Partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are undergoing more change than ever these days, which of course is a challenge in and of itself, but while managing changes, companies also need to ensure that they comply with environmental regulations, a consultant told a lubricant industry forum last month.
Shawn Woll, business development representative for environmental consulting firm August Mack Environmental Inc. in its Lancaster, Pennsylvania office, gave a webinar presentation for Independent Lubricant Manufacturing Association members about environmental considerations on Dec. 9.
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Woll recalled that in early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic ramped up in the Americas, forecasts suggested other things would have the most impact on businesses that year. “I remember at the beginning of 2020 I was sitting at an economic forecast breakfast,” he said. “Everyone was talking about Brexit and China – these were the two big things that were going to occur in 2020.” Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, was ultimately pushed back to the end of this month, while China became news last year more due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Brexit is still happening, and China and the tariffs and our relationship with China, all these things are important to think about” from an environmental compliance standpoint, he added.
Woll acknowledged that some might ask how what’s happening in China or the European Union has anything to do with companies in the United States. “It’s important to start to broaden our ideas when it comes to things like supply chains,” he asserted. “We all know in the COVID pandemic how much supply chains got affected.”
For example, he said, if availability is disrupted for materials used by a research and development unit, the company might need to procure different materials from different countries, in which case the company may need to abide by different requirements.
“Different global economic shifts are going to cause companies to react in different ways, which might cause them to purchase different chemicals, do different things or work with different companies that have different standards,” Woll said. “For example, the European Union has different manufacturing standards. All of these things could play a role.”
Moving into the new year, he said companies need to be ready to respond to the unexpected. “There’s so many different things that could occur, but I think it’s always good just to keep your ear to the ground, try to listen to the pulse of what’s going on,” Woll advised. “And just try to think about it – how could this affect the environmental health and safety here at my company? That’s because you want to be proactive, and think about things when you have a minute.”
Woll said August Mack observes many companies grappling with breakdowns in communication about environmental compliance considerations.
“Have we ever had a conversation with decision makers, or some of the other folks about [whether] adding production lines or research and development – if you guys are bringing new chemicals in, are you letting the environmental health and safety team know?” he said. “If we’re thinking about expanding our operations or thinking about selling part of a facility, are we talking with the right people to be thinking due diligence about asbestos, any sort of contamination. Are we talking with them, are we telling them what we’re doing?”
He said it’s important to inform decision makers when changes to facilities can run into environmental regulations. “Obviously they don’t have to know the nitty gritty, but to help them have a high level understanding so that there’s some buy in, to understand what’s going on at the facility,” he said.
Woll said communications breakdowns about such environmental compliance issues happen fairly often because departments that don’t typically work with such issues may overlook them. “If you’re in finance, you’re just thinking about capital improvements – how to increase sales and efficiency,” he said, as an example. According to Woll, it’s also useful for company officials to take time and walk around their facility. “That’s one of the big things,” he said. “With manufacturers and [environmental health and safety] professionals, so much sometimes occurs where we are just stuffed in the office. Walk around the facility, talk to your folks, make sure all these things are being covered.”