Mastering the Shift to Proactive Environmental Management and Sustainable Development

Laura Sykes | November-18-13


Stephanie Hamilton, ing., EP

Vice President, Sustainable Business
ÉEM Sustainable Management

When Stephanie Hamilton started in the industry 19 years ago, it was about compliance. Clients simply wanted to ensure that they met the requirements of the legislation. Today, the focus has shifted to proactive management of environmental, social and governance risks. Find out how Stephanie’s role has changed over the years, and how she is constantly challenged to stay one step ahead.

What is ÉEM?
ÉEM is a small management consultancy, based in Montréal, that specializes in the following services: 
  • Environment and Health & Safety: Management systems, regulations, auditing

  • Communities: Stakeholder engagement and communications, participatory planning, cross-sector partnering, socio-economic assessment

  • Strategy: Vision and objective setting, sustainability embedding, performance monitoring and reporting.

The company has been providing services to public, private, and voluntary sector organizations for the past twenty years. 
Can you tell us more about your role at ÉEM?
As vice-president of a small company, I’m involved in the day-to-day management of the company, including aspects of its accounting, human resources, marketing and IT support.  I also head up client services under the title of sustainable development strategy and practice, developing new business as well as working on client projects.
How did you get to where you are now?
I joined ÉEM over 19 years ago with a combined engineering and business degree from the UK, and only a single course on the environment.  However, my education provided me with a systematic approach to solving issues and this served me well early in my career when I implemented ISO14001-based systems for both small and large multi-site clients. My technical background allowed me to quickly grasp the issues that needed to be managed.  My interest and knowledge in sustainable development have grown over the years, both at work with challenging mandates and outside work with a greater understanding of the stresses that we are placing on our planet.
How would you describe your career path?
From being a junior on a project with frequent supervision, to working independently on projects, to supervising the work of juniors on projects and now taking on more decision-making for the company, it’s been an interesting evolution.  Although I’ve been at the same company for nearly 20 years, there are rarely two mandates that look the same, or for which my role has been the same. Also, clients return to us for further advice on how to improve their sustainable business practices, so I am constantly challenged to stay one step ahead.  That’s what has keep my job interesting these past 19 years. 
How have industry trends affected your work?
When I started working in the industry, it was often about compliance. Our clients wanted to ensure that they met the requirements of the legislation but not much more. In the mid 90’s with the advent of ISO 14001, the focus shifted to proactive management of environmental risks and approaches to managing these risks. This got me closer to our clients’ environmental issues and their operating realities. In the 2000’s, there’s been a further shift towards measurement and disclosure of results, as well as the importance of other sustainable development questions like social and human rights issues.
At ÉEM, there are some clients whom I have worked with for over 15 years.  At first, we only did compliance auditing.  Later, we implemented an ISO 14001 style management system and kept them abreast of changes to legal requirements and associated implications for the company.  Later still, we were able to set them up with performance dash boarding.  More recently, we conducted workshops with the executive team on sustainability and have brought them to Level B sustainability reporting according to the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines.
What has made you successful in your career?
As a management consultant, the quality of the deliverable is paramount.  Clients trust our advice because it is built on experience and solid research.  My career success is based largely on having performed good quality work over the years and maintaining that good reputation.
What is your education and training background?
I studied for a combined engineering and business degree in the UK. When I moved to Montréal, I quickly applied to be a member of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec to get my qualifications recognized here.  
While I rarely do any work that would qualify as engineering, I felt it was important to maintain my membership in good standing to demonstrate my technical background.   I acquired my environmental knowledge mostly through personal reading. I have also taken formal training courses for specific needs, such as Management System Auditing and Advanced Facilitation and Management of Change.  
I have little formal education in the area of sustainability (a Natural Step e-learning course in 2008 perhaps!) but I’ve read about the topic extensively and attended numerous conferences.  I find that conducting research to anticipate my clients’ questions is still the best way to learn. These days, I also enjoy keeping current through discussion groups on LinkedIn and other on-line forums.
Why is the EP designation important to you? 
Earlier in my career, I performed frequent environmental compliance and environmental management system audits for ÉEM clients as well as for various ISO 14001 registrars, so it became important for me to be recognized as a certified environmental auditor and lead auditor.  Nowadays, I do far fewer audits, so have converted my EP(CEA) designation to the EP designation with a specialization in Sustainability.
The EP designation speaks to my experience and on-going commitment to professional development.  While clients don’t necessarily ask for such designations, it offers them assurance.
What is the biggest opportunity you’ve encountered in your role?
I think the opportunity I appreciate most is being able to find satisfaction from the work that I do every day.  Without exception, clients retain my services to improve their environmental management.  Some may be ahead of the game in their work on sustainability issues, while others are still grappling with compliance problems, but my work inevitably makes a positive contribution and that has led to a very satisfying career.  
What is the biggest challenge?
The challenge is keeping ÉEM profitable, which means bringing projects in on time and on budget.  Staying disciplined and focused on the deliverable is a challenge when there is always so much more to suggest to a client to improve the triple bottom line.
Are there any aspects that make your industry unique? 
As mentioned above, I think sustainability or environmental consulting is unique because of the impact that we have on our clients’ operations. Each mandate leads to an improvement, sometimes small, sometimes significant.  I go to work every day to help clients reduce their impact on the environment and the communities that surround them. That’s something I can feel good about at the end of the day.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for your industry? 
I expect to see an increased emphasis on resource and energy efficiency as the limits to our growth become more and more apparent.  I am deeply concerned with the availability of transportation fuels at a useful price in the next 10 years and the consequences of that on businesses and society.  We need to be acting today to avoid an unsettling situation, but I see little government or corporate action on this.
What advice do you have for someone considering a career in your industry? 
Sustainability thinking is converging with business-as-usual, so you need to understand the business that your clients are in and how sustainability dovetails with their business model and operational realities. To be a good sustainability consultant, you need to understand not only the environmental science, the industry context, and the labour/human rights aspects of sustainable development, but also to be an excellent listener, project manager, accountant and communicator.  It is especially important to seize any opportunity to hone your written and verbal communication skills, outside the workplace as necessary.