Innovation for EHS operations and environmental compliance isn’t just about implementing enhanced technology like the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS). At this point, it’s about automation and digital agility, process efficiency, and smarter ways of working and solving problems. All of which are marks of digital transformation, or what we’ll call EHS digital transformation.
And right now, with SaaS and innovative new software for compliance management and reporting, the EHS industry is moving more squarely into the crosshairs of an EHS digital transformation than it ever has. (Some in the industry have termed this EHS 4.0.)
Yet being in the crosshairs is one thing. Changing the mindset of how things have “always been done” is another.
In EHS and compliance reporting terms, such a mindset means lots of spreadsheets and copy-paste work.
But some people are just creatures of habit, right? So don’t mess with their routine.
In tech adoption circles, this is nothing new. The role innovation plays in any organization has always required new mindsets. Or at least open minds, which the EHS sector is slowly accepting. Particularly in an EHS digital transformation strategy, companies and their EHS teams must be willing to try new technologies and tools and processes — and then actually use them. Call it engagement overcoming resistance. (SaaS faced the same resistance more than 20 years when it first launched.)
Younger generations get this. They’ve been raised on technology and mobile devices and can’t wait for the next big thing. Older generations, however? They might still need convincing. As users who sometimes don’t take to new technology willingly, the trick is letting these older generations see how much easier it makes their workday. Which is where EHS digital transformation makes an impact.
Imagine this for EPCRA Tier II and other reporting
First, ask the question: Do you really enjoy using spreadsheets and 10 different systems to manage data? No. The process is disjointed and tedious. It’s time consuming.
So what if your EHS operations adopted a SaaS end-to-end platform for compliance and reporting and put automation to work? You could create digital replicas of every spreadsheet and make data input and output intuitive and fast. No more copy-paste, and no more spreadsheets for that matter.
Collecting new data would also become a real-time function. Just think. With critical data for EPCRA and RCRA requirements, Tier II reports, incident reports and so on always at your fingertips, you could establish historical EHS compliance trends automatically.
The improvement for reporting forms and submissions — for all 50 states — could be similar. But again, first consider the hurdles. Namely, the biggest hurdles are state and local agencies that have their own non-standardized portals and inconsistent reporting forms and procedures. No stress, though. Your end-to-end compliance platform houses the forms and tells you when they’re due, in what format, and exactly where and how to submit them.
EHS reporting processes are streamlined, because SaaS, your compliance platform and EHS digital transformation all work together to compliment them.
Begin the wave of change at the top
Organizations create a culture. They establish an environment for the technologies that best suit their business. But mindsets can be hard to change. For many EHS compliance teams, they aren’t just in the crosshairs of technology and EHS digital transformation… they’re at an organizational crossroads of change itself.
(According to a 2020 Pulse Survey of executives by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 63% of respondents ranked “cultural challenges” in their organization as the biggest impediment to digital transformation efforts.)
Especially for the adoption of EHS digital transformation in an organization, the wave of change must start at the top. In fact, leaders at the executive level of many companies are already altering how they view compliance technology initiatives — how to fund them, plan them, implement them, and measure their success.
Also to their significant credit, more companies are elevating EHS compliance programs (and their underlying technologies) all the way to a Board of Directors level for guidance. Hexion, which is known for its Responsible Chemistries, is one example. (Disclosure: Hexion is an Encamp client.)
In 2019, Hexion recognized that its “environmental, health and safety performance is vitally important to the value and long-term success of our businesses.” So they created an Environmental, Health and Safety Committee as an extension of their board. Now, the committee embeds EHS champions in business teams and functions to “facilitate the integration of life-cycle thinking” across their operations.” Kudos, Hexion.
Engage the right people, talent, and leadership
It’s said that people, and not technology, drive the pursuit of innovation. Effective leaders understand this “end-user era” and making work lives easier for their employees. They create a culture conducive to new and creative thinking, with innovation fostered by workers on the front lines. Good leaders also know when to get out of the way.
These three guidelines apply to any initiative for innovation. But their timing is particularly useful for cloud technologies, SaaS, EHS digital transformation, and compliance management.
- Focus. Leaders should see the tools their workers use as a means to an end, not the end in itself. But while supporting new technology ideas, leaders must also keep their eyes on higher business objectives and make sure employees understand the goals of the organization. How a leader plans an innovation strategy, measures success, and inspires their teams in line with the business’s objectives requires continuous focus.
- Prioritization. IT never stops. Leaders must therefore be able to prioritize innovation amid competing IT (and EHS) projects, since “the urgent tends to push out the important.” Because innovation activities are best achieved when they break down silos and involve the cross-functional power of the organization, prioritization becomes even more important to keep various teams on the right track. This includes EHS compliance management teams.
- Automation. Innovation is easier when infrastructure is not an inhibitor. Make sure people are exposed to automation whenever possible to help speed the innovation process. Cloud technologies and digital transformation are notorious for automation.
Just as critical as executive leadership is getting the right talent in place to lead innovation efforts at the development level. “Talent” means persons having both the right skills and the mindset to move innovation agendas forward. This is where EHS champions come in.
Realistically, most persons on EHS teams aren’t usually tasked with deciding innovation initiatives. EHS managers and specialists might lend input, although technology investment decisions are typically made at the director and executive levels. However, many front-line EHS workers do have technical knowledge, problem-solving skills and communications skills that can apply to a final call.
Tops among these ways is to empower EHS staff by expanding their decision-making authority. You know, allow them to determine when to introduce a new SaaS tool or EHS digital transformation process and decide which users should test it. When a company does take this route, it’s important reduce risk aversion by supporting failures and successes alike.
Don’t be afraid to take risks
“To promote innovation, encouraging risk in a controlled environment, and making mistakes, is a good thing.” “Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process, because from failure comes learning, iteration, and the adoption of new concepts.” “Almost all innovations are the result of learning from failures.”
We could go on. But the one sure thing about adopting new technologies is that it requires testing new ideas… and taking risks. It requires a culture — and a collective mindset — that accepts failure as readily as success. As organizations estimate their investment toward innovation, they must weigh associated risks accordingly. To then keep risks in check, they must test new ideas and technologies rigorously. SaaS and EHS digital transformation enable organizations and their EHS teams to do this.
Where to start
- Prioritize your list of EHS compliance problems to be solved and get executive level buy-in. (EPCRA Tier II reporting anyone?)
- Tailor your innovations to the toughest issues. It’s easier to work downward from there.
- Aim for solution “quick hits” and reasonably expected outcomes, say a better way to gather and circulate data and do away with spreadsheets.
- Have a plan to drive and measure improvements. SaaS solutions can be an improvement right out of the gate.
- Estimate the timeframe of your organization’s EHS digital transformation process. 2 years? 5 years? Shorter?