Two years ago, COVID-19 made shockwaves across the globe, forever changing how the world operates. Not only did this global disruption impact millions of lives, but also the environment. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, COVID-19 caused significant halts on social and economic activities. With the deceleration of these exploits, air quality has seen improvements in several cities, along with reduced water pollution in multiple regions of the world.
Given these positive developments, government response to addressing the current climate crisis has likewise escalated significantly – especially within the United States. The scope of compliance imperatives has also expanded within the last few years, urging and enforcing enterprises to conform to environmental laws and regulations. Subsequently, several key factors have played into a transformation of environmental compliance and how we think about it today.
Here are three ways the pandemic changed environmental compliance forever:
COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation in many industries and has brought about a greater need for digital solutions. Industries such as healthcare and warehousing have long realized the necessity — and value — of digital technologies to perform tasks such as managing patient records or tracking customer data remotely across distributed operations. Yet while organizations in other sectors have been quick to adopt digital tools, the environmental compliance industry has lagged.
As other industries have made the shift to digital, environmental compliance programs have finally felt the need to assimilate and create digitalized solutions specific to managing compliance data and reporting. This urgency has driven continuous improvements within the environmental compliance space, especially for EPCRA Tier II reporting and other compliance-related functions. New digital formats have helped EHS leaders and their teams gain a more holistic view of facility and compliance activities. as well as enhanced data visibility, user satisfaction, and error and non-compliance mitigation.
Digital transformation for environmental compliance and EHS operations goes beyond just implementing advanced technologies. Instead, “going digital” is about digital agility, automation and shrewder ways of thinking and overcoming obstacles. Along with the acceleration of digital transformation, COVID-19 has transformed the mindset of how things have “always been done” to a consideration of “how it can be done better.” With this wave of change, EHS professionals have gravitated away from the status quo — spreadsheets and other manual processes.
With a newly adopted mindset, organizations can transmit institutional knowledge more successfully, streamlining valuable information without the risk of human error, which is said to account for 70-100% of incidents that result in non-compliance. While many EHS and compliance professionals are still hesitant to accept new ways of doing things, the pandemic has encouraged them to have more open-mindedness when trying new tools and processes. Today, EHS leaders are more aware and willing to adopt new concepts and invest in innovations that will help them streamline and improve their processes, especially over time.
Safety in the Workplace
In the past two years, public health has become a top priority across every industry, causing companies, as well as OSHA, to expand their safety regulations in check with COVID-19 standards. Companies that don’t comply with these regulations face maximum fines of $13,494 for each occurrence. In addition to regulations, safety protocols such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) have become a common practice, increasing the amount of medical waste.
Although COVID-19 has escalated the PPE issue, disposing of plastics in general has always been a common predicament. Today, regulators and organizations have implemented new policies and PPE disposal programs to manage efforts.
While the global pandemic brought about drastic changes across almost all sectors, it also heightened the focus on the environment and our constant impacts on it. As the regulatory and economic landscape continues to change, new innovations and ways of thinking will keep evolving.