Just a few decades ago, companies were expected to make a profit, abide by legal obligations, and pay taxes. In today’s world, expectations for companies are dramatically expanding beyond that paradigm. Empowered by the internet, society now expects companies to also keep their employees safe at work, limit their environmental impacts, and design more efficient products and operations that reduce waste.
Today’s industry leaders are rising to this challenge. Companies need to understand that they must not only create a profit for shareholders, but also contribute positive value to society.
As an organization focused on improving corporate performance in the areas of environmental, health & safety, and sustainability (EHS&S) management, we know many companies are making real investments in professional environmental managers and safety leaders who are developing programs, setting ambitious goals, tracking progress and reporting performance gains to their CEOs and top management.
Also emerging is the notion that companies should do business as though the world is watching — because it is. Doing business in the age of transparency means savvy consumers, socially responsible investors, and activists now expect companies to publicly share their commitments and communicate how well they are performing against those goals.
Good for business
While those external perspectives are influencing corporate behavior, perhaps the most important stakeholders are their employees. Today’s leadership companies are taking unprecedented strides toward creating work environments that not only prevent workplace injuries, but also train their workforce to live a healthier lifestyle.
The good news is that what’s good for employees is also good for business.
Creating a strong safety culture lowers the overall risk profile for the company, leading to a reduction in lost productivity, regulatory fines, and workers’ compensation claims. And when employees know their company is doing its best to keep them safe and healthy, they tend to be more engaged, more productive, and more committed to the business’ success.
This is particularly true among millennials, who represent a growing segment of the workforce, and are already re-enforcing the business case for strong EHS&S values, thanks to their preference to work for companies that demonstrate a social benefit.
These values are gaining traction in the business community more broadly. Large consumer brands are now asking their suppliers and subcontractors to share the details about their own products and internal environmental, health, and safety efforts. This means smaller and less brand-recognized companies will be increasingly expected to demonstrate their alignment with these emerging cultural norms.
So whether this shift in business is being driven by consumers, business customers, or Wall Street, society expects companies to take ownership — and to show us exactly what they are doing to reduce their environmental footprint, ensure employees come home safe from work, and help to protect our planet for future generations.