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Our Top Takeaways From NAEM 2021

NAEM’s EHS & Sustainability Management Forum is the largest annual gathering of corporate environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability decision-makers in North America.

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This year’s conference, which was held virtually, took place on October 19-21. It included three days of breakout sessions, guided discussions, and virtual exhibitions.

Perillon was a Green Sponsor of this year’s event, and we also had a chance to attend several sessions and chat with other attendees. Below are some of our top takeaways from this year’s conference:

1. ESG is so much bigger than sustainability

When most people think of ESG, they immediately think of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s one important aspect, of course, but a key takeaway from NAEM was just how broad the definition of ESG really is and how much it can vary from one company to the next. 

Neil Stewart, Director of Corporate Outreach at the Value Reporting Foundation, put it this way: 

“ESG is not one-size-fits-all — especially for financially material issues.”

For example, data security is a social issue that is very important to companies in the software industry, whereas for a beverage producer, water management might be the most important priority. This is why it’s so essential for companies to get crystal clear on which issues are material to their organization and industry. Narrowing your focus will help make data gathering and reporting much more cost-effective and efficient. 

2. The future of ESG will require more in-depth data collection and reporting

This is something we’ve been saying for a while. 

Jill Cooper, Senior Principal at Geosyntec Consultants, spoke about how ESG drivers are evolving. She highlighted the fact that external risks like regulatory requirements are becoming more material — and she’s right. 

One key example of this is the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “Many of us are tracking the regulations and the guidance that are about to come out,” says Cooper. “But none of us have a crystal ball to say we know exactly what they're going to do.” 

For publicly traded companies, ESG reporting poses a huge risk — one that will only grow as more investor funds flow to the ESG space. Cooper, a lawyer, says it makes her nervous when she sees companies rewriting things they already have on their website in their ESG reports. To mitigate this risk, she suggests making sure that the topics in your ESG report and on your website are part of a due diligence and audit process. In short, goodwill isn’t going to cut it. 

3. ESG risks (and opportunities) are business-critical

The risks that Cooper spoke of are a key focus for Nicole Bouquet, Director of ESG at Apex — a national multidisciplinary consulting, engineering, and field services firm. Bouquet spoke of the importance of understanding ESG risk at all levels of the company, not just within the ESG or EHS function. 

A vendor manager, for example, needs to understand the company’s ESG program in order to be able to evaluate those partners, as well as communicate the needs the company has from those partners.

Bouquet also emphasized that now is the time to take action on ESG risk. She points out that ESG has become a global issue, and that there are multiple risk drivers coming to the forefront — which means that companies need to begin a more formal ESG journey if they haven’t already. 

Now over to you

While each presenter brought their own thoughts and experiences, the common theme we heard throughout was that ESG is here to stay — and that companies must be prepared to address it in a holistic way. If you had a chance to attend this year’s NAEM conference, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe for more industry updates! 

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