We explain why having an environmental program that just "passes" isn't good enough anymore.
Remember back in college, when you could pass a class with a D? You could skip class, shirk out on responsibilities like studying, and instead focus on having a good time? When it came time for class you had that professor who you got along well with who always cut you a lot of slack and let you put in minimum effort to pass their class. Did you end up learning anything? Probably not. But who cares, you passed, got to live your own version of Animal House, and had a blast, right?!
What happened when you went from the 101 class to the 201 class. If your college experience was anything like mine, the next professor after that "easy" class always seemed to enjoy kicking some serious butt. They would nitpick everything about everything, and you were suddenly wishing you had paid attention. At the end of that semseter, you not only had to put in the time and effort needed just to pass, but you also had to essentially re-learn the basics again. Really makes you wish that 101 class was a bit tougher on you...
In our line of work, we see many customers treating their environmental program, or how they handle environmental regulatory compliance in a similar manner. Recently, we were working with an organization that had just gotten in some trouble. The upper management realized there needed to be changes made, since when talking to some of the lower level managers we'd hear things like
- This environmental crap doesn't make me money and our inspector cuts us a lot of slack so who cares?
- We don't ever get in trouble, we must be doing things correctly now.
- We don't pollute any water, and these NPDES permits are a waste of time!
- We have an environmental guy on-staff but we've never seen him. I guess this stuff isn't important.
- We can get away with the bare minimum so that's good enough for us.
- Our inspector told us we passed! That's great, right?
Is there anyone readnig this that would be happy to know their kid passed a class with a D? I know that when I told my folks during college I almost failed they used some choice words to threaten me to get my act together.
Why companies need more than just a passing environmental program.
I know what you're thinking, the environment doesn't impact our bottom line, so it's not going to be a huge driving factor in the company.
You're dead wrong.
Think about companies that are embracing the environment and using it as a driving factor in building business. How many "green" products do you see in WalMart or Home Depot? How many car manufacturs are not only describing how fuel effecient their vehicles are, but how environmentally friendly their processes are, like Subaru for example.
A company like Subaru knows they could build cars like everyone else, but by talking about how they go above and beyond, they've positioned themselves as an industry leader when it comes to reliable vehicles and a trusthworthy company.
First - The government has set the bar really low.
In fact, their bar is ridiculously low. Don't think that just living up to "government standards" is the top of the line. It isn't! This is the pass fail mentality. If you're just doing what the government asks of you, you're passing with a D-
We see a ton of operations that embrace this mentality. In almost every instance, they either have issues with compliance and are losing market or industry share to larger, savvier organizations. The reason is if you're barely getting by, that means you're about one step away from failing. Fines, penalties, bad publicity, and more.
Organizations that were previously dealing with an inspector who cut them a lot of slack are now dealing with younger, savvier government employees (or worse, 3rd party environmental groups) who are throwing the book at them for being out of compliance for years. There's always that one company that makes the news for a giant fine from the local, state, or federal government because they were completely out of compliance. Do you want to be the next headline?
Second - People are fed up with barely getting by.
Who? The people. Everyone. If you haven't noticed, it's not 1967 anymore, there's a thing called the internet. Millenials and yuppies can look you up, find out what you do and don't do, check out your record, and cause a real stink if they want, all from their home computer on a Friday night.
I can easily pull of the environmental records of companies around me (for free, by the way) and learn what they are or aren't doing. I can look at aerials of their sites and operations. I can use street views to see what your site looks like from the road. I'm not the only one who's realized this folks!
Within many of the regulations that aply to your operation is language that lets anyone, yes, anyone, sue you. It could be the Sierra Club, the PTA, a single person, ANYONE. If someone or something believes you aren't following environmental laws, they sue you, and it becomes a big public stink. As someone who's been invovled on industry's side of some of these lawsuits, when they start saying you didn't do X, Y, and Z, and they're right, companies start getting their checkbooks out.
Trust me, although you might be getting by with your old buddy inspector from the government, others aren't buying it anymore.
Third - The government isn't doing a good job at all.
I don't care if you're a Republican, Democrat, Indepenent, whatever, the cold hard truth is the government does a terrible job enforcing environmental regulations. It doesn't matter what political party is in charge of whatever branch of government, from what myself, and others within our organization have seen over the last 25+ years, the regulators and inspectors are doing a bad job.
We've seen inspectors accept hand drawn site maps, ingore years of bad sampling data, give bad advice, and ask for things that are completely out of their jurisdication. Sorry to say that, and most of you reading this live and die by the benchmark set by your inspector. These government guys know it all, right? They said we're passing, so we're good, right?
They're government employees, need I say more? If they were really doing their job, do you think we'd be seeing >3rd party environmenta lawsuits going after private indusrty, and even government agencies themselves?! NO!
Just because you're okay with your inspector doesn't mean you're good. Passing with a D- is not a good thing.
This sounds like tree-hugger BS.
I've spoken to plenty of companies who say soemthing similar. So okay, how's this for you?
If you're just squeezing by, doing the bare minimum, your company is going to miss it. You're going to be left out, make less money, lose opportunities, be one of the have-nots.
Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. You're going to miss the opportunities that having a great environmental record provides your cometitors. You're going to miss out on those jobs or bidding on those contracts that require things like a superlative environmental record, 100% recycling of materials, documentable carbon footprint, ISO14001 EMS certification, sustainabilty reporting, etc.
And don't kid yourself, there's already plenty of jobs out there that are only open to the more environmentally sound companies. You can think they're for the big guys now, but give it a few years and you're going to see smaller scale projects require something above and beyond the D- your environmental program would score.
Pick up your kid or your grandkid, look them in the eye, and let them know your business stopped being relavant because you couldn't adopt with the times. Not only did you ingore the changing environmental landscape and brush off regulations, you hurt your company's finances because you decided "nah, this stuff is BS".
How well did that work out for companies like Sears? They did the bare minimum, ignored change, and now they're just about out of business. Customers who wanted better went somewhere that offered them a better choice.
How well did the kids that just skated by and graduated with D's end up doing. Most of the kids I know who barely passed aren't doing so well these days.
Okay, so I get preachy every now and then. That's because I am passionate about what I do. But I'm also passionate about you, your company, your future, and your children's world because one day it'll be my kids world as well. If my kids can't grow up surfing and swiming and spending time boating like I did, I'm going to be pretty pissed.
You can have your cake and eat it too.
It's not hard to get a D.
It takes some work to get a C.
If you want a B, better get to it.
If you want an A, it's going to require a lot of effort.
Get going now. There's a bright future ahead for those that grasp it. And it's not going to cost a fortune, require more staff than you have, it's not only belong to big companies, etc., etc., etc.
You can do it. You're part of the program. But doing the bare minimum, being marginally okay, meeting "government standards", isn't going to cut it. You cannot keep skating by with a D if you expect your company to grow and prosper.
Think back to college. Who was responsible for your grades? Someone else? The government? Your "staff"? No, only you. Same here, the choice is yours. You can squeak by, with a D. Or you can excel. It's up to you.