EHS Academy: Developing Strong Local and International Partnerships

By Robert S. Harrison, Chief Executive Officer, Clinton Global Initiative

April 5, 2010

Editor's note: The following article first appeared in the GE Citizenship website's Expert Perspectives series. Please click here to read the original.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) is a small organization with a big goal: launching a new profession of Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) managers in China. In the fall of 2009, when launching the EHS Academy in Guangzhou, China, ISC knew that it could only succeed if it developed strong local and international partnerships. And indeed it has—bringing in GE, Walmart, the U.S. Agency for International Development and several Chinese government agencies.

At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), every member has to make a Commitment to Action—a new, specific and measurable plan to make the world a better place. This year, ISC committed to establish a second academy, and to work with Chinese authorities to add clean energy and climate issues to the EHS certification process. Drawing on the best practices from multinational corporations, the academies will train factory managers to boost EHS compliance, rein in energy use and convert to cleaner energy.

Clinton Global Initiative“If you described this (EHS Academy) passing somebody 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.”

—President Bill Clinton, announcing the commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative

One of the reasons we really like ISC’s project is that it fills a gap. We could see the enormous potential for the EHS Academy model to fill a distinct need in China, which is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. The pace of supply chain expansion has outpaced even traditional EHS compliance efforts, and a systematic approach to monitoring green house gas emissions throughout supply chains did not exist. A comprehensive, sustainable approach, with the potential to get to scale quickly, was needed.

The Academy is an innovative partnership because it combines the relative strengths of governments, local partners, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and multi-national corporations. It’s crucial for all these different types of organizations to collaborate to address the challenges of Chinese supply chains.

By basing the first EHS Academy at Sun Yat-sen University’s Lingnan College, a respected business school in the southern city of Guangzhou, ISC and its partners aim to build in-country capacity that will support the growth of a robust EHS profession that will reduce factories’ environmental impact in China’s most industrialized regions.

The Academy’s training draws on the international best practices of companies such as GE, Honeywell, Walmart and Adidas, all of whom helped develop the core curriculum. Lead funding has been provided by GE, the U.S. Agency for International Development and Walmart. In addition, several Chinese government agencies, including the Ministry of Environmental Protection, served as partners in developing the EHS Academy model, and China’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security is now developing an EHS certification protocol that will provide incentive for factories to train their managers.

In China, scale is key. ISC’s corporate partners are absolutely integral to ensuring that meaningful scale is reached. By committing to send their own managers to the trainings, they can continue to test and refine the Academy’s impacts. And as success is demonstrated, they can expand the trainings to the supply chain managers throughout their operations. With prominent industry leaders like GE, Walmart and Adidas involved, the chances of rapid widespread adoption are much improved.

Beyond that, the Academy model is unique for its investment in leadership training, not just compliance training. Managers coming out of their training will be positioned to be real agents of change, and to address the challenges presented by the existing patchwork approach to EHS and energy management in China.

And scale is already happening: ISC and its partners will establish another EHS Academy in Jiangsu in mid-2010. When fully operational, the EHS Academies will train 4,000 managers per year. The long-term aim is to change policy and practice across Chinese industry — affecting the lives of millions through better environment, health and safety outcomes. An estimated 5.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions will be cut through interventions deployed by the trained factory managers in the next three years.

At CGI, we are always looking for projects that are designed with social, environmental and economic sustainability in mind, and the EHS Academy seems to hit all the right notes — by rooting itself in Chinese academic institutions, garnering the support of key government agencies, and involving its main stakeholders in the funding and operations of the program.

About Robert S. Harrison
Robert S. Harrison is the chief executive officer of the Clinton Global Initiative. He is chairman of the board of directors of the Henry Street Settlement, vice-chairman of the board of trustees of Cornell University, and a member of the board of directors of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars.