Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Worst We Could Do Is Isolate Ourselves

In most corporate offices, the environmental department is an enigma, not really, more like sidelined given its relative novelty. Unlike accounting, legal, facilities engineering or purchasing, it is only recently that such units are being put into place when things like environmental compliance issues and safety concerns are being addressed given its legal and economic consequences. While working for the fastfood, people from other departments would ask me what is the purpose of an EHS department? Being new at that time, I was surprised that a lot of old timers were not oriented on the purpose of such group.

More surprised, I found out that our group's decision-making process was not directly linked to anyone at the executive level which in my prior industry affiliation was the usual case. This coming from an industry dominated by ISO14001 certifications where top management commitment is and auditable criteria.

I am validating the article I previously posted were only 12% of the surveyed firms in the United States have executive teams directly involved in sustainability programs, I agree that this is the usual norm not only in Corporate America but in emerging economies. Top management often sets up this units or departments not because of its commitment to the environment but to minimize the risks brought about by environmental compliance issues and stakeholder advocacy on a company's productivity.

If your EHS/CSR group is stuck in that situation, the worst you can do is isolate yourselves. By isolating and even stigmatizing such groups, the environmental concern becomes less mainstream within an organization. Having our jobs does not make us special as if we are mystical beings. I have always cautioned that an environmental management program must be rationalized not mysticized, because turning it into a somewhat spiritual  experience does not allow it to have the proper organizational infrastructure it needs to become mainstream where only a few in the organization could understand it and even appreciate your groups existence. It is becoming  more of a fad and not an essential part in the growth of an organization. If you are in a dead-locked situation, where top management does not even recognize the purpose of your presence in the office when they see you, again the worse you can do is try to make an impression.  It would be a lot better to make sure that everyone including your janitor and photocopy guy knows and appreciates what you are doing. By developing the lower ranks of the hierarchy, the change necessary can reach the top, noting from the book Thinking in Systems, the purpose of the hierarchy is to fulfill the needs of those in the bottom.