Environmental Factor, April 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Welcomes Aspiring Environmental Stewards
By Eddy Ball
Rodbell Auditorium took on a more "Old North State" flavor than usual on March 8 as NIEHS hosted the 2007 N. C. Environmental Stewardship Initiative(http://www.p2pays.org/esi/) (ESI) meeting and member recognition. The ESI program is operated by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance (DPPEA). Attendees included business people from throughout the state, representatives of local governments and community organizations, students from Duke's Stanford Institute of Public Policy and a contingent of state employees.
As an ESI Environmental Partner since 2005, the Institute is striving to become what is called a Rising Environmental Steward, the next step in the process of achieving full Environmental Steward status. Working under Health and Safety Branch (HSB) Chief Scott Merkle, HSB Environmental Compliance Specialist Bill Steinmetz is overseeing efforts by the Institute to reach "self-declaring performance" in accordance with ISO 14001 (see sidebar), a standard of environmental management excellence recognized worldwide.
NIEHS Associate Director for Management Marc Hollander welcomed meeting attendees, explained a little about what goes on at NIEHS and underscored the Institute's commitment to "getting better at being green." Hollander credited the lake, lush vegetation, and resident ducks and geese as some of the "environmentally friendly stuff" that makes it so pleasant to work on the 375 acre campus. "We're committed to stewardship on this campus," Hollander declared. "We accept it as a community [because] public health and environmental health cannot be separated."
DPPEA Division Director Gary Hunt and DENR Secretary Bill Ross returned to the "public health and environmental health" theme several times as they explained the ESI program and recognized new Rising Environmental Stewards. Key to ESI membership is a commitment to go beyond compliance with environmental regulations through development of a proactive Environmental Management System (EMS). According to Ross, this commitment means that members adopt a "triple bottom line," which gives weight to environmental and social considerations, as well as profit.
Like the new Rising Environmental Stewards, other North Carolina businesses have reaped the benefits of adopting responsible environmental management practices. According to one of the event's featured speakers, Smithfield's Vice President of Environmental and Corporate Affairs Dennis Treacy, striving to optimize environmental management has saved the company millions in annual operating costs, dramatically reduced litigation and legal costs, salvaged the firm's less than stellar reputation, expanded its customer base and given Smithfield a greater sense of security in the marketplace.
The day-long workshop included a presentation on "Stewardship: Moving Forward, the EPA Perspective" by Dan Fiorino, director of the Performance Incentives Division at EPA. Another presentation highlighted ESI members Degussa-Stockhausen, a specialty chemical manufacturer in Greensboro, and the U.S. Coast Guard Support Center in Elizabeth City. The meeting closed with a program update and information presentation by DPPEA administrators and a session on working with mentors to help newer members benefit from the experiences of Environmental Stewards and Rising Environmental Stewards.
During one of the morning's presentations by Eric Henry of Burlington's T. S. Designs, Inc., a poster child for doing sustainable green business in North Carolina, Merkle and Steinmetz got a good-natured reminder of the work ahead at NIEHS. After describing the way T. S. Designs has looked at every aspect of its operations, from reducing electrical usage with solar panels and light tubes to replacing most of its lawn with trees and permaculture, Henry pointed to the lights in the ceiling of Rodbell. "This lighting is incandescent," he noted. "I know it's like picking low-hanging fruit, but this room really should have fluorescent lights or light tubes."
Environmental Stewardship at NIEHS - From Grass-Roots Activism to a Proactive Program of Environmental Management
When Scott Merkle joined NIEHS in 1988, responsible environmental management was in the hands of a relatively few socially conscious employees. Today, Merkle has a full-time Environmental Compliance Specialist working in HSB and an EMS team of specialists led by Bill Steinmetz identifying and solving problems throughout the Institute. The team includes Radiation Safety Officer Bill Fitzgerald, Mechanical Engineer Greg Holland, Safety Officer Chris Hunt, Hazardous Waste Manager Paul Johnson and Employee Services Support Specialist Dick Sloane, all of whom report to Steinmetz.
As part of its program to become a full-fledged Rising Environmental Steward, NIEHS is developing a comprehensive Environmental Management System
to achieve "self-declaring performance" in regard to international standards. The International Standards Organization (ISO)
has developed more than 350 protocols for the monitoring of such aspects as the quality of air, water and soil, as well as noise and radiation. These standards also serve in a number of countries as the technical basis for environmental regulations.
In an increasingly global economy, ISO certifications are extremely attractive to American businesses involved in international trade and useful for setting beyond-compliance standards. ISO 9000 quality management and 14000 environmental management certifications require applicants to document their practices and submit to outside inspections to verify compliance. As an agency under the DHHS umbrella, NIEHS will not apply for formal certification, but will perform in a manner that meets the strict requirements of ISO 14000.
As part of the Environmental Stewardship Initiative, the Institute will submit to regular outside audits by DPPEA field staff as part of the approval process for its continued membership. The program's Environmental Management System model is based on the ISO 14001 rules. Participants must meet specific requirements, including assigning qualified staff to environmental management, keeping detailed, current records of compliance, and performing audits and issuing reports of the organization's environmental management activities.