How to encourage EHS teams to adapt to digital transformation

March 30, 2022
Passionate EHS leaders advance innovation.

New digital-oriented technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), software-as-a-service (SaaS) and the cloud are enabling a transformation in environment, health and safety (EHS) operations and compliance management. EHS professionals benefit from the advancements such technology provides by way of process efficiency, automation, and digital agility in their work processes. Perhaps you are one of them. 

With digital-transformation technologies and practices increasingly entering the EHS realm, many EHS professionals are now discovering more intelligent ways of working. Particularly for compliance data and reporting management, they’re seeing how digital data, automation, cloud computing and other transformative approaches are replacing paper records and manual tasks that have long been the norm in many EHS operations. 

Yet some in the EHS workforce remain resistant. Leaving comfort zones to learn new technologies and methods isn’t always easy for these professionals. Perhaps you are one of them. 

Digital transformation enhances reporting 

For compliance reporting, the unfortunate truth about spreadsheets and paper trails is that they make reporting tasks inefficient. Worse, when reporting involves lots of error-prone copy-pasting, few (if any) standardized processes, and little or no data QA/QC throughout the collection process, non-compliance is a constant threat because submitted reports are often incomplete or inaccurate or both. 

End-to-end technology-driven systems instead enable EHS teams to have central control over their data across facilities, gather information continuously, and submit accurate reports on time. For compliance and reporting, technology can help teams expedite the compilation and authorization of EHS data by updating Tier II and incident reports for EPCRA requirements in real time.  

However, complex and ever-evolving state and local policies can still cause discrepancies in reporting applicability, forms and submission procedures. To avoid these issues, EHS teams can use digital technologies to import data from regulatory agencies and identify and confirm applicable state-specific guidelines per facility. They can also automate notifications for regulatory or personnel changes, and alert EHS managers of upcoming task deadlines. Digitization can help any EHS team streamline reporting functions overall.

Leadership encourages change

Unfortunately, many EHS professionals find it difficult to persuade corporate leaders to adopt advanced technology for compliance efforts. Causes can range from these leaders not viewing EHS technology as a priority, to a lack of budget, to the mindset that existing methods are sufficient as they are. 

But as leaders at the executive level learn about new EHS technologies and understand their benefits—increased efficiency, higher rates of data accuracy, standardized and repeatable processes, more time for key EHS priorities and less time spent on reporting, mitigated compliance risks, and so on—they’re generally more receptive to them. 

Passionate EHS leaders advance innovation

At a user level, leaders on EHS and operations teams can leverage three guidelines  to promote innovation:  

  • Focus. EHS leaders must keep their eyes on higher business objectives and make sure their employees understand the goals of the whole organization. How a leader plans an innovation strategy, measures success, and inspires their teams in line with the business’s objectives requires continuous focus.
  • Prioritization. EHS leaders must also be able to prioritize innovation amid competing IT (and EHS) projects, since “the urgent tends to push out the important.” Because innovation activities are best achieved when they break down silos and involve the cross-functional power of the organization, prioritization becomes even more important for EHS, operations, and compliance teams, as well as managers and contacts at the facilities level.
  • Automation. Innovation is easier when infrastructure is not an inhibitor. Make sure employees are exposed to automation whenever possible to help speed the innovation process. Cloud technologies and digital transformation are well-known for driving automation.

Again, the decision to innovate standard practices is often made by high-level executives. However, because EHS professionals use the technology more frequently, they can leverage their knowledge and expertise to help make decisions about the technology that will enable them to perform better in their roles. 

Organizations should be willing to take risks and accept failures

The ability to take risks and accept ineffectiveness is essential to innovation. A culture that accepts ineffectiveness just as much as success helps bring about new ideas that lead to innovation and transformation. When considering the adoption of new technologies for EHS, it’s crucial to identify risks and keep them in check as much as possible. It’s also important to test new technologies often and report findings to leadership.

Organizations and their EHS teams can overcome obstacles and shift traditional mindsets by:

  • Prioritizing a list of EHS-program area and compliance problems to be solved and get executive level buy-in. 
  • Tailor innovations to the toughest issues, and then work downward from there.
  • Aim for solution “quick hits” and reasonably expected outcomes, such as a better way to gather and circulate data.
  • Have a plan to drive and measure improvements. Digital solutions can be an improvement directly out of the gate.
  • Estimate the timeframe of your organization’s EHS digital transformation process

By Megan Walters, vice president of compliance & customer success at Encamp