10 EHS Trends to Watch in 2021

***UPDATE: Check out our 2022 EHS Trend Predictions!***

It's an exciting time to be an EHS professional. 

While there's certainly no shortage of challenges, there are also plenty of new opportunities to contribute value to your organization and employees you serve. And more than ever, companies are starting to appreciate all the work you do behind the scenes.

In our conversations with colleagues and EHS experts, we've identified a handful of trends that are redefining the role of environmental, health, and safety professionals. Here are ten EHS trends to watch in 2021:

1. Environmental management will take center stage 

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust workplace safety into the spotlight. But another, subtler shift has also been taking place behind the scenes: companies are placing an increasingly greater emphasis on environmental management. 

The renewed interest in environmental management stems from a combination of regulatory pressure and voluntary efforts. Astute business leaders have already begun preparing for an increase in environmental regulation and enforcement under the Biden administration, whose promises include a net zero economy by 2050. At the same time, companies will be competing to win the support of customers and investors who increasingly prefer sustainable brands.  

The good news is that these two endeavors work hand in hand. When companies prioritize responsible stewardship of the environment, regulatory compliance will fall into place.

2. More companies will make bold climate commitments

The number of net zero commitments from businesses and local governments doubled in the last year, according to a report from the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the New Climate Institute, and that trend is only expected to continue — especially now that the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement.

Going forward, we’ll likely see more financial incentives for businesses to find cleaner solutions. With a lower cost barrier, net zero targets will become less intimidating to incorporate into an organization’s sustainability efforts. This will accelerate the adoption of net zero targets by small- and mid-size enterprises.

3. Climate risk management will be a driver for organizational success

Though there was already a strong need for climate risk management before now, this has only become more apparent in 2020.

Spending on climate disasters doubled last year, underscoring the growing danger of climate change and the urgency of confronting it. Companies will need to take action to reduce their environmental impacts. But they’ll also need to prepare for the inevitable consequences of what’s already been set in motion.

This is why climate risk management is a popular trend that will become a part of nearly every organization’s overall risk management strategy. 

4. Corporations will transition to EV fleets

As part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions, expect to see more companies trading in conventional vehicles for electric vehicle (EV) fleets. Not only are they cleaner to operate, EVs offer significant cost savings opportunities in terms of fuel and maintenance. 

We’ll also see more companies providing electric vehicle charging stations and dedicated EV-only parking spaces for employees and customers. Perhaps you’ve noticed this already. Walmart, IKEA, and Walgreens are among the brands that are leading the way. 

It’s worth noting here that the Biden administration’s plan includes electrifying government-owned vehicle fleets, providing rebates to help citizens trade in gasoline-powered cars, and installing 500,000 vehicle charging stations. Don’t be surprised if we see additional government incentives and tax benefits for companies that make the switch. 

5. Companies will invest in clean power

During the coronavirus pandemic, oil demand fell dramatically and prices went into negative territory. But the energy industry won’t go back to fossil fuels once the pandemic is over. 

Gas companies are abandoning their wells, and utilities have been shuttering coal and oil plants for some time now. Fossil fuels simply can’t compete with lower-cost alternatives like solar. 

Going forward, we’re likely to see federal incentives that will make adoption of renewable energy more attractive for both energy suppliers and consumers alike. 

6. Organizations will prioritize diversity and inclusion in health & safety practices

In 2020, national protests over police brutality brought the issue of racial justice to the forefront. Today, employees are demanding that companies address race and inequality.

The paradigm shift starts with acknowledging the disparities that exist in occupational health and safety. EHS professionals need to be aware of the challenges and hazards facing minority workers, such as language barriers, harassment and intimidation, and job insecurity. 

Next, it requires us to systematically dismantle barriers to safety. That means ensuring training and safety communication takes differences in languages, backgrounds, and experiences into consideration. Ensuring that workers have safe, anonymous avenues to speak up about safety concerns without fear of retaliation. Creating a workplace that’s free from harassment and intimidation. Providing PPE that fits all workers, regardless of size or gender. 

7. EHS will have a seat at the table

If the EHS department is usually viewed as a supporting actor in the organization, the coronavirus pandemic handed it a leading role. Employees are concerned about going back to work, and leadership is worried about safety in ways we’ve never seen before. 

Cultivating this opportunity is the best chance for safety professionals to be heard and make a difference. Instead of waiting for your efforts to get noticed, it’s time to get better at tooting your own horn. Launch an internal safety newsletter and shout your accomplishments from the rooftops. Better yet, let the data do the bragging for you. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make safety an integral part of your organization’s greater strategy. 

8. Remote work will be the new normal

Even after the COVID-19 vaccine is widely adopted, many companies will allow their employees to continue working remotely. According to a Gartner survey, 90% plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time. This will mean permanent changes to the way companies approach workplace safety. 

How do you train workers to use tools and machinery safely when you can’t be there to show them? How do you ensure workers are following safety practices when you can’t check up on them in person? 

We’ve already witnessed companies grappling with these challenges in 2020, but this year will push safety professionals to rethink their practices and explore new opportunities for connection and collaboration. 

9. The EHS digital transformation will continue

As part of the shift to remote work, we saw organizations of all sizes invest in cloud-based EHS software in 2020. Gartner noted that despite spending slowdowns in other areas, enterprise cloud spending actually increased last year. Going forward, the research firm predicts a 4% global increase in overall IT spending in 2021 over 2020.

EHS software is no longer something that only cutting-edge companies are using. The rise of affordable, cloud-based software has democratized technology, making it possible for any enterprises to take advantage of advanced analytics dashboards, automation, and system intelligence. 

The point of EHS software is not to replace skilled employees and consultants. It’s to improve and expand their capacity to anticipate risks and solve complex problems. As such, transformation will revolve around three key elements:

  1. Digitizing paperwork
  2. Automating repetitive tasks
  3. Making data-driven decisions

10. The increase in connected worker solutions will accelerate the need for analytics investments

One way companies are closing the gap is by investing in connected worker solutions. During the pandemic, more than one out of four companies has purchased new technology to passively track and monitor their employees, according to Gartner

These devices provide real-time data that enables companies to monitor worker safety, ensure regulatory compliance, and even track work to increase productivity.

Without the IT infrastructure to analyze this data, however, companies will fail to see the expected returns on their investment. Put simply: employees shouldn’t have to seek out help from the IT department each time they need a report. 

As a result, we’ll see more companies investing in self-service analytics tools that provide full visibility into safety and health and enable proactive decision making.

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There you have it: our predictions for the EHS trends that will dominate 2021 and beyond. Stay on top of the latest trends and shifts in the industry throughout the year by subscribing to our EHS blog

Now to you: What are your predictions for the upcoming year? What ideas or changes are you considering in 2021?

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