When Environmental Compliance Meets Digital Transformation

In recent years, businesses and the departmental functions and processes within them have changed significantly. One of the main drivers of these changes is digital transformation, which has seen greater progression in certain industries and industry sectors over others. This article discusses how adopting digital solutions can help environmental, health and safety (EHS) leaders in manufacturing improve compliance. 

Departmental functions in businesses have changed drastically over the last 10 years. In that time, the push for digital transformation has altered standard business processes related to IT, HR, Finance, Sales and Marketing, among other departmental operations.

Yet in many cases, the extent to which routine processes have evolved in an organization depends largely on how far the organization has progressed in its own digital transformation.

The manufacturing industry as a whole has shown a clear understanding of the value digital technologies bring, including how they improve traditional functional processes by making them both more efficient and intelligent.

This is the result of manufacturing having been an early adopter of digital solutions. Along with retail and healthcare, manufacturing was one of the first sectors to grasp digital transformation technologies and practices and, in effect, lead the Digital Revolution.

Manufacturers have long used digital technologies to drive product development, automate production processes, streamline supply chains and even formulate market outlooks.

In comparison, the environmental, health and safety (EHS) sector of manufacturing has taken much longer to understand the value of digitization. Particularly for compliance reporting tasks, EHS operations continue to rely on paper trails and manual processes to manage information. However, data-intensive processes such as Tier II reporting for environmental compliance can significantly benefit from digital transformation.

Compliance solutions that involve digitized data and digitalized processes, for instance, provide ready access to information, enhance efficiency via automation and encourage higher levels of productivity from employees and workgroups.

The better news is it’s never too late to embrace new technologies and practices on the digital transformation path. With diligent planning, EHS leaders can implement digital solutions that make reporting much easier starting now.

By going digital, EHS teams can effectively reimagine the operational aspects of compliance reporting in its entirety. For instance, they can standardize data collection and reporting tasks across the organization and dispersed regulated facilities.

They can also create a single source of truth to maintain compliance information more efficiently and to ensure data completeness and accuracy. EHS teams can even automate much of the reporting submission process to make sure reports get to the right state and federal regulatory agencies in the right formats, on time.

Several issues leave organizations at risk

One significant issue for environmental compliance is that regulations for the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are becoming increasingly more complex.

Combined with insufficient reporting methods, a lack of compliance knowledge among an EHS team and not fully understanding how and when regulations apply to a facility makes it difficult to stay ahead of ever-changing regulations. Quite often, this shortcoming leaves EHS teams in scramble mode to prepare and file Tier II reports by the March 1 deadline, which increases the risk of non-compliance.

Beyond regulations, many issues in compliance reporting essentially result from a lack of proactivity. When EHS teams’ operational processes lack efficiency, organization, technological innovation and visibility across facilities, it can be much more difficult to keep the risk of non-compliance in check. Following are other compliance-related issues organizations can resolve with a proactive approach to reporting.

* Inaccurate reports

It’s common for companies to rush submitting their Tier II forms, often leading to error-prone reports with no quality assurance to address potential mistakes before submission. EHS teams can proactively build QA/QC checkpoints into the reporting process and assign “reviewers” to identify and resolve errors before a report is finalized and submitted.

* Labor-intensive work

Collecting compliance information and data from disjointed systems, spreadsheets and emails, often manually, making the process more time-consuming than it needs to be. Gathering data can typically require hundreds of dedicated people hours, which keeps EHS and operations teams from working on other critical compliance tasks. Organizations can use a digital environmental compliance solution to connect information silos, streamline data collection and help teams avoid laborious processes to gather and validate data.

* Unorganized processes

Problems can arise when the expert in charge of compliance reporting at the facility level decides to leave or retire from the company. Creating a single source of truth can establish a central data repository for all parties involved in reporting activities, while digitalizing reporting processes can standardize them for multiple users and make them repeatable for subsequent reporting years.

* Lack of technology innovation in reporting portals

Because state and federal reporting portals are mostly non-standardized, it can be challenging for companies to navigate the technology complexities if they aren’t proactive. Automating the way you submit reports to these portals is invaluable in this case.

* Absence of visibility

When companies fail to comply with Tier II filing requirements for managing chemical inventories, it’s often due to lack of compliance data and process visibility and inaccurate or incomplete information. However, when data and processes follow a digital path, they’re more easily shared and accessed for the purpose of QA/QC.

How digital transformation improves EHS compliance

Digital transformation provides an opportunity for EHS operations everywhere to be proactive in managing environmental compliance and mitigating risk. Organizations can transition unorganized manual reporting methods to a platform that capitalizes on digital reporting and automation. In doing so, teams are more equipped to submit state and federal reports accurately and on time.

Today’s EHS professionals can adopt technology solutions that allow them to mitigate errors by getting a 360-degree view of reporting activities, increasing proactive collaboration and completely transforming operational functions via digital transformation. Following are key outcomes resulting from such a transformation.

* Eliminate mistakes with automation

EHS teams can replace spreadsheets and point systems with a digital solution to more efficiently manage information and locate and access data faster. Automation improves visibility and minimizes human error, hours spent and resourcing. It also enhances the user experience for EHS professionals and can help stem employee turnover within compliance operations.

* Improve collaboration, transparency and compliance

An environmental compliance platform gives EHS leaders and teams a single, collaborative, 360-degree view of compliance data and reporting activities across facilities. Digital capabilities allow EHS teams to manage and track information for chemical thresholds and other compliance details in real-time and streamline reporting activities across their whole organization, which also improves collaboration.

* Weigh outcomes proactively

When an organization adopts a comprehensive environmental compliance solution, EHS teams can measure indicators and implement countermeasures proactively. In doing so, a business gains a holistic view of its compliance status.

* Avoid hefty non-compliance fines

Under EPCRA, EPA is permitted to fine companies $62,689 per day, per violation until a non-compliance issue is resolved. Non-compliance risks are real and companies should be doing everything they can to avoid them. The right environmental compliance solution can maximize proactive compliance management, helping organizations eliminate costly mistakes.

For environmental compliance, digital transformation has become the key to any compliance technology plan. Through a method that blends high-tech software with high-touch support from EHS and compliance experts, enterprises can revolutionize environmental compliance processes so they are proactive, standardized and intelligent. With digital technologies and practices, EHS teams can be confident they are doing everything in their power to mitigate the risk of non-compliance.

Luke Jacobs is Encamp’s CEO and helped launch the company in November 2017 as one of its co-founders.


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