Surviving in lean times for environmental managers

istock_000002766388xsmallI came across an excellent articleon this topic written by my friend Richard MacLean. It was published in the 2009 summer issue of The Environmental Quality Management Journal. Richard touched on a number of corporate staff reduction issues and offered some common sense recommendations. It is a must read for all environmental managers.

The best part of his article was hisCase Study. Here is a recap. A corporate EHS director was facing an order from senior management to cut staff by 25% across the board. The across the board cut is a somewhat cowardly way of doing it as Richard intimated and I fully concur. The director – with Richard’s help – was able to make a case for a LARGER budget to an influential corporate attorney and garnered her support. She went to bat for the director before the management board and needless to say there was a happy ending.

As someone who has worked in the corporate world for many years, I can attest to the wisdom in the approach described in the Case Study. As an environmental manager, you ALWAYS want to have the corporate legal department on your side. ALWAYS.

It is really not that hard to do even though you may not have a Harvard law degree. Why? Because environmental managers deal with liability every day. Attorneys understand liability. Senior management fear liability. So if you have those attroneys on your side, senior management will start to fear you too.

To be successful, you have to do your homework and be MORE knowledgable about environmental issues than your attorney colleagues. That’s not too hard to do either because many corporate attorneys are not environmental attorneys. But they do know liability! It is their job to minimize corporate liability. So get to know these folks. Do not be afraid of them. Do not let them treat you like a “janitor in a suit”. Take them to the plants. Keep them updated on any on-going environmental issues.

When you are traveling with them, stay at the SAME expensive hotels as they do. Hell – If that hotel is good enough for them, it is good enough for you. The reason you must stay at the same hotel is that it will give you more time to offer them environmental advice. Some call it bonding. That was my excuse and my boss (a vice president) never once questioned my expensive hotel bills. Take them out to expensive dinners on your expense account. They love that. A side note: First year law school teaches law students how to spot expensive restaurants in any town.

In more ways than one, survival in the corporate world is like jungle survival. If you look and act weak, you will be eaten or cut. Try to maintain a certain level of mystique about your work. The Vice President of Manufacturing does not need to know or understand everything you do. No more than you need to know in excruciating details how he makes his widget. All he has to know is that you are helping his plants stay in compliance or save money AND you are the go-to person when something bad happens with the environmental agencies or when he needs an environmental permit in a hurry.

A true story: A newly promoted vice president once asked me to give him an engineering book on waste water treatment design because he wanted to be an expert on it overnight. Those were his exact words and he was a fool. And he did make a fool of himself the next day at the management board meeting. He had one of those MBA degrees.

On a slightly political note: My friend Richard stated in his article that “the George W. Bush era only deepened the assumption that environmental concerns were “under control” and represented a low business priority”. There are no truer words written than those. But then Richard ended his otherwise excellent article by saying that the (regulatory) “demands will only become more difficult in the future, especially if the Obama administration fulfills its promise to enact additional environmental mandates.”

Well – could it be that the Obama administration is simply trying to reverse 8 long years of neglect and delusion? What do you think, readers?

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