What is an ESG Management System?
An ESG management system refers to a comprehensive framework used by businesses to manage their environmental, social, and governance impact through standard operating procedures and information workflows. EHS/ESG information management systems optimize and streamline ESG-related data while maintaining alignment with an organization’s overall EHS/ESG objectives, such as ISO14001 and/or ISO45001 compliance. These systems support informed decision-making, enhance overall effectiveness, and reduce administrative burdens on employees.
Technology is continuously advancing each year and there are many existing EHS/ESG software systems to manage information. The development of EHS/ESG information management systems (IMS) is an industry of its own and continues to grow. Some EHS/ESG software companies are well-established and have been around for decades with proven track records for implementing their systems at some of the largest Fortune 500 companies. There are also many new technology companies getting into EHS/ESG software development and leveraging the latest technologies. With all technologies, it is important that they are aligned with and supportive of the organization’s overall EHS/ESG management system (e.g., ISO14001 and/or ISO45001).
These technologies include:
- Software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing provides for a subscription to an EHS/ESG software that is hosted offsite from an organization’s internal IT equipment and resources. This approach provides organizations the benefit of not needing to procure, set up and maintain costly servers, infrastructure and programming staff to develop and maintain the EHS/ESG IMS.
- Mobile applications that work on smart devices and smart phones that allow for remote staff in the field to collect information, update tasks in an EHS/ESG workflow and provide real time updates and alerts. This technology allows new EHS/ESG information to be collected and reported to EHS managers so that they stay up to date even when they are working remotely.
- Remote sensors can also be used to detect various environmental parameters associated with monitoring air and water quality as well as other operational parameters such as flow rates pressure gauges, natural gas meters and electrostatic precipitators. These sensors are used in air quality treatment systems to collect data that will be used to calculate air emissions such as particulate matter emissions and greenhouse gas emissions. Remote sensors are generally on an existing facility network for transmitting data to the EHS/ESG IMS or, if a sensor is remote, the use of telemetry can be used for the transmission of data to the EHS/ESG IMS in real time.
- Beacons are small wireless transmitters that use low-energy Bluetooth© technology to send signals to smart devices. Beacons can be used for locating equipment and gathering information about the equipment easier and more efficient in the field.
- Wearables are used to monitor employee locations across a facility and sense exposure assessment levels to hazardous chemicals and radiation. Wearables can be used by machine operators to confirm there are no staff within a potentially hazardous area during machine operation or used to transmit information to the machine they are operating to maintain a safe environment.
- Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation are also being incorporated into EHS/ESG IMS to allow the system to interact with employees and take actions automatically without needing a person to manually respond to some of the basic requests. This technology can cut down on the staff needed to manage the IMS and facilitates faster response times and alert notifications to the EHS/ESG managers. Machine learning also makes the overall IMS smarter as it learns repeat actions or character recognition to extract environmental compliance obligations from environmental permits faster than manual processes, although some technologies will still require manual oversight and quality checks to properly manage the EHS/ESG risks.
- Virtual and augmented reality devices are being implemented to allow subject matter experts to review site conditions from the control room while working with operators and working with technicians in the field. This technology allows the work to be performed remotely, which leads to less business travel, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint of the organization. This technology also facilitates the production of a 3-D visual digital “twin” of a facility, which can link various operational data and information to a 3-D model space for training and scenario reviews.
- Business intelligence (BI), analytics and dashboards are making data and information more visual on charts, heatmaps and other visualizations that can document trends in near incident misses or work activities that can lead to a higher frequency of incidents. These technologies can also provide an early warning system to pinpoint where there is potential for elevated EHS/ESG risks.
- Learning Management Systems (LMS) are necessary for keeping track of an organization’s employee training program for establishing a safety culture and maintaining compliance with training obligations.
- Video analytics are being used to evaluate ergonomics to assess employee posture while they perform their work duties and identify repeated movements that can be proactively addressed to maintain a healthy ergonomic work environment.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, can be used to capture significant and varied information and data over a larger area via photographs, videos and other sensors such as ambient monitoring, LiDAR and thermal sensors to inspect specific equipment and structures, as well as detect changes in vegetation, landscape and hardscape structures that may indicate environmental issues of concern and safety and health hazards.
- EHS regulatory compliance databases are used and integrated with EHS/ESG software systems to alert plant personnel regarding permit compliance obligations in real time and identify when regulations change that could affect compliance with operational permits.
- EHS/ESG IMS integration with internal corporate systems regarding the current and accurate employee data, as well as effectively controlling security permissions to the system. This approach includes integration with an organization’s human resources information system (HRIS) to create and terminate employee accounts within the EHS/ESG IMS as new staff are hired or as current employees are terminated. This integration also provides for a single place to update employee, vendor and contractor information that keeps the EHS/ESG IMS up to date.
EHS/ESG software companies that offer many of these technologies have enabled many organizations to outsource the development and implementation of their EHS/ESG IMS. However, some organizations prefer to develop and maintain their own customized EHS/ESG IMS or to leverage existing technologies they are already using (e.g., Microsoft Dynamics and O365 digital stack). Regardless of the decision an organization makes to “buy vs. build” their EHS/ESG IMS, it’s important to be aware of these latest trends in digital technology and how they can be leveraged to standardize, centralize, automate and enhance the effectiveness of the overall IMS.
Also critical to the effectiveness of an EHS/ESG IMS is that it doesn’t affect the workflow of the operations. A good IMS should be able to incorporate the existing EHS/ESG management system standard operating procedures and mirror the current operations workflow without adding additional administrative burden to an organization’s employee. The EHS/ESG management system and workflows should be well developed so that requirements can be defined for incorporating into the IMS to support the overall EHS/ESG management system. The valuable information within the organization’s facility and corporate structure should be aligned with the IMS to meet the management structure, communications and reporting needs of the organization. A well-defined requirements document should be developed to inform the developer or software vendor of the functional, technical and performance requirements desired and expected from the EHS/ESG IMS.
Key considerations before the implementation of the EHS/ESG IMS include:
- Develop an EHS/ESG management system requirements document by articulate the goals and functions of an ideal management system.
- Evaluate the options for building a custom system to meet requirements versus adopting a commercially available EHS/ESG software.
- Evaluate multiple EHS/ESG software vendors against a consistent set of selection criteria (i.e., the EHS/ESG management system requirements document) that are prioritized based on the EHS/ESG management system needs of the organization.
- Be sure that the EHS/ESG software vendor has staff with knowledge and experience in the industry of the organization. This understanding will keep the implementation in synch with the EHS regulations that apply to the organization’s industry and streamline communications to use the same terms, policies and procedures under which the organization currently operates.
- Consider diversifying the EHS/ESG IMS project team with an outsourced EHS/ESG IMS subject matter expert who understands the EHS/ESG requirements and can take an unbiased approach to work with EHS/ESG software companies to confirm the requirements can be met for the system.
- For global operations consider whether the EHS/ESG IMS can be programmed to use the native languages at the facilities in countries where the company operates.
- Develop a phased implementation plan that allows for piloting each of the different EHS/ESG information workflows of the organization to work out the identified issues in the system and make adjustments prior to rolling out to the entire organization.
- Provide a robust EHS/ESG IMS training plan with employees that is adjusted based on feedback from the pilot team. Provide a website to access training resources including system documentation and video tutorials.
- Include disaster recovery planning and information security to confirm the system will work with the identified IT data security and quality standards.
- Negotiate a plan with the vendor and include it in the service and/or products contract, which states the information and data collected by using the EHS/ESG software remains the sole ownership of the organization. Also, include a clause that if the organization is not satisfied with the software integration and/or performance, there is an agreed upon plan for migrating the information and data to another EHS/ESG software or customized local digital system and the costs associated with performance this step.
In conclusion, the IMS and its effectiveness to support the EHS/ESG management system will only be as good as the design of the overall EHS/ESG management system. Well-planned and thought out standard operating procedures and information workflow is critical to have documented in advance of establishing the requirements of the EHS/ESG IMS. This critical step will help communicate the requirements and expectations to the applicable leaders of the organization. Success in the pilot phase, when testing the system, will build the confidence and momentum needed to effectively integrate the EHS/ESG IMS across the organization.
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This insights post is a follow up to our recent white paper Managing EHS & ESG Risks Through Integrated Systems. TRC offers integrated EHS services that help organizations better manage EHS and ESG associated risks and improve performance at the corporate and plant levels.