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Is sustainability a business strategy or a social myth? This provocative question framed the recent Environmental, Health and Safety Committee spring conference. Ed Fox, Chief Sustainability Officer, Arizona Public Service (APS) described his company’s job to successfully provide customers with affordable, reliable electricity produced from clean, diverse sources. Doing so requires engaging with stakeholders, building a talented workforce and acting for the long term.
Arizona State University Professor Braden Allenby who also spoke at the meeting, believes that “sustainability” has become increasingly ambiguous as institutions adopt different definitions to suit their requirements: “What is to be sustained? Who defines what sustainability means?”
For EHS professionals, the answer embraces both positions and companies must understand what sustainability means within their businesses. This is complicated by organizations including Dow Jones and the World Economic Forum that annually rank and report the sustainability of major global companies.
Should aerospace companies accept these grades? Should they define their own sustainability metrics? APS adopts many of the metrics used by these organizations: waste generation, water and energy usage to measure environmental impacts; worker safety statistics, labor relations and community involvement addressing social equity; and corporate governance, risk management and customer/supply chain relations indicating economic performance.
What’s the payoff for tracking these metrics? Fox believes it leads to savings through improved efficiencies. Benefits of adopting a sustainability model include increased revenues and market share, reduced risk, enhanced reputation, developed human and intellectual capital and improved governance.
Allenby challenged attendees to contemplate the complexity of predicting long term impacts. Many sustainability models fail to address the role of technological evolution towards people and the planet. “You need to manage technological change…. Sustainability must include environmental and social dimensions and address who gets to define what values are prioritized.”
Where do Allenby and Fox agree? There is a new way of doing EHS business. EHS professionals accustomed to the old way of legislating, regulating and litigating are taking on the new approach of anticipating, innovating, collaborating and communicating, a strategy that AIA’s EHS Committee continues to advance.
AIA source: Lisa.Goldberg[at]aia-aerospace.org