How do you work with your Environment Manager?

Sandra Norval is Head of Environment for the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). Having listened to the talk Sandra gave at this year’s Sustainability Live conference I was very interested in her insights and asked if she would be kind enough to write a ‘guest blog’ for us, on a topic that she is passionate about. We hope you enjoy;

How do you work with your Environment Manager?

Strange question? Maybe, but the answer could be the difference between achieving bare minimum compliance with legislation and transforming your organisation.

Allow me to explain. As it stands UK Legislative requirements generally set the lowest possible common denominator. Reflect on that for a moment. What that means in the real world is that it is mostly about damage limitation without a push towards real change. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it isn’t important, of course it is but the focus is on stopping bad practices, enabling enforcers to act, creating minimum standards to aim for.

The key is in the word ‘minimum’. Whilst some businesses might gain from some types of legislation as a general rule it does not push anyone beyond actions that stop environmental impacts at the end of the chain into actions which generate real value and this is where the business opportunity lies.

So, if your Environment Manager is telling you the minimum standard, that may be because you have appointed them to be a gatekeeper, nothing more. They will set out the cost of compliance, mitigating actions to just address that specific law.

A good gatekeeper will lock those gates, sealing them tight from any risk that might approach. That might keep you safe from immediate harm but it also means no-one gets out easily either.

A great gatekeeper will make a judgment and evaluate the approaching risk, what is the purpose and should they consider opening the gates.

The best gatekeeper is scanning the horizon, thinking about all possible routes of approach and before the stranger arrives at the gate has a decision about the benefits to the city.

Give a little thought to your relationship with your Environment Manager. Do they simply report that there’s a change in the law coming but it’s OK, they’ve addressed it, or do they come to you with the possibilities it might bring? Have you enabled them to think beyond direct costs to consider value?

That’s a lot of questions but a learning organisation will be actively seeking innovation through enquiry, enabling staff to think beyond the boundaries of the organisation and encouraging dialogue with external peers, communities that are impacted by their activities and innovators in the fields they are interested in.

Talk to your EM, ask them for their opinion, not just a statement of fact. For some this will be most welcome as often the relationship between the environment team and the senior leadership of the organisation can be a barrier to change. In my experience this is usually unintentional. It may simply be a matter of confidence but it could also be that they have never felt they are ‘allowed’ to bring fresh ideas because that wasn’t specifically in their job description. By opening the conversation you essentially give permission without having to express it in a formal way.

Believe me, your EM will have plenty of ideas that they are just itching to work with and this simple step is just the beginning. Enable your team to think beyond legislation and you could unlock the potential for a change of culture and that is where the real value lies.

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