How to Be Sustainable, even in the Age of COVID-19

Accompanying the outbreak of the pandemic were persistent reports of good ecological news. Some of these reports appear to be true – such as reduced emissions due to less travel on the road and in the air. Other reports appear to be less credible – such as dolphins returning to Venice, according to an article in Forbes.

But even if all reports were true, it has to be understood that good ecological news that comes in the context of a deadly virus, many lost lives, and a devastated global economy is by definition anything but sustainable.

True sustainability needs to be purposeful. What’s needed are technologies, processes, and ways of doing business that balance people, planet, and profit.

Two areas are critical to success:

  • Product compliance automation to make it easier for companies to make new things in ways that adhere with environmental regulations.
  • Environment, health, and safetyprocesses to protect employees, communities, and the environment. Let’s have a quick look.

Product Compliance

Sustainable production needs to be at the core of sustainability efforts everywhere. When a company produces or transports products, efficient compliance with regulations and stakeholder requirements is a must.

The goal of these regulations is often to reduce, or even ban, substances in products that may harm the health of people or the environment.

One key regulation serves as a good example of the challenges organizations face: the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) which controls substances of very high concern (SVHC).

Under REACH, companies seeking to make products with SVHCs need to demonstrate that no alternatives exist. If allowed to proceed, the company must agree to reporting requirements. As of January 5, 2021, requirements include the provisioning of certain data to the SCIP database, maintained by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

To meet this requirement in a way that doesn’t put too onerous a demand on daily operations, organizations need a way to automate compliance. This means systems that support processes that are built into the design and manufacture of products.

Exact amounts need to be accounted for, and products shipped need to be traced. If companies don’t have a way to efficiently comply, compliance levels will drop. Thus, the automation of product compliance processes should be seen as supportive of – if not a prerequisite for – successfully realizing the goals of sustainability initiatives.

Environment, Health & Safety

Another fundamental area of sustainability is to protect the workforce and reduce companies’ impact on the environment. Therefore, most manufacturers maintain environment, health, and safety management programs that implement and support relevant processes.

Again, data management is critical, and systems are needed. Because safety is an enterprise-wide concern, systems need to be intuitive and easy enough for all stakeholders to use. Access to data and the merging of EHS information into core processes – including ERP, HR, supply chain, shop-floor manufacturing, and logistics – is imperative. For a positive impact on safety, it is key to embed safety in all relevant day-to-day operations rather than having it organized in a silo.

When it comes to environmental protection, companies need to streamline compliance processes across the enterprise. This can help improve operational efficiency as it relates to waste and emissions while reducing compliance risk by staying current with the latest legislation.

Leading organizations are using IoT sensors for monitoring the health of workers and hazardous exposures in their environments. When incidents occur – leaks, chemical spills, malfunctioning equipment – users need ways to report them. The system then needs to kick in to elevate critical incidents and trigger action.

EHS is more than a compliance and reporting process. Particularly in the age of Covid-19, organizations realize its value as a business enabler – one that plays a central role in ensuring the safe return of workers after shutdowns. EHS systems are helping companies to track infection rates, enforce social distancing, and inform the modification of work-floor processes and procedures to keep people healthy. And as with product compliance, automation in the realm of EHS should also be seen as supportive of – if not a prerequisite for – successfully realizing the goals of sustainability initiatives.

Flexibility Needed

At some point, the pandemic will come to an end. But if past is prologue, we can expect other disruptions to follow. Health crises, climate-related disasters, political and social upheavals – the list goes on.

What companies are realizing is that in today’s age of disruptions, one of the best differentiators is agility. We can’t predict what will happen, but we can be better prepared for whatever does happen with flexible processes and access to data. Product compliance and EHS processes supported by collaboration tools, proven processes, and trusted data can help us all keep an eye on the important issue of sustainability no matter what happens.

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