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SLC 2022 Preview: Developing a Sustainability Strategy

Sept. 14, 2022
Here’s what you need to know about environment, social and governance (ESG)—and how it could affect workplace safety.

In May, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced it was considering a proposal to include environment, social and governance (ESG) in investment disclosures.

But as more and more people talk about ESG in theory, what does it mean in practice for safety professionals? While the answer may not yet be known, possibilities are emerging, so now is the time to get a handle on this somewhat nebulous yet all-encompassing concept.

EHS Today spoke with Jim Lane, global manager of EHS at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, about the company’s safety process and how ESG fits into the mix.

Lane will speak at the 2022 Safety Leadership Conference, being held in Cleveland from Oct. 18-20. Below is a preview of what to look forward to this fall.

EHS Today: How, when and why did Goodyear start on its ESG journey? What strategic goals is the company working toward?

Lane: Goodyear has been committed to responsible operations for decades. We printed our first environmental, health and safety report in 1996 and expanded the annual report’s scope to ESG in 2011.

Today, we have a wide range of ESG strategic goals, including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a commitment to all renewable energy in our facilities by 2040 and to be known as having the safest operations in the world. Additionally, we are making progress on previously stated goals of complete petroleum oil replacement in our products by 2040, and a tire made of 100% sustainable materials by 2030.

What are some lessons you have so far learned along the way?

Measure the right things. Metrics that reflect the strength of our system have proven the most meaningful.

Be transparent about performance, as that builds trust and confidence in results.

Create objectives that meet operations “where they are,” or where current capabilities are, while laying out the path to where you want them to be.

Don’t try to do it all within your function. Integrate into how the company does business, across functions, to be the most successful.

ESG encompasses a broad range of goals and ideas, ones that aren't owned by any single person or office in an organization. What challenges and opportunities does that pose?

Defining what good looks like, aligning the organization to “good” and executing a strategy that drives accountability while recognizing great performance. As a leader, you’ll need to take an active role in aligning the organization to support the work ahead and figure out where you can leverage successes at a small scale (pilots) to bring the larger organization along.

What role does ESG have in safety today, and what do you think that role will look like in the next decade?

ESG will play an ever-increasing role in how safety departments structure themselves, use technology and engage in measuring system maturity over the next decade. As organizations work to operate in a socially responsible manner, we can expect shareholders to increasingly look to invest where risk is controlled or mitigated.

Broader transparency in reporting and using technology to gather, meet and provide assurance of ESG requirements will become the norm for organizations that don’t want to get left behind their competition.

What's one place, step or aspect of ESG you recommend that safety professionals get started on?

Start by learning what is already underway in your organization. If your environmental, health and safety team is separate from the sustainability one, get connected and learn as much as you can about their goals and objectives and how your team can contribute.

Outside your organization, there are multiple free resources you can access to learn more about ESG expectations, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). This is an independent and international organization that helps companies begin their ESG work using a standardized system of measures along the way.

How are ESG and total worker health related or connected?

I believe total worker health is an outcome of ESG. While not every EHS professional has the opportunity to work broadly across different functions, especially early in their career, learning more about ESG helps EHS professionals bridge the gap between the technical side of the business (design, compliance, chemical management, etc.) and the social side of the business (education, diversity, human rights, etc.), which is often harder to measure but can influence the long-term success of safety improvements.

What's one thing you hope attendees learn from your session at the Safety Leadership Conference?

That to support ESG, safety professionals must first understand what’s been done so far. [That means to look] where they are starting from and where they want their organization to go.

As you design your organization’s strategy, align stakeholders on that strategy and have a system in place to help you govern the process. That way, you’ll know that if you’ve succeeded, you’ll be far ahead of others still working to figure out where they connect.

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