety profession to their company. The sustainability movement gives ASSE the opportunity to lead the safety profession's effort to be viewed as more essential to a company and an important element in the CSR movement.

    Another tremendous value to those who are ASSE members! They can benefit by helping ASSE be the leader in this effort as well as becoming more essential to corporate America.

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  3. Good post, Chris. I think it is often assumed that sustainability is as inclusive of safety issues as it is environmental issues. That's not always the case, particularly when you look at it from the manufacture of materials all the way to the final product after the contractors walk away. Protecting our environment is of utmost importance, but protecting people is no less important! We just need to be more a part of the process. -Jim Morris

  4. Terry,
    You are absolutely correct that safety professionals have to embrace this. There is a great opportunity before us to demonstrate value. I guarantee no one will hand it to us. It is up to each of us to educate ourselves about how we can contribute to the "people" portion of the triple bottom line, and then sell that to our customers.

  5. Jim,
    The first hurdle is "selling" safety to our customers as an element of CSR and sustainability. It is an obvious fit, but often overlooked. My suggestion is go out to the websites of a few companies that have embraced this. I saw one yesterday that had EHS as a main link on the first page of their website. When you clicked, it was a letter from the CEO talking about CSR, sustainability, and the company's committment to EH&S. YAY!