The Environment, Health, and Safety Academy
The level of economic growth that has recently occurred in China—just within the last 10 years alone—is nothing short of astonishing. China’s Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces have been at the center of the county’s dramatic economic resurgence. Together, the two regions now generate more than 20 percent of China’s overall gross domestic product, which demonstrated continued growth at a quarterly average of 9.31 percent from 1989 to 2010. While this growth has improved the health and quality of life indicators for millions living in China, it has not come without significant costs, especially at the nexus of environmental and personal health.
In 2009, China’s emissions of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas that results from the burning of coal, oil and gas—reached 7.5 billion metric tons, a 9 percent increase over the previous year. After accounting for 22 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, China produced 24 percent of worldwide GHG emissions in 2009. While the effects of these levels are felt all over the world—and will be felt for years to come—they have an acute impact on China. In addition to frequent energy shortages that disrupt the lives of millions living in Guangdong, Jiangsu and many other provinces, China as a nation is experiencing a rapid deterioration of environmental conditions.
If you described [the EHS Academy] to somebody passing on the street, it wouldn’t be as sexy as pointing to the newest electric car, but it might have a lot more to do with saving the planet for our grandchildren.
—Bill Clinton, Founding Chairman, Clinton Global Initiative
Air quality in China’s cities is among the worst in the world, and industrial water pollution has become a widespread health hazard. Air and water pollution in particular are posing monumental local environmental hazards, and have become major sources of morbidity and mortality throughout China.
In response—and under pressure from the international community—the Chinese government has set ambitious environmental, health and safety targets, and has instituted new standards for energy use and intensity. However, due to the sheer number of factories—especially small and medium-sized enterprises— compliance continues to be a problem. Guangdong and Jiangsu have continued to lag further behind many other regions.
Finding a solution to this regional and global crisis required innovative thinking, international input, and the cooperation and direct involvement of critical stakeholders, including multinational corporations (MNCs). MNCs have vested interests in the protection of the environment and the promotion of human rights, as well as maintaining the integrity of their supply chains and the ability to meet numerous safety compliance targets. This was the perspective that the GE Foundation brought to China.
In 2007, the GE Foundation awarded a grant to the Institute for Sustainable Communities to develop a series of training classes for Chinese industry and government leaders on the issues of environmental health and safety. These resources allowed the Institute to enact a much bigger vision: the creation of a training academy to vastly broaden the scope and the impact of its educational outreach.
Through additional partnerships with worldwide companies such as Wal-Mart, Honeywell, and others, and with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute developed a comprehensive curriculum for an academy with a clear mission: develop local networks of environmental health and safety resources across China. The curriculum for what would become the Environment Health and Safety (EHS) Academy was molded from the collective experiences in sound EHS management from all project partners, and immediately included the creation of training workshops to develop an army of EHS Academy personnel. Additionally, a local university in Guangdong was engaged to help establish the training platform and to help in measuring success.
Critical to the effort was the fostering of partnerships that brought together business, government and communities to take effective action, share best practices and, ultimately, build a thriving environmental health and safety industry in China. The Institute envisioned the EHS Academy becoming a core component of its three-year strategic plan to develop and implement programs that enable cities and communities around the world to transition to low-carbon economies.
Through a core group of highly qualified Chinese and international master trainers overseeing continual curriculum development—and in alignment with Chinese EHS regulatory policy, as well as mentoring Academy instructors—the Academy began offering affordable, flexible courses in progressive tiers of complexity. These included “Introduction: EHS as a Management System,” “Hazard Recognition and Risk Assessment,” “Management of Change and Preventive Maintenance,” and “Project Management for Solving EHS Issues.”
As a result, plant managers are now learning to apply international best practices in EHS management, enabling their companies to increase compliance with Chinese standards, decrease workflow interruptions due to injury, lower energy consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas and other harmful emissions. These initiatives are also helping companies improve worker performance and product quality, which is lowering operating costs, decreasing the risk of fines and providing a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
Currently, the Institute is expanding the number of qualified EHS managers serving factories in South China, and is opening a new Academy to serve factories in and around the province of Jiangsu. The program is also expanding the curriculum to include GHG measurement and reduction techniques, and is developing a strategy for expanding the China model to other countries.
More than 1,500 managers [have been trained] to improve environmental health and safety performance in Chinese factories. It is making a real difference in the lives of the workers and the community, and is strengthening the environment and the economy at the same time.
—Lisa Jackson, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The EHS Academy has trained thousands of managers, and aims to certify several thousand more within its first three years of operation, ensuring that the Academy will serve as a vital source of EHS leadership and expertise in China for years to come. An additional 4,000 managers will be trained and certified through the Academy once the second location in Jiangsu becomes fully operational. And as early as May 2011, the provincial government in Guangdong will enact China’s first-ever government-sponsored certification for Environment, Health and Safety Managers. This certification is based in large part on the EHS Academy curriculum, and marks the first time that the government has issued clear, comprehensive guidelines on what constitutes a qualified EHS manager.
These efforts are effectively transforming the way Chinese companies view and mitigate environmental health and safety issues, altering the way the Chinese government itself looks at EHS issues, and measurably reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their numerous adverse effects on both the planet and its inhabitants.
To learn more about the EHS Academy, visit www.iscvt.org/ehsacademy.
By GE Foundation, Public Policy Grants: Portfolio Review 2010
Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in Global Challenges, Local Impacts, a report from the GE Foundation on its Public Policy Grants portfolio. You can read the original here.