- Over the past decade, the business sector has come under increasing pressure to improve their environmental, safety, and health (ESH) performance. This pressure has stemmed from both external and internal sources with the organization. Public image, legislative and regulatory requirements, stakeholder awareness of environmental performance, sustainable development, and changing corporate values are driving forces that are leading companies to take a serious look at their ESH function.
The increased focus on the business and sustainable aspects of ESH issues has created a demand by management to assess the current organizational strategy related to ESH. Strategy, in this respect, can be thought of as the manner in which issues are approached and handled. Unfortunately, a comprehensive approach does not exist for assessing the ESH and sustainable development strategies of an organization and linking it to the overall competitive strategy of the organization. Developing a framework for assessing the ESH strategies in an organization was the focus of this study.
The major portion of the research was the development of profiles for each of the four strategy developmental levels under the elements of an ESH management system. Six elements were identified from the literature that comprise an ESH function's strategy: 1) Strategic plan, 2) structure, 3) finance, 4) technical, 5) evaluation, and 6) information management. Within each of these elements, profiles were created for each of the strategy developmental levels that these elements may utilize: Resistive, adaptive, proactive, and sustainable. The study went beyond previous research by including safety and health aspects into the environmental strategy typologies, looking at ESH elements other than the strategic plan and structure, and providing a more detailed and comprehensive explanation of the strategy levels.
These profiles were peer reviewed then transformed into a series of questions that qualitatively assess the ESH strategies used within an organization. A pilot study was completed of a large high-tech manufacturing organization in Portland, OR. The pilot study demonstrated the usefulness of the tool to identify areas of improvement in an ESH function. Use of this assessment tool is the first step an organization needs to take to understand where they exist in the scale of ESH strategies, and if this is the ideal strategy to follow.