For China, arguably the world's biggest supplier and manufacturer, compliance with environment, health and safety (EHS) standards is essential for economic and environmental sustainability. Chinese suppliers face a range of challenges in meeting such standards, as government regulations demand efficiency and sustainability, communities push for job creation and multinationals apply additional pressures. So GE and other multinational companies doing business in China are helping expand the pipeline of Chinese EHS professionals through the non-profit EHS Academy in Guangdong province.
For GE, supporting the EHS standards of its Chinese suppliers is critical to upholding the company's strict compliance standards. “From the supplier qualification point of view, we record EHS results as the first gatekeeper for every supplier — it's critical to our business growth. If the supplier passes, there are additional quality checks, such as mechanical and financial, but the essential first step is passing EHS and labor compliance standards,” said Lucent Lu, sourcing leader for NBC Universal China. High EHS standards are also critical to the company's reputation, and ensure the availability of well-trained EHS professionals to expand the supplier pipeline for GE and its peers.
Prior to the establishment of the EHS Academy, GE actively implemented supplier guideline programs, which included regular audits of its Chinese suppliers. However, these programs only saw incremental improvements. GE knew transformational improvements would take much more than auditing; it would require embedding new EHS processes within the supplier system itself.
That is how GE came to partner with multinational peer companies including Wal-Mart, Honeywell, Citibank and SABIC Innovative Plastics to launch the EHS Academy in China's Guangdong province, with classes held at the prestigious Sun Yat-sen's Lingnan College. Guangdong province was a strategic place to build out China's EHS capacity as the province supplies 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
“Designed with social, environmental and economic sustainability in mind, the EHS Academy seems to hit all the right notes. By rooting itself in Chinese academic institutions, garnering the support of key government agencies and involving its main stakeholders in the funding and operations of the program.”
— robert s. harrison, chief executive officer, clinton global initiative
A Curriculum Focused On Knowledge And Implementation
The EHS Academy curriculum combines the best EHS practices of the sponsoring companies into a comprehensive training package developed by industry leaders, with input from the Chinese government, the U.S. Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) and U.S. Agency for International Development.
Training emphasizes the importance of management and implementation — not just technical knowledge — to ensure that real performance is sustainable and integrated fully into the overall business strategy and operating system. By combining foundation courses such as EHS Management Systems with skill-building courses like Cleaner Production and Job Safety Analysis, the EHS Academy curriculum gives suppliers the tools they need to demonstrate improved performance and sustainable solutions.
“We have found that building the capacity of Guangdong's managers to implement EHS measures boosts their companies' compliance and their ability to compete. These are businesses that will drive China's growth as it moves to a cleaner and greener economy.”
— ann condon, director and counsel, ge ehs programs, europe, middle east and africa
Emphansis On Flexibility, Affordability And Leadership
Sponsor companies like GE have representatives on the EHS Academy's Curriculum Development Committee, which oversees the fundamental and leadership type courses that are integrated into the training. GE's contribution includes its unique expertise in lean operational processes, energy efficiency and best practices from the company's ecomagination initiative. “Cooperation between companies and academics at the Academy makes the curriculum workable and the learning curve shorter. Combining academic knowledge with practical experience provided by a variety of companies allows a menu of EHS tools and best practices from which participants can tailor to their particular situation.” said Gretchen Hancock, EHS project manager at GE.
A critical aspect of the EHS Academy is accessibility. To gain the most out of GE's investment, the academy aims to train as many suppliers as possible. Since many suppliers operate on thin margins, the EHS Academy offers flexible, affordable training with course fees that are significantly less than other options. In this way, suppliers often find a positive return on their investment as the EHS Academy training often pays for itself through energy efficiency savings and other improvements.
Courses are also customizable to a supplier's specific needs and can also be delivered on-site any day of the week. “When suppliers join the EHS Academy, the cost is good, the timing is good, and they know the content is good because the training is organized by GE, Honeywell, Adidas and other companies that the suppliers know are leaders in EHS practices,” said Waldo Wu, EHS manager for GE China.
Another advantage of the EHS Academy is the opportunity for continued professional development. With a faculty of seasoned professionals, all with 10 or more years of EHS experience with Chinese or multinational companies, students have access to top experts in the field and opportunities for peer networking. At the end of the day, the main objective of the EHS Academy is to provide managers with the training they need to involve everyone — from the production line to the CEO — in achieving and sustaining successful EHS performance.
Collaborating With The Chinese Government
As the Chinese government and multinational companies continue to raise the bar on standards, the EHS Academy must continue to update and support suppliers with the best tools available. Local officials are among those invited to participate in the EHS Academy, to share new regulations and also learn from the attendees and trainers at the program. In this way, the academy is one of the channels available to the government to reach suppliers and educate them on changes to regulation— how policies are being implemented and the consequences if standards aren't met.
“The EHS Academy is a great program, not just because of its fundamental conception, but also because it evolves — adopting business, government and social components to reflect the reality faced by suppliers in China.”
— lucent lu, sourcing leader, nbc universal china
The more insight GE has into its suppliers' operations in China the better. The EHS Academy aligns not only with GE's overall framework for being a good corporate citizen, but also with the company's efforts to have a positive impact in the communities where it does business. Says Lucent Lu, “Training like this is fundamental to GE's success. This program allows us to form long-term, strategic relationships with our suppliers, enabling them to make a bigger contribution to GE's business growth in China and around the world.”