The success of almost any environmental program - like LEED, ISO 14001 certification, or voluntary greenhouse gas reporting - practically hinges on having an environmental champion spearheading the project. That one person’s passion and commitment can make or break the entire initiative.
In fact, having an environmental champion behind a project is often considered a requirement. If a third-party auditor or verification specialist comes to inspect your efforts and finds that you don’t have someone who is passionate and informed about the project, much of your work will have been in vain.
But what does it mean to be an environmental champion?
Although the position has no definitive job description, there are a few important elements that can be found in champions across all industries and businesses.
1) Passion That Lasts
Being passionate about environmental projects is by far the most important factor that environmental champions bring to the table. Their passion is the primary driving force behind every environmental initiative, big and small.
Working with all types of businesses, we’ve met environmental champions coming from the top levels of management, as well as from the shop floor.
Some have had years of experience dealing with complex environmental compliance reporting, while others are enthusiasts that have already implemented composting and recycling projects in the workplace.
What’s important is that their enthusiasm can last throughout the less exciting and frustrating parts of the planning process.
Environmental projects require constant evaluation, planning, and review. It can sometimes seem like you’re spinning your wheels... all for gradual improvements in environmental performance.
An environmental champion gets excited about the long-term payoffs and doesn’t let tedium damper their passion. When everyone else seems too busy and overworked, the environmental champion pushes on, even if it means they have to drag everyone else behind them.
2) Training & Awareness
While an environmental champion does not necessarily need to come from an environmental sciences background, they do need to be the expert on their environmental initiatives and the facility’s environmental obligations.
They need to be the go-to person for anyone that wants or needs information (or training) about your environmental goals and targets. And that includes being able to provide feedback to your environmental specialists and managers.
In fact, an environmental champion needs to be comfortable acting as an authority figure to every level of your business. That takes a lot of confidence and unsurpassed knowledge of your environmental policy.
On top of filling the role of trainer, the environmental champion also needs to spend every day looking for further opportunities for further improvements and raising employee awareness. This can range from the most basic activities like putting up posters in the staff room, to full scale efforts like meeting with champions from similar industries and comparing efforts.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has some free resources for environmental champions, designed for any workplace. They are a great place to start when it comes to increasing awareness and recognizing efforts.
3) Communication & Facilitation
One key skill that a good environmental champion has is the ability to facilitate communication between all levels of management and employee.
A project like ISO 14001 certification requires engagement from all levels and employees, from C-level management, to environmental specialists, to shop floor manufacturers. Everybody needs to be involved, and they all speak a different language and have different concerns. And each of them will bring something valuable to contribute to the success of any environmental program, but there needs to be a focal level of communication.
That’s why an environmental champion needs to be fluent in all the different languages being spoken in the facility and understand everybody’s concerns.
More than that, however, the environmental champion needs to know how to get each of these separate groups on the same page and talking to each other.
Facilitating these conversations is essential to creating a company-wide environmental policy and setting realistic goals.
At the end of the sustainability planning process, everyone needs to be working towards the same concrete targets that have been set out as a team. The champion will definitely help to develop those targets, but they’ll be responsible for facilitating those conversations even more so.
4) Putting It All Together
How exactly an environmental champion functions in your planning will depend on numerous factors: how your business is organized, the scope of your environmental policy, your targets, etc.
There is no right or wrong way to be an environmental champion, as long as you strive to create successful environmental initiatives and improve company performance as much as possible.
In short: the environment should be the champion’s number one priority.
One thing is clear, however - an environmental champion is one of the best assets your environmental management team could ever ask for.
If you're looking for even more information about getting ISO 14001 and setting up an environmental management system, check out our free resource below:
About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+, LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog
(Image credit: Brett Jordan)