The changing face of environmental managers

The past three years have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of environmental managers in British business, according to an ENDS study.1 Their traditional role as corporate policemen is also changing, with growing numbers adding value by promoting waste minimisation and other initiatives, and enhancing their influence by co-ordinating environmental management systems and building employee awareness. But a worrying finding is the limited education and training in environmental matters received by most managers.

The study was based on questionnaire responses from 210 environmental managers and follow-up interviews and site visits. The report provides the first in-depth picture of their role and how it is evolving, how they are trained, what they are paid, where they fit into the management structure, and their relationships with environmental consultants.

One of the study's most striking findings was how recently most individuals in environmental management posts have been appointed. Two-thirds of the 210 respondents are in posts created within the past three years (see figure ) - clearly indicating the influence of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Although the Act created an extra regulatory workload, there is clear evidence from the study that the traditional role of environmental managers is changing. Although much of their time is still devoted to ensuring compliance with air, water and waste legislation, waste minimisation is rising in prominence, and is expected to take 20% of the average manager's time two years hence.

Many are now contributing significantly to the efficiency of their businesses by identifying waste reduction opportunities - indeed, no fewer than 70% said they had already initiated changes which resulted in cost reductions, sometimes well into six figures.

Environmental managers are also "adding value" in other ways. The growing importance of product stewardship and environmental "screening" of suppliers, for example, is providing them with opportunities to extend their sphere of influence and build closer links between their businesses and suppliers and customers.

The development of formal environmental management systems within businesses is also proving a force for change in environmental managers' traditional role. In many companies environmental responsibilities are being integrated into line management. This process is turning environmental managers into co-ordinators and facilitators, with training and awareness building among employees as one of their key tasks - indeed, the average corporate environmental manager expects to be spending 15% of his or her time on these functions in two years' time.

The study also suggests that the post of environmental manager is no longer a sinecure for middle-aged individuals at the end of their career paths who were given the environment to look after until the time came to retire. The age profile of today's environmental managers is much more balanced. And there are also signs that tomorrow's environmental managers will be more likely to move between companies. Their growing professionalism is endowing them with more tradable skills. And employers are increasingly looking beyond their existing staff for experienced individuals to help them set up effective environmental management systems.

Given the growing range and complexity of environmental pressures on business, an important question posed by the study is whether the education and training of environmental managers are advancing in parallel. The basic education of 61% of the survey respondents had no environmental content - yet most subsequently received little training other than attendance at conferences.

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