An EH&S manager in a major chemical firm recently complimented one of my colleagues: “She tells us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.” She’s got attitude. If you surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear, you may be headed for trouble. If you can reliably predict their advice, whether or not you like it, you may also have a problem. If it takes them all day to get to the point on a sensitive subject, why do you want to spend the extra time? Obtaining frank, cutting-edge advice in today’s dynamic business climate represents one of the challenges to managing an EH&S department. EH&S managers are experts at finding sound technical advice and support. What is much more difficult is obtaining strategic advice that will address questions such as “How will the external world react to the proposed new product introduction?” and “Are there fundamental flaws in the company’s direction on this issue?” This column provides some suggestions on how you might obtain answers to the more complex issues you face in your job.
INDUSTRY OPENS ITS DOORS…SLOWLY
Regulatory agencies and legislative bodies are required to seek out and consider input from stakeholders. That’s what
democracy is all about. While one may argue that special interests unduly influence the process, nonetheless, it is
designed to be inclusionary. Historically, industry has been just the opposite, steadfastly resisting outside intervention by individuals and organizations over which it had no control. “If we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.” Few companies directly asked. Those that did used focus groups, surveys, and opinion research techniques to maintain
confidentiality, control, or both.
One of the first voluntary, industrywide efforts was the Chemical Manufacturers Association’s (CMA) Responsible Care® initiative. Established in 1988 as a condition for continuing membership in CMA, Responsible Care requires facilities to establish and maintain a dialogue with the community. In many cases, this effort results in the development of Community Advisory Panels (CAPs). At the national level, a Public Advisory Panel provides strategic input to Responsible Care.
The panel, established in 1989, is a diverse group of 16 individuals from different constituencies and different parts of the country. The need for opening doors at the local level to build trust became a priority issue for the chemical industry after all too frequent and sometimes disastrous environmental incidents eroded public confidence. It was a major transition that prompted other industry sectors such as the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association to embrace Responsible Care and the American Petroleum Institute to encourage community outreach through its Strategies for Today’s Environmental Partnership Program.