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With so much attention focused on going green and so little definition of exactly what that means, Phil La Duke of OE Learning shows why many firms find themselves trying to do too much without really having a concrete goal in mind or the ability to commit the necessary resources to achieve their goals.

Posted: August 11, 2010


At the time of this writing, as crude oil bleeds into the Gulf, tar balls wash up on beaches and the ubiquitous photo of an oil-soaked pelican reminds us how the environment cannot be taken for granted, it can be easy to lose perspective about creating an environmental management system.

An environmental management system can be as simple as a plan for complying with governmental regulations or as sweeping as one that integrates environmental consciousness into every element of how you do business. Knowing exactly where your organization needs to fall within that spectrum is key to creating an environmental plan.

The BP Gulf disaster could make one lose sight of the fact that the opposite of green is not evil. So much attention is focused on ?going green,? with so little definition of exactly what that term means, that many firms find themselves trying to do too much without really having a concrete goal in mind or the ability to commit the necessary resources to achieve their goals.

Developing an environmental plan requires you to ask yourself exactly what you want to accomplish. Are you looking to improve your compliance record by addressing some low hanging environmental fruit? Do you want to get ISO-14000 certification? Increase recycling? Improve the public?s perception of your company? Or maybe reduce your company?s carbon footprint because you believe it?s the right thing to do? These are all valid reasons for developing an environmental plan. But because the wrong environmental plan for your organization can be expensive, pointless, and frustrating, you must remember some very basic rules when creating your environmental plan.

It may seem gauche to use return on investment (ROI) as a justification for implementing or rejecting an environmental plan, but implementing an environmental plan means that you won?t be implementing something else with those resources, especially in these tight economic times. Committing resources to any project means there are fewer resources available for all other projects. In a business climate where only a select few projects can be approved, the payoff associated with committing precious resources will be closely scrutinized. A good environmental management system should show a return ? either in terms of cost savings or in cost avoidance ? and that can be tough to quantify.

Making the case that an environmental plan is necessary requires more than merely demonstrating why doing so is a good idea. You must prove that implementing your environmental plan is a better idea and more of a priority than the other initiatives being considered. In an economy where every penny counts and any expenditure requires tough economic choices, make certain that you have accurately and persuasively built a strong business case. Calculating a return is both very simple and yet misleadingly challenging: The value of the benefit minus the expenditure equals the return on investment.

The debate is raging over whether or not to continue a ban on offshore drilling. For those who make their living on fishing, tourism, or other occupations that rely on the cleanliness of the Gulf, continued drilling seems reckless and irresponsible. But for those who rely on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf, such as fabricators of components for offshore rigs, shutting down drilling is an intransigent over-reaction.

While it is tempting and even accurate to cite esoteric hidden costs associated with environmental issues, avoid making these unquantifiable costs a major part of your proposal. There?s nothing wrong with asking a question like ?what price do we put on being environmentally responsible?? If you ask the question, be prepared for an unpalatable answer.

I remember years ago when ISO-9000 was all the rage. Quality professionals often created elaborate plans and processes that far exceeded the actual requirements of the specification. This ambition created problems for those organizations that found themselves struggling to follow the rules they had set for themselves. When an organization decides to implement an environmental plan, it should set a reasonable achievable goal that sets it up for an easy win. Achieving meaningful, tangible results with initial projects makes it easier get support for subsequent, more ambitious projects.

Often an environmental plan will contain multiple discreet elements that are not necessarily interconnected, and the leadership of your organization may only approve a portion of your plan. If you prioritize your deliverables, you position yourself to gain budget approval for at least some portion of your proposal. Unless you prioritize these elements, you run the considerable risk of having others make uninformed decisions as to which elements of your plan will be approved and which ones will not.

When assigning priority, remember to consider both the seriousness and probability of the risks associated with not implementing particular element of the plan. Prioritization of these elements will differ considerably from industry to industry, company to company, and even location to location. But, in general, you should consider:
? Safety. How does this element affect the safety of the workers and the community?

? Compliance. Will the company violate the law by not implementing a particular measure?
? Environmental Hygiene. How great is the risk of polluting the environment if the company doesn?t immediately take this particular action?
? Public Relations. Is there likely to be a significant risk of public relations fallout for not implementing a particular element?

There?s no shortage of good ideas, but the only ones likely to get approved in this economy are the ones that directly and unmistakably support the overall corporate plan. Even while the global economy shows signs of improvement, others fear the looming specter of a double-dip recession. If you want your plan approved, show the linkage between your plan and the overall success of the organization.

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Phil la Duke is the director of performance improvement at OE Learning, Inc., 2125 Butterfield, Suite 300N, Troy, MI 48084, 248-816-4400, For questions or comments on this column, contact Phil at 248-816-4442 or

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