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Can Cultures of Safety Be Leveraged to Develop Cultures of Sustainability?

Safety and sustainability messaging often compete for the limelight when it comes to corporate culture. Can one be leveraged to develop the other?

In my previous blog post, I asked to hear more about the issues that practitioners face in embedding sustainability into their organizational culture. I’ve been having some interesting conversations lately with firms in the extractives sector.

One issue that seems to come up repeatedly relates to how to leverage the “cultures of safety” these firms have worked so hard to build over the last decade. After investing considerable resources to clarify and elevate the safety message in these firms, it’s legitimate to ask: Can cultures of safety be leveraged into cultures of sustainability? If so, how?

Many sustainability folks are eager to build sustainability into safety messaging, but are encountering resistance from their health and safety groups who are concerned about diluting the safety message that they have worked so hard to craft. The sustainability managers are also finding a level of “initiative” fatigue. While general managers and heads of operations may be empathetic to their organization’s new sustainability goals, they are expressing concern about the number of change initiatives and culture-building programs targeted at their employees.

Some firms have tried to reconcile these competing demands by trying to bring safety, sustainability, and reliability all under one banner called “operational excellence” or even “lean.” Others are trying to bring the environment under the safety banner by talking about “the safety of people and the environment.”

What about your firm? Are you trying to leverage your current safety culture? Is it working?

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