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    data automation can get you off the hamster wheel

    Environmental management can be a 24/7 job - your environmental impact doesn't take a break just because operations cease, and the amount of number crunching and data collection that needs to happen between reports is immense. By the time one report is ready, there's a new flood of data to work on. It’s like being trapped in a hamster wheel: running as fast as you can and not really getting anywhere. This is where environmental management automation can save you significant time. 

    Is your day to day environmental management eating up too much of your time? Are you able to prioritize your organization's strategic goals or are they out of reach because of EHS time thieves?

    This article is written to help environmental professionals who want to know if their environmental management is on par with others or if it is taking too long.

    Environmental Management Self Assessment

    The first step in managing any process is to measure your current state of affairs. You want to be able to quantify environmental management work in terms of labor hours. For each person on your team start by tracking how many hours in the month you spend on these environmental management tasks:

    These tasks are good general umbrella type tasks that will encapsulate many smaller tasks at your facility. You can drill down and get more specific, but the above are a solid starting point - once you know this data you can get more tailored to your own unique organizational tasks. Generally speaking, the bulk of EHS data management work falls into one of those categories. 

    Once you have those numbers tracked over a month or two, the next step is to correlate how many of those hours directly contribute to one of your department's strategic improvement goals (Category 1) versus general environmental data upkeep (Category 2). Take a tally of both and look at the ratio of time spent per category. Is most of the work you did helping achieve goals, or is it about keeping your compliance afloat? Ideally, an organization in a growth phase will spend more hours in Category 1 than Category 2.

    The final step is to calculate approximate costs (or get more specific if you have the data related to salaries and tool subscriptions on hand) with each category. This can be simplified to hours worked per category X the average salary per hour of your EHS department. You'll soon see if you're spending more on data labor than growth tasks. 

    The Dirty Truth About Environmental Management

    Here's the dirty truth about environmental management... a lot of the data management is just wasted time. Some environmental professionals won't admit it, but there's a lot of time and money thrown into the pit of moving data from one place to another. 

    The hours you spend transcribing data from one source to another (like copying data from SDSs or copying records from purchasing into your chemical inventory database) aren't contributing to improvements and isn't an effective use of time. What appears on the surface to be productive work is a wolf in sheep's clothing - your time is getting stolen from you. Ineffectively used time is the number one expense of an EHS department. 

    It's not that your EHS team isn't doing their job - it is because the time consumed by manually managing big data (data is massively significant quantities like the data sets produced each day in a manufacturing facility) cannot be proportional to the return on investment.

    Handling your environmental data management manually could mean that emission calculations or SDS data transcription could take hours, every day. Yes, all of these tasks need to get done during the course of your day, but the end goal is about getting the data where it needs to be, rather than how it gets there. That's why environmental data automation is increasingly important for the manufacturing industry.

    Environmental management automation is all about offloading those Category 2 tasks which take up tie but don't advance business goals onto a system that more quickly completes data management using data logic engines, EHS data QAQA, and push/pull from other databases. Once your data is digital, it's much faster and more cost effective to implement an automated EHS management tool to reduce or eliminate your manual data entry and EHS data collection.

    EHS Automation: Work Smarter, Not Harder

    As data specialists, we're huge proponents of environmental management automation whenever and wherever possible. Environmental data automation doesn’t replace your EH&S staff, it simply expands their EHS data management capabilities to competitive levels. It’s all about getting you the information you need in the most efficient way and shifts the focus into what you do with your data, and not how you get it. For some companies this is a radical shift in thinking because they've been stuck problem solving the how and not the why. 

    Here are some of the most popular way of implementing environmental management automation, but the following list is far from exhaustive:

    • Creating a shared vendor portal to automatically transfer chemical data over to your inventory. If your supplier provides a digital format for purchased materials or when sharing updated SDSs, it's possible to teach a program to read that data and automatically QAQC and transfer over relevant data.
    • Connecting a Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) system to an automated system which can read the CMS data output in order to prompt alerts, follow up actions, and data pushes. Data can be even be filtered with built-in logic to highlight specific data points (like exceeded threshold values) to make it even easier for your human EHS professional to spot and respond to data. CEMS can be one of your greatest environmental management tools, letting your specialists get all the data they need while freeing up their time to actually use that data. Sometimes you need minute to minute data (like during a malfunction), but there’s no possible way for a human to get that data and apply it to a solution. That’s where automation kicks in.
    • Most of the production and usage data you generate via your processes will need to be used in more than one place. Your product usage records will likely be used for multiple reports throughout the year, both internally and for regulatory compliance for example - instead of manually entering that data  multiple times, teaching a computer to know every place that data value is used lets you instantaneously collect data once and have it populated to any field or calculation where it is needed. 

    EHS Department Efficiency

    Environmental management automation is not just about getting things faster; it's really about empowering your trained environmental professionals to start using their expertise rather than their data-entry skills. A high-performing EHS department can focus on sustainability goals, cost reduction, incident prevention, and compliance protection, but only if they aren't stuck on a data hamster wheel. 

    The ROI of your EHS team is directly correlated to the proportion of their work related to growth rather than data work. 

    One of the primary reasons businesses aren’t investing in money-saving sustainability projects like renewable energy is that they don’t have the free time to do the research, planning, and implementation required. If that sounds familiar, the solution to your problem could be to streamline your environmental data management processes, not to expand your EH&S team.

    You’ve heard the mantra “work smarter not harder”… well, automation is the best expression of this philosophy at work.

    The Answer

    At the top of this article we posed the question: how do you know if your environmental management is taking too long. By doing an environmental management self assessment and taking an unbiased look at how you spend your hours, you should start to have the data you need to make that decision for yourself.

    Can your EHS team currently complete all their data and compliance tasks, and is there adequate time left over for growth goals? Is the cost of operating your EHS team proportional to the end results they produce? 

    Today, most EHS teams struggle to keep up with all of the required reporting and environmental data management tasks they have on a day-to-day basis. But that's not for lack of good honest work; in the overwhelming majority of cases it's due to a lack of proper systems and supports. For that reason, organizations are increasingly relying on automation to provide the necessary support to let EHS departments thrive.

    Get More Data - Learn More

    Information is power, and the more you know about environmental management tools the better prepared your EH&S team can be.  Click the button below to download a short guide on environmental data automation to learn more types of ways that environmental management can be automated to protect your time. 

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    This Blog Was Co-Authored By:


    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    October 22, 2012
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.