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    Environmental management system checkup There’s an epidemic sweeping North America’s manufacturers, affecting nearly every business, big and small. It strikes at environmental managers and entire EH&S departments, making it difficult for them to keep your company in compliance and protect you from regulatory fines.

    But what is this dramatic pandemic, and is your business at risk?

    Almost every environmental specialist will tell you they've struggled with the burden of managing their environmental data, and they’ll tell you that their biggest environmental management challenge is outdated Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) that have become a black hole for time and energy.

    It used to be that businesses, even those with a large number of environmental outputs, could handle all their environmental data management and VOC tracking using just a pen and paper or spreadsheet software. However, environmental compliance management and regulatory demands have gotten so complex that even small businesses are turning to more sophisticated environmental management systems.

    That’s because spreadsheets are a bit like quicksand: it’s difficult to get yourself unstuck once you’ve buried yourself deep within a complex system of interconnected spreadsheets. Even the EH&S managers that designed the company spreadsheets have difficulty navigating the system.

    Diagnosing The Symptoms

    If you are suffering from one or more of these systems it’s time to consider upgrading your EMS:

    • The majority of your workday is spent entering chemical and material data into databases and manually performing QA/QC.
    • Difficulty retrieving necessary data from databases and records when it comes time to generate compliance reports.
    • A dependency on paying environmental consultants to help close the gap in your compliance strategies.
    • A swelling of your EH&S department, as multiple employees are needed to handle the workload.
    • Recurring headaches whenever you need to do complex emission calculations, even when using spreadsheet formulas.
    • An addiction to spreadsheets: being resistant to change even though they’re slowing you down, causing data errors, and jeopardizing your compliance security.

    The Treatment

    If you’re ready to improve your EMS and get your compliance management in tiptop shape, here’s our prescription for you:

    First, identify the ways in which your spreadsheets aren’t up to the task. Are they growing too large and it’s now difficult to locate data? Are the formulas you’re using to do calculations working with the accuracy demanded by your regulators? Are interconnected spreadsheets communicating properly, or are you forced to enter the same piece of data multiple times? Is there only one manager who can correctly use the system and they become a data bottleneck? That’s just a few of the reasons we don’t think spreadsheets work, and we’ve got even more reasons to say goodbye to spreadsheets for you here.  

    What do you want to improve on that spreadsheets are holding you back from? Do you need more hours in the day for sustainability planning? Are you aiming for a zero-noncompliance year? Are you considering increasing your voluntary GHG reporting?

    Assess your core environmental needs. Every business’ compliance needs are different. Are your permits mostly about air emissions? Do you want help staying on task and meeting reporting deadlines? Is writing compliance reports and doing emission calculations a weak spot in your environmental management?

    When it comes to a better EMS, you have a lot of options. You can’t improve anything until you pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for. Just changing management systems without forethought doesn’t solve the spreadsheet problem, it just trades it in for another set of challenges.

    Perform a cost/benefit analysis. Start by pricing out how much you’re paying in penalties (if any) and labour hours spent manually entering data. If there’s any other expenses you accrue through your environmental management throughout the year, include those too. Create a base cost of your compliance management. Compare this with the cost of upgrading or overhauling your current system.

    Any upgrade will produce some return on investment (ROI). How much time will you save by automating data collection? Will eliminating calculation errors cut out noncompliance fines? Will a smarter database reduce your need for consultants? Anything worthwhile EMS upgrade should end up saving you money within a few months, making you more profitable. Your cost/benefit analysis should focus on determining where you’ll get the best results for your money.

    Present your case to executive and key decision makers. This is often the most difficult part and where most EH&S managers get stuck. Remember to focus on the increased profitability for the entire company, and not how much easier it will make your job. Find the executive’s pain points (regulatory uncertainty and profits) and explain how an EMS upgrade will help. Speak in terms of dollars and cents to make yourself understood.  Be sure to include case studies. Try these.

    Upgrade accordingly… then plan what you’re going to do with the extra time and money you’ve saved.


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    This Blog Was Co-Authored By:


    Alex Chamberlain
    Post by Alex Chamberlain
    October 4, 2012
    Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.