Safety 2011: Incorporating Safety Into Sustainability

June 15, 2011
Only a day after the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability was launched at Safety 2011 in Chicago, ASSE VP of Professional Affairs Thomas F. Cecich told conference attendees that safety should play a much bigger role in the sustainability movement.

Sustainability is here to stay, Cecich stressed. It’s not a fad or a passing trend. In fact, sustainability already is embedded in the financial community and is being driven by investment organizations. Safety professionals, however, still need to find their place in this movement.

“We need to step up and enter into this discussion of sustainability,” Cecich told safety professionals. “Our message ought to be: Whatever claim an organization wants to make about being sustainable, they can’t do it unless they’re safe.”

Strides in Sustainability

According to Cecich, when ASSE recognized that the safety world wasn’t a significant part of the sustainability debate, the society set out to change that. ASSE recently established a Sustainability Task Force to raise awareness of the importance of workplace safety and health in the business community; add recognition to the EHS profession as a voice of sustainability; and add value to those implementing safety and health sustainability in their organizations.

Additionally, June 13 marked the launch of Center for Safety and Health Sustainability, a joint effort of ASSE, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the U.K.-based Institution of Occupational Safety Health (IOSH).

The Center will help define how EHS professionals contribute to organizations’ long-term sustainability; will serve as a resource in addressing global sustainability policies; will educate and advocate the importance of occupational health and safety in social responsibility; and will act as an organizational stakeholder of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a network-based organization that pioneered the world’s widely used sustainability reporting framework.

“We want to raise the bar, influence the way safety and health performance is measured and reported,” Cecich said. “We want to be the authority as to what constitutes a sustainable safety and health program.”

Developing Guidelines

“Integrated reporting is the evolution of reporting,” said Mike Wallace, director of GRI Focal Point USA. “We’re starting to see more and more companies report sustainability information in their annual reports … This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

GRI operates with the mission to make sustainability reporting standard practice by providing guidance and support to organizations. The most current, third-generation guidelines were released in March and can be accessed here. GRI now is working on G4, the next version of the guidelines.

While GRI has been growing since 1999, many people still aren’t familiar with it, particularly those in the United States. On the global scale, Wallace said, the United States is “fairly behind on this reporting.” GRI finds that internationally, about 45 percent of reporting comes from Europe, 14 percent from North America and 14 percent from South America.

“This is not going away,” Wallace said. “Now is your chance to get involved and help us develop the next round of guidelines – G4.”

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