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Three Creative Ways Manufacturers Can Accelerate EHS and ESG Programs

Feb. 14, 2024
An attitude of “think globally, act locally” is critical to successful implementation of ESG agendas.

For professionals operating in the manufacturing industry, today’s globally connected environment translates to unique challenges when it comes to building and implementing effective EHS (environment, health and safety) programs. Specialists in this sector know first-hand that monitoring and reporting on progress is becoming even more difficult given the complexity of regulatory compliance, geographically dispersed operations, and increasingly intricate supply chains. All of these factors introduce potential hurdles that can disrupt the success of an EHS program, and related ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals, even for the most well-resourced and well-intentioned organizations.

As demands for greater social justice and environmental accountability grow from customers, investors and employees alike, EHS and ESG professionals in particular are recognizing the importance of adopting digital solutions to manage and report on programs. Organizations seeking to manage their EHS performance effectively are moving towards comprehensive digital solutions to address transparency and accountability more efficiently. The effective integration of these tools gives manufacturers an opportunity to more quickly identify emerging problems and proactively manage them. Think of it as creating a single, all-encompassing source of information that is no longer restricted to paper processes—a hub that facilitates transparency, insights, enhanced compliance and ultimately improves performance.

Using digital EHS systems, companies can work towards achieving net-zero emissions and other prominent ESG goals in response to rising public and internal demands for more sustainable operations. However, even when a company has fully digitized its monitoring and reporting efforts, it isn’t always easy to know how to apply specific tactics that will encourage individual accountability in support of achieving larger organizational EHS and ESG goals. Here are three creative ways that mid-sized and large manufacturers can integrate ESG into EHS initiatives and accelerate the adoption of those efforts across an organization.

1. Utilize tools that a wide range of stakeholders can use and understand.

There is no doubt that centralizing data for ESG measurement and EHS programs offers a better single-source of truth and in doing so could catalyze changes more efficiently. While EHS professionals may be well-versed in data-rich, complex analytic tools, getting a company’s frontline workers and extended teams into the workflow can prove to be complicated. Results from digital-first tools are largely based on how well all parties utilize a given solution.

So, the key to optimizing a system like this for an organization is to ensure it can be easily used and understood by a wide range of stakeholders. This will lead to greater adoption, enable cleaner data input, and offer often unexpected opportunities to dissect EHS and ESG data in one place. Systems that can offer accurate, comprehensive, current, and clear information and insights to stakeholders outside of EHS have exponential value when it comes to measurement, management and even marketing.

Finance teams can use the same tools to evaluate suppliers and establish better business strategies and budgets with supporting data in mind. Human resource teams can use these same tools to assess the impact of health and wellness programs and guide the development of future programs. Communications and marketing teams can explore the data to identify opportunities for organizational promotion. Board members and key investors can see progress in real-time. Some organizations with accessible tools even give direct system access to external auditors, which eases and speeds certification and compliance evaluations.

2. Measure and manage outcomes at the local level.

Empower local teams by providing a range of ESG organizational goals and encourage local facilities that may already be active on specific EHS fronts to focus on areas where they are optimally positioned to succeed.

While multi-site manufacturers may set company-wide ESG goals, individual facilities that already monitor compliance around environmental, safety, or other traditional EHS metrics are well suited to contribute that existing data to programs that are more cross-functional ESG-EHS areas of focus. For example, a facility that has historically tracked wastewater for environmental compliance reasons is ideally suited to contribute that data and to encourage employee-level behavioral “wins” to ESG programs focused on water conservation.

Also, by letting regional teams identify a few key areas to focus on, companies can open up untapped opportunities for progress. In one example of this approach, a global manufacturing company set facilities up for success by offering a baseline environmental management system audit and then providing a continuous improvement manager to each location for unique local improvements on specific projects, which could then tie to the larger company-wide ESG metrics. By measuring progress using real-time digital tools, a local facility could prove that their small changes contributed to large organization-wide goals.

Using this approach, the global manufacturer in this example identified regional opportunities to focus on recycling and waste reduction. The combined local efforts translated to multiple facilities contributing to company programs that kept over 5,500 metric tons of waste from entering landfills across a single year.

In addition to facilitating meaningful contributions to enterprise-wide goals, this approach also empowers teams at all levels of the organization—from the field to the boardroom—and communicates a sense of individual responsibility and accountability through a grassroots approach.

3. Use gamification to activate employees as ESG “contestants.”

The larger and more distributed your operations are, the more critical it is to engage employees directly in ESG programs in ways that allow them to act as the organization’s keen eyes and ears across facilities. ESG educational “go-see” programs can introduce employees to sustainability “scavenger hunts” and can translate to ongoing searching for opportunities to conserve energy, reduce waste and save water (among other things).

Indeed, in 2022, one global manufacturer conducted 135 employee-driven sustainability scavenger hunts at locations around the world, and encouraged employees to engage in a gamified version of its programs. The organization’s employees were able to identify new opportunities as well as to document and report on changes to waste output which, based on data collected in their centralized digital solution, supported the conservation of 8.4 million kWh of electricity, 16 million liters of water, and kept 10,044 metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Activating teams at the local level in a game-like way can be especially effective for global organizations, and this kind of initiative ultimately checks two key ESG boxes at once. First, it helps identify opportunities for organizational improvement. Second, it simultaneously strengthens employee loyalty by giving them a greater role in shaping company ESG priorities and reinforcing for them the company’s commitment to responsible operations and corporate sustainability.

By using strategies like those described here, manufacturers are proving that “think globally, act locally” is critical to successful implementation of ESG agendas. While a majority of manufacturers are actively navigating the EHS regulatory landscape, many are still getting their footing when it comes to implementing programs in the world of ESG. From energy conservation and waste mitigation to professional development and employee well-being, companies that have systems in place to measure progress can begin to think creatively and find new ways to make real progress towards sustainability in its many forms.

Amanda Smith is vice president of solutions marketing & enablement at Cority, a provider of global enterprise EHS software.

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