Without debating which presidential candidate you support, which Vision Thing (also known as slogan) provides a sense of inspiration, originality, and excitement?1

The same ingredients apply to visions regarding safety, health, and the environment. If CEOs are unable to live up to their corporate vision statements, it may cost them dearly. Two examples are Massey Energy and Volkswagen.

Massey Energy2

  • Vision – Running Right... it’s what we do.

We protect the safety and health of our employees, and watch out for one another. Every employee is empowered to do the right thing at all times.

  • Values – Running Right... it’s who we are.
  • We conduct our business safely, ethically, honestly and with integrity at all times.
  • We care. Caring for one another helps us all return to our families safe and healthy.
  • We treat each other how we want to be treated.

Volkswagen’s Vision3 - Our strategy pursues a clear objective: By 2018 the Volkswagen Group is to be the world’s most successful and fascinating automobile manufacturer – and the leading light when it comes to sustainability.

In the case of Massey Energy, former CEO Don Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison, a $250,000 fine, and one year supervised release after being found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety laws leading to the death of 29 coal miners in a 2010 mine explosion.

 In the case of Volkswagen, the company employed test-cheating software to beat the diesel emissions test on thousands of their vehicles, resulting in Volkswagen setting aside over $18 billion for retrofits, claims and fines. 

EHS is not so special

So is it important for organizations and leaders to have a “Safety Vision”?  In two words – HELL NO!!! 

Some of you will strongly disagree. As some of my old colleagues used to tell me quoting Rodney Dangerfield, “We can’t get no respect. Give me a break Jim, why shouldn’t the vision statement speak to safety, health, and environment”? 

If you feel that way, why not include HR, engineering, finance, operations, R&D, and on and on; these groups serve an equally important purpose. Vision statements should be limited to focusing on what the organization/corporation is doing to be successful. They spawn a rallying cry among employees to be highly productive in their daily endeavors to ensure that success is achieved.

If EHS is not going to be mentioned in the organization/corporation’s vision statement, how do these functions stand out? One effective way: create a mission statement with the input of the entire organization. Trust me, your organization knows a lot more about EHS then you give it credit for.  Indeed, some of you will feel threatened by the thought of reaching out to your organization for input.

Creating an effective mission statement

For a mission statement to be effective, five characteristics must be met. These were developed by Dr. Russell L. Ackoff and detailed in his “Re-Creating the Corporation”4. Using Dr. Ackoff’s mission statement model, your EHS mission statement should:

1) Formulate the safety, health, and environment function’s ideals in a way that makes possible evaluation of progress toward them.

If your mission statement cannot be used to measure progress, then the statement is hollow and, at best, propaganda. Your statement should not be about what it will take to survive, but what the function will do to thrive.

2) Identify the means by which the function intends to pursue its ideals. Avoid expressing the input, such as preventing injuries, and focus on the output, such as sending employees home safely.

3) Speak to the uniqueness of the safety, health, and environment function within your organization. Why does the function exist?

4) State how the mission statement serves the interests of each class of stakeholders. Brainstorm who all your safety, health, and environment stakeholders are, and how the function will serve them. Stakeholders will include those who do not reside within your organization/corporation’s boundary.

5) Engage. If your mission statement is not exciting, challenging, and inspiring, it will fail to produce the change your function may be seeking.

An example

Mission Statement: A seamless EHS system that integrates, enables, and installs the core EHS competency to successfully make chemicals, win in business, and sustain our communities.

Philosophies: EHS is a source of revenue. EHS is a source of pride. People who have resources and the power to be in compliance, will be the people responsible for EHS.

Objectives: All business people and project team members know what EHS questions to ask and when to ask them. The EHS professional role is an enabler, teacher and consultant to the line organizations, while creating new EHS knowledge and understanding the implications for the business. All operations team and project team members are capable, have ownership of, and are motivated to carry out the EHS function.

Goals: Grow profit by enabling faster introduction of new products and processes via shorter EHS approval cycle time — minimum of 30-percent reduction in cycle time. The new EHS system must be rapidly deployable and fully implemented at all plant sites within 12 months from approval to start. The EHS system will deliver the lowest level of EHS knowledge needed for operations and project team members to do their job.  All knowledge will be delivered in a user-friendly and timely manner.


1  Go here for an interesting take on political slogans: http://www.taglineguru.com/takemysloganplease.html.

2  Alpha Natural Resources. http://www.alphanr.com/about/Pages/mvv.aspx. Our Mission, Vision, Values.

3  Volkswagen AG. Sustainability Report 2014. Accessed from www.sustainbilityreport2014.volkswagenag.com on April 24, 2016. 

4  Ackoff. R.L. 1999. Re-Creating the Corporation - A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century. Oxford University Press. New York, NY.