On October 25th, the NAEM will kick off the 25th Annual EHS & Sustainability Management Forum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As one of the largest gatherings of environmental, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability thought leaders and decision-makers in the country, this three-day event provides an excellent opportunity for EHS professionals to exchange ideas and share best practices on how to integrate strategic environmental, health, and safety programs within a business operation.
In preparation for the event, I had a chance to catch up with Virginia Hoekenga, NAEM Deputy Director, to learn more about this year’s program. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
CC: Have there been any significant changes made to the forum (separate from any anniversary events) this year’s NAEM?
VH: The biggest change this year is that we’ll again have a 5th track of sessions. Last year, we added this track in September when we were able to confirm our registration numbers were going to be significantly higher than they’d been the year before. This is the case again this year –great “problem” to have—so we’ve added 5 new sessions that range from exploratory topics, like planning for business interruptions caused by large natural disasters, to discussions on climate risk planning, and a deep dive into safety investigation and root cause analysis techniques. Beyond the 5th track, we’ve kept the program and format largely the same as we’ve fine-tuned our schedule and approach to developing the agenda over the years and feel like we have the right mix.
CC: After reviewing the agenda, there are a lot of really amazing presentations and events planned. If you could pick five events/sessions to promote, what would they be, and why?
VH: Well first off, thank you! The planning committee has been working on developing the topics and recruiting speakers since February of this year and they’ve done a great job of reflecting the key challenges and conversations happening in our field of EHS and sustainability management. So asking me to pick 5 sessions is like asking someone who their favorite children are [laughs].
In light of that, I will say, I think we will have 2 outstanding morning keynotes this year, opening with David Greenberg from LRN talking about how important “How” is and how you build “do it right” cultures. Dan Esty, from Yale and former head of the Connecticut DEP, will be talking about environmental protection a generation on—how far we’ve come and where we need to go.
I’m also really excited about our second annual IGNITE Power Hour that will close the conference on Thursday afternoon—this session really embodies what NAEM is all about and showcases the people who make up our community. Not to mention it’s a little less serious and more fun, so it gives people a chance to let their hair down, so to speak.
Networking-wise, the opening reception Wednesday night always has such an energized feeling—people who don’t get together that often, but are close friends and colleagues getting to grab a drink and catch up. It’s always very high energy. Of course, the 25th Anniversary dinner and networking event at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science will be another great chance to unwind and have fun with friends in our field —we’ll have access to an IMAX show and other fun features of the museum. So even though I didn’t single out specific sessions and speakers, hopefully that gives your readers some things to be sure they mark on their programs.
CC: What advice would you give attendees about the event?
VH: Oh, that’s a great question. I think most importantly I would say, “don’t be shy.” Speak up—whether it’s asking a speaker a question, or introducing yourself to someone new at lunch. The culture of the Forum is one of openness and candidness—people expect you to ask detailed questions and to grab them in the hall after a talk to learn more about anything they didn’t have time to cover. Of course, a lot of our attendees come to this conference year after year and they have folks they know they are going to connect with. If you are new and finding that you are having a hard time getting into the networking, honestly, find a NAEM staff member (we’ll have most of our office there) and ask them to introduce you to some people. Everyone on our team wants to make sure all the attendees connect with others and leave the conference with a new friend they can call on for input and benchmarking when they get back to their offices.
CC: What has NAEM learned over the last 25 years of hosting this event?
VH: We’ve learned quite a lot—I’ll just give you a few of the key ideas. We’ve learned that our attendees are committed to excellence. They want to have a positive impact and they are succeeding at that. Today, EHS and sustainability management, through the hard work of many of the people who will be attending our Forum, is understood as a value center for companies.
In terms of the conference itself, we’ve learned - or, rather, reconfirmed - that people learn the most from their peers who are doing the same jobs and have the same challenges as they do. It’s this knowledge that has kept NAEM laser-focused on creating a program by, for, and about EHS and sustainability leaders (and aspiring leaders).
Finally we’ve learned that our field is always evolving—our members and attendees are called upon to take on new challenges and reach new frontiers…whether it’s taking on driving EHS&S values into their supply chains, focusing on reducing the impacts of their products, getting involved in business continuity planning, or talking about EHS&S risks on the enterprise risk spectrum with their boards and C-Suites, the role and scope of the field, and subsequently the opportunity for impact, has continued to expand over the last 3 decades. It’s an exciting field to be in now and into the future.
To learn more about the NAEM Forum, we'd encourage you to visit the NAEM website for additional information. If you’re planning to attend this year’s NAEM Forum and would like to meet up with an Enviance representative to discuss your EHS challenges, please contact us.
About the Author:
Chris Carragher is the Communications Director for Enviance, Inc., a leading SaaS provider of Environmental, Health & Safety and regulatory compliance software designed to improve workplace efficiencies while protecting the health and safety of employees.