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Environmental Factor, April 2012

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NIEHS hosts 10th annual meeting of environmental stewards

By Ian Thomas

ESI Logo

2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the ESI. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Scott Merkle

Merkle discusses the numerous benefits NIEHS has gained from its six-year participation in ESI. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS welcomed key representatives of North Carolina’s public and private sectors to Rodbell Auditorium March 23 for the 10th annual convening of the state’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) members. Launched in 2002 by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR), ESI is a voluntary program designed to foster partnerships among the government and business communities, to promote the state’s overall commitment to environmental sustainability. 

“Our mission here at NIEHS shares some very common, fundamental goals with the ESI program,” explained Scott Merkle, head of the NIEHS Health and Safety Branch. “Preserving and protecting public health is one of the main pillars of environmental stewardship and we see that link, firsthand, every day in the research that we conduct.”

A unified forum for innovation

Throughout the day, attendees took part in a number of testimonials, talks, and interactive panels, designed to stimulate discussion on a number of key environmental issues, such as policy and legislation, techniques for building sustainability practices, and green technology.

“Environmental stewardship becomes a real challenge once you’ve been at it a while,” said Raymond Price of Smithfield Foods, a long-time ESI steward. “Everybody knows about recycling and composting, but once that low-hanging fruit is gone, it’s meetings like these that help us generate new ideas for keeping that forward momentum of progress.”

Dan Miller of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center East in Cherry Point, N.C. agreed.

“ESI membership offers companies the unique opportunity to be part of an established system of like-minded organizations, all of whom pool their ideas and resources for the collective betterment of everyone involved,” said Miller.

Speaking the language

While a common theme of this year’s meeting was advocating environmental stewardship for the sake of protecting the environment itself, another theme focused on showing businesses and corporations why things like energy reduction, pollution prevention, water conservation, and waste elimination make smart financial sense, as well.

“Ten years ago, the original goal of ESI was to simply help people take the journey from noncompliance, to compliance, to beyond compliance, with regard to their business practices,” said Bill Ross, former secretary for NCDENR, who now works as an environmental consultant in the private sector. “However, today, part of environmental stewardship is learning how to speak the language of business. As a general rule, if you can show someone how integrating certain practices into their business model can impact their bottom line, they’ll usually listen to what you have to say.” 

Building a connection

“At the end of the day, sustainability and stewardship is about a lot more than facilities, animal welfare, or water conservation,” added Price. “It’s about building partnerships in our communities and recognizing that we’re all connected to the same environment. The joy of programs like ESI is that they constantly provide us with new ways and insights on how best to do that.” 

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

Bill Ross talks to ESI attendees

Ross, left, leads attendees in an ESI rendition of the North Carolina toast. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Attendees listen to ESI stewards

Attendees listen to testimonials from ESI stewards and discuss their own experiences with sustainability practices. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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