Stay true to your plan

9th March 2017

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Michael Shields

How materiality assessment can help.

Every so often, the environmental market goes into a tailspin. Very uncomfortable for most; extremely unsettling for juniors and new starters; and potentially a business opportunity or unique selling point for sophisticated players. But the latter are few.

The latest tailspin is due to several factors. To cite an IEMA theme, we are in the ‘perfect storm’ of change, demand and increased scrutiny. What to do? Throwing in the towel is not an option. Neither is hiding away.

My advice to clients is always the same: know your business and be confident in what you do. You are probably a lot better than you think you are and probably have a much higher level of understanding, perhaps without the formal training or letters after your name. In short, it does not matter if you are the chief financial officer or head of marketing, perhaps with sustainability as one of your roles, or a seasoned practitioner with more than ten years’ experience in environment and health and safety (EHS).

The key word here for March is ‘materiality’. This is a particularly useful part of the GRI G4 guidance. For a firm foundation in EHS issues, assess what is material – what affects your business and what do people care about? Consult diverse stakeholders – it will be surprising what you learn and it is often an enlightening experience. You may find, for example, that operating an ethical business practice and employee wellbeing are just as important as safety considerations.

When material issues have been established build your targets, plans and operating procedures around them. This approach is always credible and you are more likely to get stakeholder buy-in and achieve your goals. Try not to copy and try not to over-promise. Sometimes, EHS goals are reached in stages; there is nothing wrong with that.

Quantitative goals may be a second stage after initial risk assessment. The business case for sustainability is the third stage but arguably the most important. Protecting the environment and conserving resource use will, in the short and long term, save you money.

Whatever the approach, my March message is simple: do not be distracted by the ‘environmental noise’ out there. Stay true to your plan – document it, implement it, measure it and get your teams on board so that everybody shares the same environmental goals and is equally rewarded for achieving them.


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