Logging onto LinkedIn or checking news sites, one is bound to see the acronym ESG and the related alphabet soup of mandates in multiple articles and posts. A complex and interwoven topic, ESG can seem daunting at the start. One method for stripping away the complexity is by examining how ESG roles apply to specific positions in your EHS team.
In general, EHS professionals will continue to do what they do, collect data, ensure compliance and implement programs that make the workplace safer for both employees and the environment.
But how this translates to duties and responsibilities up and down the EHS hierarchy will be vastly different and dependent on the size of the organization, its industry, and its maturity.
Here are a few illustrations to help you determine or refine the ESG roles within your organization:
- EHS directors are being invited to the C-suite table and many are taking a permanent seat. Historically only called up when accidents occurred, they now have an increasing say in how the firm designs and enacts sustainability and ESG strategies. (See Verdantix Global Corporate Survey 2022, EHS Services, Budgets, Priorities And Preferences). At this level it’s imperative that the EHS representative is familiar with mandates such as CSRD, GRI and governmental policy out of the SEC. These disclosure regulations will require firms to report on factors such as water consumption, air emissions, safety records, supply chain compliance and more, all of which the C-suite representative will need at their fingertips. Here, a long-term strategy view is best leveraged to integrate with the company’s goals, and their capability to reach those.
- Directors and managers will need familiarity with the aforementioned mandates, but to them, only their specific firms’ goals will apply. These positions will be best in place to operationalize strategy into concrete steps and actions such as identifying weak points in data collection, enhancing communication with regional departments and directing investment through budget decisions. Their proximity to the front lines of a firms work will give them insights that can then be relayed up the chain and will provide information that will be needed to refine high level strategy.
While these are the overarching ways in which ESG will apply to EHS functions, there are of course those nuances.
Differences by industry
- An oil and gas company will have a very different structure and strategy to a telecom service. The O&G EHS function will have to devote additional attention to balancing safety concerns with ESG concerns, i.e catastrophic rig disasters and oil spills while the telecom service has much less risk exposure. ESG duties in these EHS functions will be a product of environmental impact, geographic reach, and regulatory exposure. Oil operations in at-risk areas such as the Alaskan North Slope will have larger environmental concerns while a telecom operator in a major city will be focused items such as transportation and local emissions and power.
Differences by organization size
- Mature companies will have built out EHS and sustainability teams, while a start up might have these duties folded under one department. Take for example Ford Motor Company, an industry giant in the automotive sector. The size and global operations of Ford’s operations have allowed it to stay at the forefront of environmental concerns and has resulted in the creation of a dedicated sustainability function, who relays with the EHS team for data and execution of projects. A relatively new startup however can find their EHS team saddled with relevant ESG duties due to the streamlining of staff at that stage. This is not to say that the EHS team is on the hook for the “S” and the “G” as well – these are often picked up by HR and legal counsel – but the full burden of the environmental concerns can be located within the EHS function.
Differences by C-suite structure
- Organizations with a Chief Sustainability Officer (“CSO”) will expect different involvement from the EHS team, but EHS is still generally involved. In many cases, the CSO delivers environmental performance updates to investors, consumers, and other external stakeholders, yet the data that underpins those updates stem from EHS systems and teams. This is derived from the proximity to data collection systems and the historical exposure to environmental regulations and required actions that EHS functions have had to carry out in the past. EHS directors will still be called upon to answer traditional roles, but can, and need to, enact closer ties with CSOs and their teams.
With the increased pressure from investors, regulations and peer performance, ESG concerns will continue to influence EHS operations from top to bottom. With its inherent complexity and scale, the key to cutting to pertinent information and actions is understanding an individual’s position and scope within their organization, and that organizations position in the larger industry ecosystem. Leveraging this focused lens, EHS leaders can successfully deliver on their traditional duties without the burdens of ESG becoming too onerous.