BEATTIE MCNEAL, MPH, CIH, is an EHS client manager and ESG advisor at Langan Engineering and Environmental Services.
LYDIA FENG, MS, CIH, is a project manager at Forensic Analytical Consulting Services (FACS) in Los Angeles, California. Lydia is a WELL AP, LEED Green Associate, and Fitwel Ambassador. MARY O’REILLY, PhD, CIH, CPE, FAIHA, is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Albany School of Public Health and chair of the AIHA Stewardship and Sustainability Committee. MANDIE KRAMER, MS, CIH, CSP, is a senior exposure scientist at ToxStrategies. LAURA ALLEN, MS, CIH, is a supervising health scientist and ESG advisor at Stantec.
Send feedback to The Synergist.
Connecting OEHS and Sustainability
The responsibilities in the practice of occupational and environmental health and safety professionals have evolved over the decades, growing from safety to include environmental concerns, product stewardship, and, more recently, sustainability. OEHS professionals’ ability to influence sustainability efforts depends on their organization’s maturity and commitment to sustainability, as well as their position in the organization. In recent years, the landscape for sustainability has shifted from commitments made at a corporate level to significant impacts on day-to-day operations.
IMPACT ON BUSINESS Organizations that report environmental, safety, and governance (ESG) performance include common safety metrics such as total recordable incident rate and standards that are intended to indicate the organization’s commitment to health and safety across the enterprise. ESG efforts may improve stakeholder and community perceptions of company performance. Product stewardship activities, worker well-being programs, and holistic health and safety initiatives enhance the organization’s reputation and positively affect worker health and safety. According to a recent survey of Millennials and Gen Z members, ESG performance is material to employers not only because it makes their business more resilient but because it helps them recruit and retain top talent. More than half of survey respondents said that they research an organization’s environmental impact and sustainability policies before accepting a job, and one in six indicated they changed jobs or sectors due to climate concerns.
The European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and California’s Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act are among the recently promulgated standards that have emissions and sustainability requirements. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also has pending disclosure regulations. In the U.S., SEC’s emissions requirements have prompted industry to take inventory of their climate impacts and quickly alter standard business practices. IHs are being asked to enter the fray.
In recent years, the landscape for sustainability has shifted from commitments made at a corporate level to significant impacts on day-to-day operations.
AIHA’S SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS AIHA’s involvement with human capital in the ESG arena goes back several decades. In the 1990s, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres) and the Global Reporting Index (GRI) focused on climate impacts and carbon reporting. AIHA members contributed to the development of the ISO 26000:2010 standard, which provides guidance on corporate social responsibility. AIHA participated on the Sustainability and Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which was established in 2011 to bring uniformity and transparency to environmental reporting used to guide financial investing. The Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), also established in 2011, was a joint effort of the American Association of Safety Professionals (ASSP), the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, AIHA, and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering to promote public disclosure of health and safety performance as part of sustainable business practices. The CSHS was dissolved in 2019 partly because its founding organizations believed that it had partially achieved its goals with the advent of the NIOSH Total Worker Health initiative.
The current AIHA Human Capital/ESG Task Force was established in April 2021 and published an excellent guidance document in 2023 (PDF). The goals of the Human Capital/ESG Task Force are to advise the AIHA Board of Directors, contribute to standards development, and increase the skills, knowledge, and abilities of OEHS professionals. Other strategic objectives include demonstrating an active role in influencing market developments in sustainability; educating AIHA members about developments in ESG and the connections between OEHS and ESG/sustainability; giving feedback on how key performance indicators should be focused on human health and well-being; and liaising with ESG rating bodies to promote transparency and uniformity.
The Stewardship and Sustainability Committee is working closely with the Human Capital/ESG Task Force and has the potential to work with the Climate Change Task Force to help AIHA members integrate the important concepts developed in these groups into the practice of industrial hygiene. The Stewardship and Sustainability Committee welcomes new members, and all are invited to join our committee meetings on the third Thursday of each month at 3:30 PM ET. For more information, contact Lydia Feng.
AIHA: “Human Capital and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG): A Primer for Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Professionals” (PDF, March 2024).
Deloitte: “Deloitte 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey Gives Employers Actionable Insights into Climate, Sustainability and Work/Life Balance.”
SynergistNOW: “ESG: Why You Need to Engage and Lead” (August 2023).