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A HSE Leader's Perspective.
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Is Sustainability the new term for Environmental? Bridging the Gap in HSE Leadership.

  • Publish Date: Posted about 2 months ago

A HSE Leader's Perspective.

​Shirley Parsons Director of Project Services Nick Farkas explores the relationship between sustainability and environmentalism within the realm of Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) leadership.​

The term 'sustainability' has become increasingly prominent in recent years, often used interchangeably with 'environmental'. But for those who have been working on environmental issues for years as HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) leaders, the question arises: is sustainability simply a rebranding of the "E" in HSE?


As a HSE Leader, just how much ‘E’ have you ever actually done? And, if you have been accountable for delivering Environmental KPIs, were they any different from current Sustainability KPIs?

“In my experience as an onsite and regional HSE Leader, I always had to deliver on Environmental commitments linked to reductions in Green House Gases. Achieving this primarily with reductions in resource consumption at a site level; but not just at site level, questioning and challenging our supply chain too. I also had to design and implement plans for effective recycling, demonstrating year-on-year increases in the amounts recycled. My environmental management deliverable therefore, was the development, implementation and monitoring of environmental strategies that promoted sustainability."

Was what you were doing over ten years ago any different to what is now classed as Sustainability?

"I’m not sure that it was. My driver was that the Environment aspect of HSE focused on complying with current environmental regulations to minimize the impact of business operations on the environment. So this covered our carbon emissions, ambient air quality, energy conservation, wastewater, ambient water quality, water conservation, waste management, noise pollution, contaminated land, etc.

I was therefore confident that if I could deliver on my Environmental KPIs (set at a 20% improvement year-on-year), I was protecting the environment from business-related hazards. So, as we all know, HSE should be viewed as a vital component of any business, as it ensures that the health and safety of employees and the public are protected while also preserving the environment..., ‘Good HSE IS Good Business’."

What was the biggest difference between the Environmental and Sustainability KPIs that you have delivered?

"The single biggest difference between the Environmental KPIs that I had to deliver and the current business-related Sustainability KPIs that organisations now focus on, is the broader range of topics they cover – both economic and social.

But, I would argue that an organisations HSE programme should by now be a well-established mature practice given just how long many of the regulations have been in existence. In comparison however, ‘Sustainability’ as a discipline is relatively new, as such, given the obvious overlap I would promote the ‘E’ part of your HSE programme as the foundation for your Environmental Sustainability programme. So they are complimentary, as they both play a critical role for a business to operate in a safer, sustainable, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly way. They both help a business identify, mitigate and manage risks in their operations while also helping to improve long-term financial outcomes. For example, by complying with HSE regulations on emissions companies can avoid fines from regulatory bodies, while improving their reputation in the local community positively impacting social sustainability matters."

What advice would you give other HSE / Sustainability Leaders?

"What is now very important, clear and obvious is that clients, partners, as well as your own staff all have growing expectations that organisations will operate responsible operations that enable more sustainable ways of working and reduce the impact to the natural environment.

So, as an HSE Leader, work with your Sustainability team to understand the specific needs and expectations of all your stakeholders, gather their feedback, address their concerns and demonstrate a proactive approach to Environmental Sustainability. In so doing, as a business you will enhance your reputation, mitigate risks and contribute positively to your long-term success."

While 'sustainability' may be gaining traction, the core principles of protecting the environment remain. By embracing collaboration and leveraging existing expertise, HSE leaders can play a pivotal role in driving businesses towards a truly sustainable future.

To find out more about how we help organisations achieve their Sustainability, Environmental and ESG initiatives, click here, or fill out your details below for a one-on-one consultation:​