Good apples vs bad apples

dirty dishes (2)We have had some lively discussions about EPA’s self-audit policy lately. The topics of good apples and  bad apples came up in the context that EPA does not trust the bad apples. These are the companies that have a bad reputation and a long history of non-compliance.

One of observations I have made in my seminar business over the past 10 or more years is that bad apples never send their employees to training classes. They never want to spend the money to train their employees. And that’s a main reason why they are bad apples! If their employees don’t know what to do in their daily routines, they are going to get into trouble with the regulatory agencies. It is the age old question that dishwashing detergent salesman faces all the time: Do I sell my detergent to people with dirty dishes or people with clean dishes?

The answer is ….(drum roll please)…..: You sell detergent to people with clean dishes. People with dirty dishes don’t buy detergent. That’s why they have dirty dishes.

If you are an environmental manager with a bad apple, you have a long road ahead of you. It takes a long long time for a bad apple to be converted into a good apple in the eyes of EPA. You need to do everything you can to resist management’s tendency to delay, procrastinate and obfusicate when it comes to environmental compliance. There are  managers who still think that for every year that they delay compliance, they save a year’s interest on the expenditure. These are the same people who have never heard of EPA’s economics benefits portion of the civil penalty. These are also the same type of people who think becasue of their elevated position in their company they are somehow “immune” from prosecution for environmental crimes.

If you know what you are about to do is the right (and legal) thing to do, go ahead and do it if you can. Don’t ask for permission from management becasue you know the answer is going to be no. Admiral Grace Hopper used to say: “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission”. There is some truth to it.

The transition from bad apple to good apple generally takes a few years. You have to demonstrate to the agency through your action that they can trust you when you tell them you are going to do certain things. One way to do that is to always respond to the agency in a timely fashion. Always meet any deadlines that you have with the agency. Never play mind games with the agency. Make sure you hire the right kind of consultants to represent you before the agency. You also need to protect yourself from personal liability if your company is a bad apple. Here is an article I wrote recently on this topic.

We cover all of these ideas and many more in our 2-day seminars. <—-occasional shameless plug here.


2 responses to “Good apples vs bad apples

  1. I wanted to inject some real-world backup to this post. I worked for a bad apple and spent my six years at the company changing the state regulators’ opinion of our company. It was a long, hard slog in the beginning because they didn’t trust the company, but I got us there by being very up front with regulators and treating them with respect. Further, I treated them as “partners” in addressing our situations. I took the time to meet with them, to keep them informed of our plans, our progress, and involve them at key decision points. That gave them “buy in” if things came down to a judgment call later. I always returned their calls in a timely fashion. I started to see results after a few years, and the big payoff came when we had a large incident and received a fine. I appealed the fine and represented the company without an attorney at the hearing. The hearing officer ruled in our favor and several months later, she actually called and offered me a job because she was so impressed at how I conducted myself at the hearing. All of this generated goodwill between my company and the regulatory body. It got to the point where they were calling me to give me a heads up before they inspected our facilities. I believe this saved my company a lot of money in the long run (I believe I justified my salary many years) and blowback from management on my budgetary requests started to reduce after they saw the wisdom in my approach.

  2. Thank you Stephanie! I can pretty much vouch for EVERYTHING you said in your post based on similar experience. It takes a long time to regain the trust. But once you have that trust back, it is worth gold. Your company is lucky to have you.


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