Tag Archives: health

Meeting Basic Health, Safety and Environmental Risk Before Sustainability- Watch Your Step

25 Aug

This week has been all about “R-I-S-K”.  Risk that my three flights around the globe to South Africa will be on time. Risk that my luggage will accompany me.  Risk that I will meet my driver.  Risk that he will be a safe driver, negotiating darkness and harrowing roads full of heavy trucks travelling between Durban and Johannesburg.  Risk that my digestive system can handle all the amazing foods I’ll sample while at the NOSA-sponsored NOSHCON 11 conference.  Risk that my talk on integrated sustainability management systems will go off without a hitch.

Risk (noun): A situation involving exposure to danger

Risk (verb): to expose to danger or loss

The Setting Tells a Story- “From Stone Age to Hard Won Democracy”

Risk.  We all live with risk and all are in position to control and influence its outcome.  This week’s conference was devoted to exploring risk in the workplace and its related effects on worker safety, health and environmental impact.  South Africa is the perfect place to explore this issue, because of all of the social, political, economic and workplace/environmental challenges that this special country has endured over the generations.  Throughout the two-day conference I have become painfully aware of the risks that exist amid the beauty of the KwaZulu Natal and Central Drakensberg region of South Africa.

View from my Guest House Looking Toward Champagne Castle

This great place of beauty has seen wars fought over land and water for thousands of years and countless generations, between indigenous tribes first, then between the Zulu and the Dutch Afrikaners, then the British and Boers and finally blacks and whites through the practice of “apartheid”.  This place has seen the likes of King Shaka, Gandhi and Mandela walking its ground.  This is historic ground where people took incredible risks to protect what they believed in, and suffered enormous costs and joyous victories.  I won’t use this space to opine on that matter just to say that issues run deep and wounds take generations to heal.  But all citizens of the Rainbow Nation are trying their very best to level the playing field.  But all along the way, all the players in this real life drama have had to manage risk.

Snakes!!

To illustrate how risk is all around us in the workplace and at home, NOSHCON brought out the snakes…yes, snakes.  Not the safe variety…I mean the pythons and puff adders.    Through a safety company called Unplugged Communications, the idea of “Snakes for Safety” was presented to a fascinated, but somewhat skittish audience of 600.  The analogy is that puff adders are like accidents waiting to happen…they hide, camouflaged in the bush and only strike when you are right on top of them.  By then the damage has been done, injury’s result (and it the case of the puff adder, you have seven minutes to call a loved one and say goodbye!).  Cobras on the other hand represent a hazard that is harmless when small, but if left unchecked, the hazards can grow to an unmanageable point when great harm can occur. Snakes.  Risk.  Managing the basics of health, safety and the environment (HSE) in developing economies like South Africa is foremost in businesses minds and correctly so.

Risk Management and Meeting Basic HSE Needs First

“There are risks and costs to every program of action.  But they are far less than the risk and costs of comfortable inaction”- John F Kennedy

Last year I wrote a two piece series on risk management and accountability in the aftermath of the BP gulf oil spill and Massey coal mining disaster.  In the second post on risk, I noted that a continuous risk management process helps organizations understand, manage, and communicate risk and avoid potential catastrophic conditions that can lead to loss of life, property and the environment. Briefly, risk management helps organizations:

  • Identify critical and non-critical risks
  • Document each risk in-depth
  • Log all risks and notify management of their severity
  • Take action to reduce the likelihood of risks occurring
  • Reduce the impact on  business, life, and the environment

In this post I laid out a typical six-step process to achieve effective risk management and failure mode control.  I also noted ”What will be … fascinating will be the lessons learned and if businesses truly embrace risk management planning and implementation as a central function of business, take it seriously and hold themselves accountable.”

Takeaways from Far Away- Sustainability May Have to Wait

The author with a less venomous snake

My talk focused on integrated management systems and how they can leverage risk and liability and support sustainability in the business marketplace.  The audience was attentive to be sure, and I listened and observed NOSHCON delegates listen to several other fantastic presentations on corporate social responsibility, carbon management and sustainability.  My impression however is that while there are pockets of excellence in sustainability focused companies, South African businesses are just beginning to think about sustainability as a value-added aspect of their businesses. Perhaps rightly so, many companies in the mining, agricultural and heavy industry sectors continue (especially the majority small to medium-sized and under-resource companies) are focusing on the basic critical issues of life safety in the workplace, education and meeting basic environmental compliance operations first.  To meet this pressing need, organizations like NOSA have developed world-class frameworks of occupational, health, safety and environmental  risk management.  And despite rampant complaints of lax enforcement of labor and environmental protection laws, the South African government has implemented its King III corporate governance policies (similar to the U.S Sarbanes-Oxley provisions) that recognize CSR and reporting obligations.

I am firmly of the belief that companies must take care of these basic HSE issues and lay a firm foundational framework for continual improvement first before they can progress along the sustainability journey.  The central themes I heard about how this can be accomplished are through increasing monitoring, education, awareness building, management accountability and trust.  Regarding sustainability, it makes little sense force feeding a business approach that has little immediate bearing on managing organizations immediate risks.  One must be able to manage the snakes; you know….one by one and step by cautious step.

Be patient South Africa.  You have such great resources, professionals hungry to learn, and have fantastic opportunities to excel in the sustainability space in the years ahead.  I have been truly blessed and humbled to have been able to participate at NOSHCON and hope to be able to hear of great things coming out of South Africa in the coming years.

“Baie Dankie”. “Ngiyabonga kakhulu”. Thanks very much!

The Quest for Personal & Organizational Sustainability- The Path to 2011 & Beyond

24 Dec

A great article was brought to my attention this past week by sustainability colleague and sage Gil Friend (@gfriend) this week.  The article by Peter Shallard talks about ditching New Years resolutions and reminding yourselves that you are on a journey- a quest.

“The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited….Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.”- Peter Shallard

For individuals, organizations and communities, sustainability can be a walk in the forest, a chance meeting or a seminal event that jogs the mind, creating an urgent call to action that is transcendent.   For me at least, this shift towards sustainability has truly been a quest- sometimes a quiet, almost transparent change, other times a deliberate, “in your face” awakening. Either way, questing for sustainability involves embracing whole systems thinking that allows us to view ourselves and the business relationships that we have with others differently perhaps as a value chain of innovation and creativity.

My Journey

A few moments come to mind in my journey toward sustainability and my professional path (dates are approximate) that I’d like to share- come along with me please- read on:

Riding the Range (South Central Montana, 1964)- that's me on the left with my Dad & brother

1964: My family takes “The Great Western Road Trip”- one month in a loaded Ford Country Squire, exploring the wide open Western U.S., riding horses in Montana, exploring the Colorado back country, and marveling at Yellowstone National Parks natural wonders.  I vow to move west one day. I eventually do in 1977 to finish out my college education in natural resources ecology and management.

1969: Memories of recycling glass, plastic and newsprint with my Dad at the huge new recycling center in my hometown (Highland Park, Illinois).  I liked the shattered glass sounds.

1972-1976: Camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and making a conscious decision while on a “walk in the woods” to pursue a natural resources career.  I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ed Abbeys Desert Solitaire and am changed forever.

1982: I developed and unveiled a groundbreaking employee environmental training program that changed the way of thinking for hundreds of coal miners in Utah.  Their changes in behavior and proactive efforts led to a stellar number 1 environmental compliance ranking and state-wide recognition.

1983: I watched the groundbreaking movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance while I was working for a coal mine in New Mexico.  As I saw smoking, exposed coal seams from the surface mining activities, I began questioning if who I was working for was contradictory to my belief in natural systems, conservation and environmental protection.  So I reached out to Amory and Hunter Lovins (@hlovins) at the newly founded Rocky Mountain Institute for advice on how to manage my moral and ethical environmental center.  Their sage wisdom enabled me to continue my environmental work.  I embraced  internal change management, policy development, environmental awareness and education,  advocacy for proactive compliance management and supporting land conservation and  site restoration.

Emergency Site Cleanup-Utah, 1986

1984-1990: I called this period ” the Tyvek Years”.  I had numerous transcendent experiences conducting high profile federal and state-led hazardous waste site investigations and emergency cleanups.  It was sometimes very nasty work.  The experiences left me wondering how to prevent future environmental calamities like the ones I was helping to clean up.  This  led me toward developing proactive compliance and environmental management frameworks for clients and take a more active role in community planning groups.

1990: Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuts on Turner Broadcasting.  The Captain Planet Foundation still exists to support hands-on environmental projects for youth in grades K-12.

Mr. Science goes to pre-school for Show-and-Tell (1991)

1991: My four-year old son brings me to pre-school as his show and tell project.  He introduces me as follows: “This is my Dad- he saves the Planet”.  What a better way to spend the lunch hours in enlightening the next generation about environmental issues and the wonders of science.

1993:  I participated with an international team in a solid waste facility siting project in Barbados.  The political process trumps good engineering and science, and demonstrates lack of value placed on natural parklands and sustainable development.  The government ignores all technical recommendations made by the team following years of study and eventually sites the project in the middle of a proposed national park.  Really!?  I leave the island tanned but disillusioned and even more committed to advance science in effective sustainable development policy-making.

1995: I complete my Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management as a charter member of University of Denvers groundbreaking and pioneering post secondary education curriculum.  My Capstone Project, an “Environmental Policy Toolkit” becomes available to hundreds of small to large businesses through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.   While the younger grads are passing alcohol filled bota bags at graduation ceremonies, my professional colleagues and I are passing “Tums” around!  My son gets to see his Dad who “saves the planet” walk up to accept his diploma- that was cool.

1996: Recalling my talk in 1983 with the Lovins’, I was confronted by an old time miner while working at my company’s booth at a mining expo in Spokane.  He saw that I worked for an environmental services firm and said: “so I see you’re an environmentalist- so, are you ‘fer or ‘agin mining!?”  I answered ” I’m ‘fer environmentally responsible mining”.  That stumped him but he said he’d “accept that” answer.  I gave him trinkets for his five grandkids, and he left happy.

1998: I had the pleasure of planning and developing several successful and industry groundbreaking ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) certifications (the first of more than three dozen I have installed since).  Bubble shattered in 1999 by a retired Washington state Senator, who quipped to me on a Washington D.C. street that environmental policy is not science-based.  I am dumbfounded (post script: last week the Obama administration finally released its  long awaited “scientific integrity” policy statement).

City of San Diego Water Department ISO 14001 Champions (I'm in the 3rd row)

1998-2004: The public sector years.  During this time I assisted major water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in implementing award winning ISO 14001 EMS’s, improving operations and saving taxpayers millions in real and avoided environmental liabilities.   I knew I could flush, drink water and recycle in confidence knowing that my city operations were “doing the right thing”.  After my latest utility client successfully received its ISO 14001 certification in 2004, one of  the organizations chief protagonists quietly pulled me aside to thank me “for getting us to do what they would not have done themselves”.

2010: I finally seek out and find the link between my Jewish identity and environmentalism.  I become a Bar Mitzvah and find that the Torah and Jewish scholars have taught extensively about environmentalism over the past 5771 years- guess I was a little late to the party!.  Many Talmudic themes specifically center around the concept of “sustainability”. Here in the U.S., the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has helped tens of thousands of Jews make a connection between Judaism and the environment.  There are even green tips to have an ‘eco-kosher’ New Year.

A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling.  Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.

So that’s my story….or at least some of the highlights.  There’s more to share but that’s perhaps another chapter in this journey.  I hope you found this first story worth the telling.  As you can see, sometimes its the little things that (when I take the time to think about it) have slowly moved me forward, or sometimes the events have been larger and have catapulted me further .

A Call to Action

Mr. Shallards piece distills preparation for a successful quest as a series of four essential steps.

…focus on equipping yourself for your journey.  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
  • What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
  • What capabilities do I need to develop?
  • What habits and behaviors do I need to master?

The suggestions by Mr. Shallard can easily be adapted to an organizational  and supply chain level when considering best methods to transform a “business-as-usual” organization into a sustainability-minded one, or instill changes in policy and implementation at the community level.   A few other ideas to turn your organization toward a “top-line”, first mover one can be found here as well.

I can’t begin to reel off the names all of the family, friends, colleagues, teachers and organizations that have made such a huge difference in my quest  of the past 50 plus years on this planet.  Suffice it to say that it takes many wings to fly in this world and I am indebted to each and every one of you who’ve made a small or large contribution to my quest along the way.   I will thank Gil Friend though for bringing Mr. Ballards perspective to my attention.   Meantime, I’ll just simply say that if you are reading this, I truly appreciate your continued support and interest in my ideas and experiences this past year.

I’d love to hear your stories too and hope you’ll share them in the comments below!

Here’s to a very happy, health, sustainable & prosperous 2011!

Paz- Dave

‘Rebound’- Linking Bad Backs, the Gulf Spill, and the Economy Through Sustainability

15 Jun

So, it’s official.  I have a “bad” back.  A very competent neurosurgeon told me the other day that “you have structural issues”.  Indeed I do.  This all started after I went hiking with my family in late 2009 and experienced a burning pain in my legs, followed by numbness and teeth-gnashing lower back pain.  A series of tests ruled out circulatory problems (thank goodness) and other internal stuff.  “How bad is it, Doc?” I asked.  Well, an MRI revealed a bulging disc, mild spinal stenosis and a synovial cyst.  I guess I am not a spring chicken anymore, after all.

The center that I went to get this great news had a great name too-Rebound– and it got me to thinking.  In mulling over the state of our economy and the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I suggest that those situations are representative of “structural issues” that require therapy of sorts.   The economy appears to slowly be on the “rebound”, while the prognosis for the other (the Gulf spill) will still require more study to determine the full extent of the damage.  Common among these two situations and my back is a call for change, to think more sustainably.  In other words, considering the economy and the environment as linked systems requires a deeper, holistic, de-siloed way of thinking.

By taking a triple bottom line perspective, the “people, planet and profit” elements that constitute sustainability will be better served and long term value realized.  This post is about hope, about renewal and rejuvenation- please read on.

People

The spine is not only the foundation for our entire physical structure but also house the nerves that radiate to each organ and every minute part of the body.  Spinal nerves especially control the functional processes of all our bodily tissues and structures.   My back problems are not so bad that surgery will be involved.  But the experience will require making some adjustments in my exercise routine, losing weight (again!) and stretching more.

The key to back health is in strengthening the “core” muscles- and having the “mojo” necessary to keep on plan and stay motivated, even when things look really, really bad.   If I follow my plan, I expect to “rebound” from my injuries stronger than before.

Profit

In the case of the economy, I have just completed reading “The Great Reset” by Dr. Richard Florida, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.  In The Great Reset (http://bit.ly/cDbWWG), Dr. Florida explores the parallels of the current Great Recession to the Long Depression of the 1870’s and the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s.  Florida argues that ‘these periods of “creative destruction” have been some of the most fertile, in terms of innovation, invention and energetic risk-taking in history, and this is what sets the stage for full-scale recovery.’  Florida argues that great crises are opportunities to remake or “rebound” our economy and society and generate whole new epochs of even greater economic growth and prosperity.  Among these new forces and energies will be:

  • new consumption patterns
  • new forms of infrastructure that speed the movement of people, goods and ideas
  • ‘mega-regions’ that will drive the development of new industries, jobs and a locally based way of life.

    Image Credit: ProgressOhio

I am also am reading Plentitude, by former Harvard University economist and current Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor.  Dr. Schors book (http://bit.ly/cnbG8n) argues that society needs to make some big changes from the “business as usual” model of economics.  In a world economy traditionally valued based on gross domestic product (GDP), Dr.  Schor explores the economics and sociology of ecological scarcity (food, water) and rising costs of goods and services (energy, transport).  In addition, she explores the factors that have led to the scarcity in incomes, jobs, and credit.  Plenitude puts sustainability at its core.  The book presents a vision that suggests finding  new sources of wealth, implementing green technologies, and strengthening locally based economies, all of which can lead to a more economically secure, ecologically sensitive and sustainable world.

Both books offer promise that a redirected focus on community-based, environmentally-centric and technological efficiency and innovation can (and must) be the “rebound” catalysts that drive economic prosperity.

Planet

The current, devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill and ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico presents a great set of uncertainties and human-induced risks not realized before in terms of scope and magnitude.  My earlier posts on the Gulf spill spoke to the issue of risk management and contingency planning and how such scenarios can be managed better (Risky Business: Why Better Risk Management Can Protect Lives & the Environment- Part 1 http://bit.ly/aRDeJj).   But this discussion focuses on ecological damage and on resiliency of natural environments.

The 1979, spill from Mexico’s Ixtoc 1 offshore well in the Gulf of Campeche is proof that the environment has a “stunning capacity to heal itself from manmade insults” (http://bit.ly/djoDkO).   This huge spill surprised marine biologists and ecologists in terms of the speedy recovery of the heavily impacted Bay of Campeche ecosystem spreading into south Texas.  However, there are major differences in the depth and location of the Ixtoc and Deepwater Horizon spills, and other natural phenomena that aided in the Ixtoc spill recovery rate.  These differences may not bode well for the Louisiana coast.  Case in point- the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.  Studies in the mid 2000’s showed that 15 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, “some fish and wildlife species injured by the spill have not fully recovered” (http://bit.ly/d2VEaZ).   Researchers noted some uncertainty of what role oil plays in the inability of some populations to bounce back.

Ecosystems are dynamic and ever-changing.  This changing dynamic flow continues its natural cycles and fluctuations at the same time that it continues to recovery from impacts of spilled oil.  As time passes, separating natural changes from oil spill related impacts becomes harder to distinguish.  So time will tell, and after the well is finally plugged (and it will be plugged) and the last drop of oil spills, the long term ecological “rebound” will begin.

Like the distressed economy and like the gulf coast mess, my back will “rebound” to a healthy point that is hopefully sustainable.  Mark my words.  It’s said that “good health is not an event, it’s a lifestyle”.  This holds true whether we are talking about our bodies, the economy or our planet.