Will Rogers once said, “It’s not what we don’t know that hurts, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” When it comes to running an environmental organization, business executives may think that any skilled manager
can do it. We’ve seen individuals with a wide range of backgrounds assigned to EH&S leadership positions. Some may assume that management skills alone will lead to EH&S excellence. That helps, but it
is no guarantee. The EH&S Advisor takes a look at the basic resource library that every EH&S manager should have nearby and discusses how to use this information effectively. This article is not about regulatory compliance, nor is it about basic management skills; it’s about resources to strategically manage EH&S.
SO MUCH INFORMATION, SO
There is a wealth of EH&S information available in either printed or electronic format. Just go to Amazon.com and punch in “environment.” We got 9963 hits in the books category alone! Try a Lexis- Nexis search, if you dare. There is so much information, but where do you begin?
Actually it is quite easy, because when it comes to strategic environmental management (SEM), there really has not been very much written on the subject (see
definition in box).1 Most of the attention has been devoted to subjects such as regulatory compliance, pollution control, ecology, pollution prevention, and more recently, sustainable development and ISO 14000. SEM is, in fact, an emerging field and, as with most emerging topics, many of the better, more focused articles are in journals, not books.
Some material can be found in edited collections of articles. Other key material is in the form of essential background information required to understand the long-term dynamics in play.
The last point, the dynamics in play, is what makes the EH&S profession so interesting and challenging. Our Will Rogers quote also represents one of the greatest failings of even experienced professionals: they miss some key factor because they are so sure they are right. What good is an excellent legal strategy if your public relations strategy is an utter shambles? What good are facts when emotions are the governing force? What good is following upper management direction, if it may be headed in the wrong direction?
Heading in the right direction for competitive gain is what strategic management is all about. In this respect, the “normal” decision-making process in organizations may not be the right one in the long run. Executives are used to being in charge. They focus much of their energy on the dynamics that impact a few key stakeholders, such as customers and investment analysts. Everything else remains low on their radar screen. Loyalty to this strategy rewards managers points, but in many respects, an EH&S manager’s job is to challenge and test the viability of the corporate plan with a broader array of stakeholders. Success is determined by how well the EH&S dynamics can be articulated in the framework that executives care about.
GOING IT ALONE OR GROUP-THINK
When it comes to guidance on SEM, companies often go it alone or will sometimes benchmark with other companies.
Benchmarking can be valuable if it leads to new insights into ways to do things differently. It is, however, most often focused on what other companies have done or are about to do. It also concentrates on specific processes, management systems, and activities, not the necessarily the strategic process that leads to these techniques. “The root of the problem is the failure to distinguish between operational effectiveness and strategy,” states Michael Porter of Harvard Business School.2