I was invited recently to meet representatives of a global company with a household name. The business was working on its sustainability strategy and, under Chatham House rules, bravely sought the opinion of around 20 external stakeholders including IOSH.
The opening statements made by the organisation were encouraging. Its investors and board had formulated a mechanism to measure return on capital for non-financial indicators, and were focusing particularly on gains from risk management and governance.
The company was confident that risk mitigation and business continuity measures will have a value equal to 8%-plus annual growth in its business between 2013 and 2017. In a volatile global market – economically and environmentally – it understood that having clear and material sustainable goals were imperative to ensure its ability to adapt and survive.
It had consulted broadly to identify its significant issues, which fell into three broad categories: environmental impact; innovation, research and development; and labour and human rights (including in its supply chain).
There was much debate about the relative status of these issues but the outcome was unanimous and heartening: environmental and occupational safety and health (OSH) management were core, both as a value proposition and an enabler to achieve innovation and drive research and development.
This is a welcome shift in thinking; OSH is a priority for most larger organisations but is rarely viewed as an area to inspire new ideas, product development and commercial growth.
We are seeing green shoots of a flourishing understanding among board members of the benefits of non-financial indicators. A clear link is emerging between sustainability – with an increasing focus on OSH – and business growth. As a profession we have a responsibility to help make these connections.
IOSH is a founding member of the international Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), which aims to stengthen the voices of OSH professionals in 70 countries in shaping sustainability policies. The CSHS recently published a white paper, The Accounting Revolution and the New Sustainability: implications for the occupational safety and health professional.
In the paper, the CSHS makes a set of recommendations for OSH professionals to prepare for this shift; I urge you to read them at www.centershs.org/ourwork.php.
Not recognising the opportunities that sustainability brings will leave OSH professionals at risk of being left behind in reactive, compliance-focused roles. OSH is a material issue for all organisations now. Ensuring you protect the health, safety, welfare and wellbeing of individuals in the workplace is a value that has proven to motivate workforces, enhance business reputation and reduce business risk.
As it becomes more integral to the sustainability agenda in business, OSH will be seen increasingly as a source of new ideas to promote innovation and growth.