An Effective Environmental Policy Statement Is Your Foundation!
The first two issues of EHS Strategy & Management Quarterly have dealt with the advantages/disadvantages of choosing a particular organizational structure and the development/implementation of global EHS programs. Prior to dealing with these issues, however, it is of utmost importance that your company has an excellent (not merely ‘good' or ‘sufficient') environmental policy statement.
Far, far too many companies have overlooked the influence that an excellent policy statement, and a company values statement (if there is one), can have on providing a firm foundation upon which everything else – organization, objectives, programs, etc. – rest. You may have the absolutely best of everything else, but only by having these two foundations provide solid support will everything else stay in place. In a way, the Policy Statement represents the cinder blocks in a foundation wall and the Values Statement is the mortar that holds them together.
In a nutshell, your environmental policy statement must be passionate, credible and relevant. Anything less will likely do more damage than good. A policy statement developed solely to meet the ‘management commitment' requirements of ISO14001 or Responsible Care ® might be good, but never, ever excellent
But what makes even a ‘good' environmental policy statement ‘excellent'? If you want lots of examples, though not necessarily excellent or even good ones, look just about anywhere on the web, any GRI report, or one of the few compilations of environmental policy statements. One book, Corporate Environmental Policies (Graham and Havlick; Scarecrow Press, 1999.) has a pretty thorough listing, but it stops short as it contains no commentary on the presented policies' effectiveness or applicability. Yes, examples are out there, but are they good or excellent ones? A few yes, many no. So, you have to look elsewhere.
My years of experience with helping dozens of companies craft environmental policy statements that fit all the criteria of passionate, credible and relevant have led me to create the following list of key characteristics that make for an excellent, not merely good or sufficient, environmental policy statement:
• Brief – It's one page, at the MOST.
• A Value Statement – It indicates what the company believes in and what it wants its operations and employees to do or achieve.
• Visionary – It's clear what the company wants to be, or be known for being.
• Real and Relevant – It applies to the company as it is or is becoming, not what it once was.
• Motivational – It EXCITES employees, the public and/or other stakeholders; it shows how the company is, or wants to be, different.
• Consistent – It is consistent with what the company leadership DOES, not merely says. ‘The walk' trumps ‘the talk' every time.
• Responsibility – It clearly states who's responsible for the policy and who's responsible for implementing it.
• Signed – It's signed by the primary company executive and the highest level environmental (or EHS or EHSS) leader, as well as any relevant Business/Division President if it's a business or divisional-specific statement. It displays personal concurrence and commitment.
• Dated – This shows the reader that it's current, indicating and reinforcing its relevance.
• Current – It's reviewed on a regular basis (annual is a suggested first start) and whenever there is a major change in company structure or primary company executive, then revised and reissued as necessary.
Communication is important, too, but that's more about implementation than a policy characteristic.
One ‘gut check' test is to read it as if you were a major investor and this is the only piece of company information available to anyone. Would you put your money into the company? If yes, chances are it's an excellent policy. If no, go back to your drawing board and rewrite it.
I've developed a 1-page gap analysis worksheet as a quick way to see how your current policy shapes up. Just call me at 201-574-4710, or email me , and I'll be glad to send it to you.
Don't forget your company's Value Statement. If there isn't one, that's a BAD start. If there is one, does it indicate “We protect, and improve, the environment, health and safety of our employees, communities and customer”, or something similar? If not, your environmental policy statement is missing its mortar!