Promoting the Environmental Manager

By Bruening, John C. | Occupational Hazards, November 1990 | Go to article overview
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Promoting the Environmental Manager

Bruening, John C., Occupational Hazards


Almost two years ago, J. Thomas Robinson, president of Nyacol Products, a chemical manufacturer in Ashland, Mass., met regularly with a handful of his contemporaries from other companies in eastern Massachusetts.

The informal discussions focused on a number of issues and concerns relative to environmental management and regulatory compliance, says Robinson.

"From that experience, it became quite apparent that there is a need for 'professional environmental people' to be able to discuss mutual interests, as well as some of the problems inherent in interfacing with regulatory people and legislators," he says.

After several meetings, says Robinson, "a few of us felt that it might be a good idea to approach this on a national basis, in order to bring environmental management into focus as a profession of growing importance."

That idea was the beginning of National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), a professional society for the estimated 9,000 middle management personnel whose responsibilities include environmental management and compliance.

Robinson, previously vice president of manufacturing and environmental affairs at Nyacol, and still active in the company's environmental affairs, notes that the role of the environmental manager varies from one industry to the next. Indeed, the title of the individual responsible for managing environmental issues and compliance may vary from one company to the next within the same industry. One of NAEM's primary goals, in fact, is to define the profession of environmental manager.

"Our mission is to define and promote and represent the profession of environmental management, and to raise the status and visibility of environmental managers," Robinson explains.

Other objectives, as outlined in a recent meeting of NAEM's organizing committee, include:

* Providing a forum for the members to communicate fully on personal, professional, and management issues of concern.

* Assisting in developing standards for the environmental management profession.

* Ensuring that those responsible for setting environmental policy have available to them the expertise and experience of the profession, and

* Establishing and implementing, in cooperation with other professional organizations and academic institutions, a curriculum for training environmental managers.

Who's Out There?

For organizational purposes, the fledgling association is currently operating under the working definition of environmental managers as "those individuals responsible for managing compliance with environmental regulations, overseeing toxic waste cleanup, and assuring environmental health and safety at both the plant and corporate levels in the regulated community."

But in order to better define its membership, NAEM must first identify who makes up its ranks.

"We're currently working on a survey that we're going to send out to try to better identify the environmental manager. We're asking what their backgrounds are, and where they're located," said Robinson.

The survey is scheduled to be distributed this month, said Robinson.

While acknowledging that the profession is still relatively new and somewhat amorphous, Robinson is convinced that the environmental manager is a person with responsibility and accountability for a broad range of issues.

"The basic knowledge that we do have about them is that they are the people who manage environmental activities, including the related compliance and safety policy, the public relations, the remediation efforts, and so forth. They are the people who are accountable for these issues, and responsible for them on a day-to-day, direct, decision-making basis."

Certification Efforts

Given the varied backgrounds and responsibilities of environmental managers, Robinson is eager to move ahead with NAEM's proposed certification program, which could include academic courses made available for managers who may be lacking in certain areas.

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