Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) performance has a significant impact on a company’s reputation and legal standing, not to mention its bottom line.
In the past, companies with EHS compliance issues could expect to fly under the radar—even with repeat violations—with little to no repercussions.
Today, increased focus on corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and EHS performance has made that impossible. Consumers, investors, and even potential employees all expect companies to demonstrate care for their workers and be responsible environmental stewards.
Coupled with the ready accessibility of online public records, organizations today can’t expect to hide their problems, which are now subject to increased scrutiny across the board. This article explores how this is playing out, including what information is publicly available, how stakeholders are using it and tools to consider for your EHS compliance strategy.
Once upon a time, poor corporate environmental and safety performance had minimal impact on companies. Even today, with the proliferation of EHS regulations, companies often still make decisions that prioritize production over safety and sustainability.
Now there is more visibility than ever into your company’s ESG and EHS data. This includes EHS regulatory compliance history such as fines and penalties, workplace safety issues, and environmental impacts such as resource use, toxic releases, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Below we look at some of the main places stakeholders can find this information, and the types of data published there.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) requires companies to report accidental releases of certain chemicals to state authorities, who must make those reports publicly available.
Under EPCRA, organizations must also submit to state authorities an inventory of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace that exceed certain thresholds. This data, too, must be made available to the public upon request.
In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains an online toxics release inventory (TRI) tracker where users can find toxic releases by area or even specific facilities.
The EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) provides searchable enforcement data for over a million facilities across the U.S. Here the public can find data on individual facilities, sources of pollution, and EPA enforcement cases, including those related to:
Clean Air Act
Clean Water Act
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Envirofacts is a multisystem search tool that combines information from multiple EPA databases. It allows users to search for information on specific facilities regarding:
Toxic chemical releases
Water discharge permit compliance
Hazardous waste handling compliance
Air emission estimates
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes a wide range of compliance information for public use, including:
A database of enforcement inspections searchable by facility name or industry
An online listing of the biggest OSHA enforcement cases by state
A public log of the companies in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) for companies with willful or repeat OSHA violations. Note that OSHA recently expanded its criteria for the SVEP, meaning more employers will likely land on the list.
Email news releases and briefs detailing enforcement actions in each OSHA region, with an online archive dating back to 2006
For companies that submit data to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the organization scores the responses from A to F and publishes those results on its website. What’s more, the company also publishes an annual “A List” of the highest scoring companies, creating an added incentive for strong EHS performance.
Other reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Integrated Reporting Framework and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) don’t directly publish company reports. However, many organizations decide to publish their sustainability reports on their websites for public viewing.
In addition to regulatory authorities and groups like GRI and CDP, a number of watchdog groups and websites collect and share EHS and ESG data online.
For instance, Good Jobs First has an online database of corporate misconduct cases, including environmental and safety violations searchable by company. Other watchdog groups like the Environmental Integrity Project and Public Citizen publish information on their litigation efforts related to worker safety and environmental cases.
Driven first by consumers and now by the investment community, a growing number of stakeholders are demanding answers—and taking action against companies—based on public data related to regulatory violations and sustainability performance. For example:
Investors use the data to assess ESG risks and evaluate which companies are safest to invest in
Regulators use the data to determine enforcement actions such as increased inspection frequency and other accountability measures (such as the SVEP list) based on the data
NGOs use the data to publicize misconduct, advocate publicly for change and engage with companies on their corporate practices
The media uses the data to investigate safety and environmental problems and report on it to raise public awareness and hold companies accountable
For companies, this increased visibility and transparency means they can no longer expect that missteps will go unnoticed, which can have impacts reaching far into the future.
Managing EHS compliance effectively is the best way to avoid running afoul of regulators or being thrown into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It’s also crucial to showing your company’s commitment to social responsibility and strong organizational governance.
In this context, Dakota’s ProActivity Suite helps companies prevent compliance issues and demonstrate good corporate citizenship, bringing together capabilities such as:
An integrated EHS regulatory library with plain-language guidance on requirements and alerts to keep up with regulatory change
Site-specific compliance profiles to determine applicable compliance obligations for individual facilities
Compliance calendars to centralize regulations, permitting information, reporting deadlines, and compliance tasks for each facility
Streamlined incident management that accelerates root cause analysis and helps proactively identify hazards and areas of risk
ESG metrics tracking, analysis, and interactive dashboards to simplify reporting and drive operational improvement
No organization wants to see its mistakes broadcast across the internet and subject to endless scrutiny. Raising the stakes further is the fact that even a single event can have enduring consequences for a company’s reputation, corporate value, and local communities.
Developing a robust EHS compliance management strategy empowers companies to proactively mitigate risks, showcasing a commitment to safeguarding both employees and the environment. By taking ownership of compliance, organizations can establish themselves as leaders and responsible corporate citizens, inspiring trust and improving their reputation overall.
Need help staying up-to-date on EHS regulatory changes? Sign up for our EHS Regulatory Alerts and you’ll never be caught off guard.