On March 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a dramatic loosening of environmental rules in response to coronavirus. This policy allows refineries, factories, and other facilities to self-monitor during the pandemic and halts penalties for noncompliance with certain air and water pollution reporting requirements.
It’s part of a larger trend we’ve been seeing in the last few years of reduced environmental regulation and enforcement. Under the current administration, at least 95 environmental regulations have been rolled back or eliminated. EPA inspections hit a 10-year low in 2018, while civil penalties dropped to their lowest since 1994.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to let your guard down. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Now is the time to double-down on your environmental management efforts. Here are a few reasons why:
The only constant is change
If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you know that regulatory complexity and policy uncertainty is the norm. Rules change seemingly overnight and with little warning. In fact, changes in legislation and regulation are among the top 10 risks to global businesses.
With the upcoming U.S. election just a few months away, no one can say for certain what the outcome will be. Depending on the results, federal environmental regulations may continue to decrease. Or, we may see stricter policies around air, water, and hazardous waste. There’s no way to know what regulations will look like a year, five years, or ten years from now. Organizations that adopt a “wait and see” approach may get caught like a deer in the headlights.
While you can’t predict the future, there are ways to prepare for it. The best thing to do is to stay up to date on changing regulations and get organized for the long haul. If you don’t have well-defined processes and tools for managing compliance tasks and monitoring performance, now is the time to put them in place.
Think of the past, plan for the future
Regardless of what’s happening in Washington, environmental management is critical to your organization’s continued success and growth. It’s no secret that companies with strong environmental compliance programs have historically enjoyed better performance, lower operational costs, and fewer fines and visits from regulators.
Today, compliance is still critically important — but companies are also concerned with managing risk and building resilience. It’s why many organizations have started to implement voluntary environmental programs. Through energy efficiency and better resource usage, these programs help organizations save money and insulate against financial uncertainty. During the 2007-2009 economic crisis, for example, corporations stepped up their efforts to improve energy efficiency as a way to cut costs. Similarly, efforts to reduce water usage help organizations save money today and survive potential water shortages in the future.
Zig when others zag
Ask any successful business leader and they’ll tell you: If your competitors are all going right, you go left. So how does that lesson apply here?
Some companies have taken the current environment of deregulation as an opportunity to relax their efforts to curb emissions and reduce waste. That’s why now is a really good time to double-down on your environmental management initiatives. Rather than looking at emissions monitoring or waste management as just another thing on your to-do list, try looking at it as an opportunity to stand out in a crowded landscape.
This is especially relevant during an economic downturn. Investors are currently rethinking their portfolios, and many are looking for attractive buying opportunities. We already know that investors are weighing sustainability when deciding which stocks to add to their portfolios. As a result, companies that prioritize environmental issues may find it easier to secure funds.
Ultimately, a strong environmental management system not only results in better compliance performance, but it can also lead to increased resiliency and improved competitiveness.
And the same goes for a weak environmental management program, too — businesses that don’t have a plan to address regulatory changes and emerging risks will suffer costly consequences.