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Unite EHS and DfE at Tech Companies

Pamela Gordon Posted by Pamela Gordon, CEO, Technology Forecasters Inc..

Pamela J. Gordon is CEO of Technology Forecasters Inc., keynoter on profitable sustainability, and co-developer of ProductDesign21.

Unite EHS and DfE at Tech Companies

Now follow TFI CEO Pamela J. Gordon and her new Antea Group colleagues on LinkedIn and Twitter.

At one month into TFI’s and Antea Group’s alliance — as we rapidly introduce TFI clients to Antea Group’s deep EHS (environment, health, and safety) expertise and Antea Group’s clients to TFI’s product DfE (design for environment) expertise — it’s clear to see that Tech Companies that have unified EHS and DfE leadership enjoy business and environmental advantages over those that still manage each in separate silos.

I’ll share examples of “unified” versus “in silos” practices, but first you might wonder, why were EHS and product DfE ever apart in the first place?

EHS regulations came about decades before the terms “eco-design” and “DfE” were widely used.
In 1970, USA President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency to standardize, monitor, and enforce national guidelines. These were “end-of-pipe” fixes to pollution, rather than strategically designing products and processes to prevent emitting pollutants. Companies established EHS departments to comply with the regulations, and in some cases to meet even higher standards at their facilities.

By the 1990s, most large European Tech companies had begun focusing on product design as an early driver for the conservation of resources — materials, manufacturing steps, transportation, use phase, and post-customer phase. And by the late 1990s large Japanese companies caught up to and embraced “Design-for-Environment” principles in their products.

When I wrote the book Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment, each of the 17 Tech Companies I chose to profile had compelling evidence of reducing costs through reducing environmental impacts in processes and products. But it was the European companies that had been at product DfE the longest. In 2000, an environmental manager from Philips in The Netherlands told me that conserving resources only in facilities and not through product design was “old fashioned.” European companies were the first to integrate EHS and product sustainability leadership.

It wasn’t until 2006 that the RoHS Directive forced global Tech companies serving customers in Europe to restrict a list of substances from their products. And because product-substance restriction was new for most USA companies, the regulations were pushed to Supply-Chain and Manufacturing Operations managers: The start of a new silo.

Unified EHS and DfE Leadership
At HP, Inc. — as explained by Global Head of Product and Service Sustainability and Compliance Dr. Judy Glazer — the global leaders of EHS, product/service stewardship, privacy and supply-chain responsibility, and sustainability innovation/giving all plan, lead, and execute collaboratively. The integration is so tight that the four come together as if to make one Chief Sustainability Officer. The collaboration includes HP’s employees responsible for product group strategies and the ink business; an upcoming post will cover Instant Ink and others of HP’s Circular Economy solutions.

Another large Tech client strives to bring EHS and product-design principles together to maximize environmental and human health and safety at their manufacturing suppliers.

Yet-to-Unify EHS and DfE Examples
One of my new colleagues at Antea Group took me aside after some client meetings: “I’m realizing that many product-design and supply-chain managers really don’t know anything about EHS.”

Likewise, I noticed when preparing for an upcoming workshop that some EHS managers understand little about product DfE, and are quick to defer to sustainability and product-stewardship managers they hardly know.

“Unite! As we have.”
EHS and DfE silos are understandable given the history summarized above, but they can sub-optimize the company’s product safety, competitiveness, and revenue; manufacturing worker health and safety; overall environmental conservation; and cost efficiency.

TFI’s and Antea Group’s coming together to integrate their respective DfE and EHS expertise is a microcosm for how the global Tech Industry can unify DfE and EHS leadership. The result will be better products, safer workplaces, greater environmental protection, and a stronger economy.

Step One: Show this article to your CEO, who can have the vision and ability to unite EHS and DfE, such as under a Chief Sustainability Officer or other senior executive. And realize that the TFI-Antea Group unified teams are here to help.