Foremost of the three great lies is the line, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you,” which, as I see it, is in no danger of surrendering its ranking. So every time I hear word that there are public works (or, for that matter, OSHA, IRS, or animal control) inspectors wandering around the area, I find myself getting edgy. After all, of the dozens of possible outcomes from such visits, not one of them leaves me an iota better off than I was before their arrival. Yet these people exist for a reason, and, like it or not, they are very likely going to have their way, whether we think what they’re checking on is important or not.
Aha, I can almost hear some of you saying. He’s going to talk about runoff, erosion control, dust abatement, and all those sneaky little requirements the environmentalists have created to complicate what used to be a pretty straightforward matter of moving dirt from one place to another. Well guess what? There’s some truth in here, only maybe “what used to be” doesn’t hold water today any more than the time-honored tradition of dumping used oil into the ground on the assumption that “old Mother Nature will take care of it.”
Here again, there’s some of that same grain in the sense that, yes, Mother Nature is going to keep right on chugging, no matter how many gallons of hydrocarbons we pour down the storm drain, or how many tons of dust we swirl into the atmosphere, or how many yards of mud we push into creek beds or track out onto highways.
But we as fisherman concerned with the bounty of our waterways; we as parents of children who will inherit the fruits of our stewardship and profit by our examples; we as taxpayers who have to pick up the tab for the corporate lifestyle that as citizens of a free society we choose to follow; we as living, breathing organisms superbly adapted over countless millennia to nature’s definition of what clean air, water, and dirt entails; we as stewards of life here on the planet who have been blessed with the ability to envision, weigh, and act on the consequences of our actions…certainly we ought to know better.
Neither It nor Them
We—not our government, its regulators, investigators, or enforcement agents—are the ones on the cutting edge when it comes to what our descendants will have to live in, work with, and pass along in their package of genes. While the Clean Water Act and its progeny have some pretty healthy teeth to get us to pay attention to what we’re doing, in the main they are guidelines based on our corporate experience—relatively short when you think about it—of how best to accommodate our desires to build, grow, expand, and move on, within the limits of the rugged but no longer quite so limitless boundaries of our biosphere.
It’s what our society is beginning to recognize and demand, and where once you might have seen a handful of woolly-headed activists standing hand-to-hand singing mawkish peace/love/eternal blessings refrains in defense of some little known glob of protoplasm well on its way to extinction, today you find society’s heavy dudes—lawyers, bankers, and ultimately the people who hold the keys to the projects on which you hope to work—standing four-square in the amen corner, ready to enforce rules and regulations you may not like and they may not understand.
Well maybe you can chalk some of this up to an excess of political correctness, but beneath the veneer lies the growing awareness in all of us that there are many costs associated with development—notably those having to do with detrimental impacts on natural resources—that are blithely shuttled off to people who may or may not be beneficiaries of the process. So the question is not whether we should get on board the environmental movement but how best to excel in the activity.
Standards for Success
Off and on over the years, I’ve promoted the thesis that an environmental management system (EMS) could give you a leg up on your competitors, pointing out that any reduction in pollution-related incidents is bound to result in a stronger bottom line. Consider what an EMS can do for you:
* Identify and eliminate redundant regulatory compliance efforts
* Help eliminate waste and curb harmful emissions
* Guide the selection of proper BMPs that can become benchmarks for future projects
* Determine the overall appropriateness of pollution prevention strategies
* Predict and thereby reduce the number and severity of environmental infractions
Will this lead to a healthier, safer environment? Maybe. But, viewed within the context of your business as a whole, an EMS will almost certainly promote a happier bottom line for your balance sheet…an impact we can all live with.