CHANNEL SURFING: How green is the safety industry?
Is there safety in sustainability?
As much as global warming can fire up a debate, we see the role safety and health departments might play in corporate “greening” activity being debated now:
“If global warming, oops, climate change is occurring, for the life of me tell me what some CIH or CSP can do about it; other than some feel-good touchy-feely thing in the guise of Social Responsibility,” says an EHS consultant. “These topics are more suited for policymaker audiences and the last time I checked, CIHs and CSPs aren’t involved in policy development at this level.”
Says one industrial hygienist: “I’m not sure what EHS professionals can do, but as enlightened or active individuals, who happen to be EHS professionals, there should be many opportunities to promote, encourage, mandate, or affect ‘green’ change.”
Says Sharon Baker, CSP, safety, health and environmental engineering with Corning, Inc.’s Diesel Manufacturing Facility: “We recently looked at Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) applications for some of our new and existing facilities and not only does the potential exist to make buildings more comfortable (increased productivity and wellness), more attractive and lessen their impact on the environment, but money can be saved in the process through energy efficiency. The EHS role in an organization along with facility management can drive these ‘green changes’.”
A cautious climate
As with other issues, safety and health pros’ influence will vary operation by operation, according to skills, ambitions, connections and corporate culture. But they will be operating in this larger “climate” â€” U.S. business executives will move cautiously in the next few years in developing their environmental and energy management strategies.
Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Global Business Network, outlined four reasons in an interview published in a 2007 Ernst & Young (an accounting and investment consulting firm) report:
1 â€” The current public, political, and investor focus on clean technologies could be replaced by a newer, more urgent issue, such as war, a major economic downturn, or a disease outbreak.
2 â€” Significant technology breakthroughs are needed to reduce the cost of solar power; create better, safer and smaller nuclear power generation; develop lithium-ion batteries that might bring the electric car into widespread use, and in numerous other areas of the environmental market.
3 â€” Uncertainty about the depth and sustainability of the U.S. public’s support for sweeping, new environmental laws, regulations and lifestyle changes. As environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote recently in the magazine National Geographic, “Instead of routine air travel, we’d need to rebuild the country’s rail network; instead of building our houses farther apart, we’d need to build them closer together. We’d need to look a little more like western Europe, where residents use about half as much energy per capita as Americans.” States Schwartz: “Changing behavior will not happen overnight.”
4 â€” Uncertainty regarding the actual climate and environment effects the pubic will experience. If big environmental disasters unfold in the next few years, such as devastating floods, severe droughts, and monstrous hurricanes, public concern will accelerate. But if the next few years are cooler, driven by natural variability, will the public’s concern about climate change be sustained? So the question remains: does greater environmental awareness translate into greater environmental purchasing power?
â€” Dave Johnson, Editor