Sustainability blog

Sustainability blog

Safety meets sustainability in the 21st century workplace

The term “sustainability” takes on different form and meaning, depending upon who’s involved in the discussion. For some businesses the term is often identified with “being green”, while others take a much more value-added systems based perspective (including responsible environmental and social practices and financial governance grounded in key social and environmental values).

In traditional terms, using the 1987 Bruntland Commission definition, sustainability means “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (UN, 1987). More companies, large and small and in between, are striving for balance among economic progress, social responsibility, and environmental protection. This has been proven by the extraordinary growth in corporate initiatives focused on improving the corporate “triple-bottom-line”, which can markedly improve an organization’s competitive advantage.

More recently, there has been a missing piece in the sustainability “lexicon”, namely safety, that is getting attention and gaining its rightful place in how organizations perceive and practice sustainability.

Meeting of like minds
The Center for Safety & Health (CSHS) was launched in 2010 by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), and Institution of Occupational Health & Safety to provide a framework for sustainability as it specifically related to health and safety. The CSHS felt that there were opportunities to standardize the body of knowledge and perform additional research to leverage health and safety community expertise and align with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Together, the CSHS and GRI launched mutual efforts in 201, designed to review occupational, health, and safety indicators in future GRI iterations. As a result, the latest G4 guidelines provide additional focus on two key areas, those being supply chain accountability, and working conditions and safety. Further, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) defines sustainability: “This includes the responsibility to ensure that the protection of human life and the safety, health and well-being of workers, customers, and neighboring communities are primary considerations in any business endeavor.”

As sustainability has become common practice in the corporate world and along product value chains, it has evolved to reflect a balance of responsible environmental practices, responsible social practices, and a safe workplace for employees. Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP, executive director of global corporate safety and health for Johnson Controls, and Kathy A. Seabrook, CSP, CMIOSH (UK), EurOSHM, of Global Solutions Inc., told a session at Safety 2013 that sustainability is not a “trend”. It’s becoming a business practice driven by the investment community.

As they also noted “Executives are increasingly recognizing that long-term economic growth is not possible unless that growth is socially and environmentally sustainable. Striving for balance among economic progress, social responsibility and environmental protection, usually referred to as the ‘triple bottom line’ approach, can contribute to improving an organization’s competitive advantage.”

However, research published by the CSHS in February 2015 compared GRI indicators with current OSHA reporting topics. The data suggests that despite the connectivity to the GRI indicators, there still remains much to do in terms of how organizations reporthealth and safety performance. As the data suggests, most organizations tend to report lagging indicators (like injury and illness numbers) as opposed to the types of leading indicators (training hour counts per employee, % of work locations that have implemented an occupational safety health management system that meets recognized standards), each designed to assure that organizations improve overall safety performance and organizational sustainability.

Source: Current Practices in Occupational Health & Safety Sustainability Reporting”, CSHS, February 2015
Source: Current Practices in Occupational Health & Safety Sustainability Reporting”, CSHS, February 2015

Safety’s front seat role in sustainability

According to Ms. Seabrook in the 2013 EHS Today article,” EHS and sustainability have similar objectives, such as:

  • Eliminating incidents, waste and overall losses
  • Improving operational excellence
  • Conducting business in a way that protects “people, planet, profit and principles.”

Many organizations with which my BSI colleagues and I work insightfully perceive safety as a cultural organizational value, central to sustaining the workplace. Companies are integrating safety into project planning, equipment and product design, work practices, and organizational change management. Leading companies are taking that a step further, by integrating safety into lean-based operational practices, and improving ergonomics, reducing waste while reducing job hazards and risks, and improving operational efficiencies.

Organizations, especially those that are small to medium sized, are progressively moving toward removing safety, environmental, and human resources from silos and integrating each with the other. This evolution is demonstrating how organizations that embed safety and environmental thinking into sustainability initiatives (rather than bolting safety on) are reaping the benefits of a safer workplace, reduced accident rates, and improved safety awareness.

When businesses invest in promoting the mantra of “all injuries are preventable,” they are sending a clear message to all employees that there are standards expected of anyone working inside those walls. Everyone bears responsibility, and embedding safety and sustainability within the highest of organizational values offers a clear pathway to operational excellence.

By David Meyer, a Senior Consultant in the Hillsboro, OR, office of BSI EHS Services and Solutions.

Lean is green

In their quest to incorporate increasingly efficient, lean, waste-reducing practices into their manufacturing operations, companies (from smaller operations to large multi-national organizations) are achieving – by design or by accident – substantial improvements in their environmental performance as well. Driven by the need to improve productivity and reduce costs, companies are discovering that in fact “lean” and “green” strategies are not just compatible, but when fully integrated serve to enhance a wide range of business objectives up, down and throughout their supply chains.

In this first article of the series – Lean, Green Manufacturing Intersects with Sustainable Supply Chain Management to Create Value – EORM Consultant David Meyer explains why an efficient or “lean” manufacturing process is the essence of sustainability and therefore by its very nature, green. The elimination of waste and the creation of added value for customers – key components of a lean strategy – are entirely consistent with sustainability and the “Lean and Green” business ethic.

Beyond just lean and green is the point at which they intersect with supply chain. Meyer argues that even without specifically targeting environmental outcomes, lean efforts have been demonstrated to yield substantial environmental benefits (pollution prevention, waste reduction and reuse opportunities etc.). However, because environmental wastes and pollution are not the primary focal points, these gains may not be maximized in the normal lens of a lean initiative.

By looking deep into their value chain (upstream suppliers, operations and end of life product opportunities) with a ‘green’ or environmental lens, he continues, manufacturers can eliminate even more waste in the manufacturing process, and realize some potentially dramatic savings.

A green focus in supply chain management, Meyer explains, requires working with upstream suppliers and downstream customers, performing analyses of internal operations and processes, reviewing environmental considerations in the product development process, and looking at extended stewardship opportunities across the life-cycle of one or more intermediate or final products.


David Meyer is a Senior Consultant in the Hillsboro, OR, office of EORM.

“Green” energy storage growing in California

California is taking some giant “green” steps toward increasing the State’s installed energy storage capacity putting the industry on track for tremendous growth. The State sees energy storage as one tool to better manage the electric grid, integrate a growing amount of solar and wind, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy storage encompasses many solutions, from simple and proven methods like pumped water storage, to exotic ones like high-speed flywheels and superconducting magnets. It can also take many different forms: large batteries, pumped hydro facilities, compressed-air energy storage, and others. But the “cool new kid on the block” is actually battery storage, thanks to its relatively small size, modularity and rapidly declining costs.

Landmark legislation, AB 2514, signed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and designed to increase the use of large-scale energy storage systems utilities, includes targets to procure grid-connected energy storage systems as soon as 2015. The bill is one of the nation’s first laws on energy storage systems and is expected to benefit producers of intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind power.

As a follow up to the bill, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently set a target for California investor owned utilities to procure 1.325 GW of cost effective energy storage by 2020. The target, which is the largest of its kind worldwide, is set to increase California’s installed energy storage capacity six fold from its current 35 MW (excluding large-scale pumped hydro storage). 

Energy storage might well be the next growth area within California’s clean tech sector, and this year’s California Green Innovation Index includes a special feature highlighting that economic opportunity.

California leads the nation with the most capacity installed and the highest number of small and large battery projects. According to research reports from CalCharge, there are about 130 companies today having some role in energy storage, with about two-thirds in Northern California centered on the San Francisco Bay Area, and one-third down south in Los Angeles and San Diego. New York State has substantial momentum, and Michigan has a cluster tilted toward transportation, but neither is as large as California.

However, even with all this installed capacity, the market remains largely untapped. Having set a new target, the waiting game begins with the hope that new venture capital funded companies bring in new technologies, and that more efficient processes – using lessons learned from solar industry – will result in significant cost reductions. Only after the cumulative costs of renewable generation and storage match the cost of the baseload power, will renewable energy be on equal footing.

By Deepa Ramachandra, Consultant Specialist, EORM

Are you ready for the “LEED Ergonomics”?

Are you ready for the LEED Ergonomics?

Fifteen years ago the U.S. Green Building Council launched the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Over the past decade, the system has transformed the building market. In 2008 LEED included a point for a “comprehensive ergonomics strategy” under the Innovation in Design category, further recognizing the link between ergonomics and sustainability. The 2012 revisions propose to move the ergonomics credit to the Indoor Environmental Quality Category. This development has been fundamentally changing how ergonomics is viewed and raising consumer awareness.

The LEED system focuses on five categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. Besides those, there are additional categories for some specific types of building. Within these categories, variable credits can be obtained. For example, one point can now be obtained for designs that promote good ergonomics. The requirement for this point involves the development and implementation of “a comprehensive ergonomics strategy that will have a positive impact on human health and comfort when performing daily activity for at least 75% of Full Time Equivalent building users”. Based on the total number of points earned, a building project then can be awarded one of four levels of LEED certification.

The LEED ergonomics credit is intended “to promote healthy, comfortable, and productive work by designing the workplace to accommodate its users”. Adding an ergonomics requirement to the LEED system is a natural extension because they are achieving the same goal. Furthermore, there are correlations between the traditional LEED categories and ergonomics credit. For instance, a poorly fitted chair will be replaced sooner with an ergonomics featured chair, thereby increasing the material cost.

The USGBC has recognized the value of workplace ergonomics as a proactive endeavor, which will profoundly change the acceptance and adoption by many organizations. It is now up to us to support the action of the USGBC, and to assist clients with developing great workplace ergonomics programs.

Hedge, Alan. “The Sprouting of “Green” Ergonomics.” Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 51 (2008): n. pag. Print.

“Green Events.” USGBC New York Upstate Chapter – N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.

What Kind of Party? N.d. Photograph. Green Building Labels 101: An Inhabitat Guide to Third Party Environmental Certifications Read More: Green Building Labels 101: An Inhabitat Guide to Third Party Environmental Certifications | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building. Jill Fehrenbacher. Web.

By Andrew Zhang, MS, AEP


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