Using recycled content or other greener product alternatives can demonstrate to a workforce a commitment to continuous improvement and resource conservation.

Green's Growing Popularity

Safety products will continue to evolve into safer designs that will treat our environment better in the long term.

At last year's National Safety Congress in San Diego, the usual colors dominated the landscape. There were red for danger, orange for traffic safety, and yellow for caution. However, a new color, green, started moving into the safety professional's spectrum. Many more eco-friendly safety products made their debuts.

One example of this trend was in safety, traffic, and parking signs. They are designed to alert employees about potential hazards. Some signs are for temporary usage (at construction sites, for example). Others are designed and constructed to withstand extreme environmental conditions. Together, their useful life as warning signals may range from several months to more than 25 years.

Eventually, all signs will reach the end of their purpose and lifecycle. They then need to be disposed of. Unfortunately, many of these signs will wind up in a landfill graveyard. High-performance signs that were built to survive temperature extremes, chemicals, etc. also will continue to exist with little degradation in landfills for perhaps thousands of years. Even much of the temporary signage is made from eco-evil virgin vinyl and plastics.

While the ideal scenario is to keep all items out of the landfills, that is also unrealistic in our current society. If possible, one should attempt to use eco-friendly signage already made from high-recycled-content, biodegradable, or rapidly renewable materials. That means the sign you use as new is already on its second life. When that sign has fulfilled its functionality, it should be returned to the appropriate recycle bin to continue the cycle.

While there are some exceptions, many safety products can be made greener and still function as well as non-green safety products. Using recycled content (or other greener product alternatives) also can demonstrate to a workforce a commitment to continuous improvement and resource conservation.

Environmental and Safety Good Practices
Our nation continues to evolve into a more environmentally conscious society, rather than a disposable one. Eco-consciousness for businesses is growing at a rapid rate. Most large corporations have sustainability initiatives to reduce, reuse, and recycle. They have realized it is a solid business practice; they can save money while being socially responsible.

While some corporations have positions such as sustainability managers, in many other organizations, personnel have multi-tasking responsibilities. Such is the case with EH&S professionals. Safety, health, and environmental officers have long been used to integrating safety into environmental issues and vice versa.

Safety is regulated by legislation and informed by good practices and standards from numerous organizations (OSHA, ANSI, EPA, NIOSH, DOT, FDA, and many more). Environmental issues overlap into regulatory safety with EPA, FTC, and others. There are also voluntary programs for the sustainable building industry, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the US Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED has developed a rating system based on measurable credits for green buildings and construction. These credits and subsequent ratings are highly coveted as eco-accomplishments.

High-recycled-content building-related safety products, such as eco-friendly signage, qualifies for these credits in the LEED Materials & Resources categories. This is true for both existing and new construction where sustainable purchasing is recognized. Additionally, the LEED Minimum Program Requirements (updated in November 2009) state that the project team must comply with applicable OSHA regulations for construction and recordkeeping.

A recent study by the analyst firm Verdantix predicts massive growth for sustainable business in the United States. Large firms are forecasted to increase their sustainable spending by 16 percent in 2011 and by 24 percent in 2012. By 2014, the annual amount is expected to be $60 billion.

The Obama administration also has lofty environmental goals that are defined in the October 2009 Executive Order 13514. One key component of it is a green procurement policy that will cover 95 percent of new contracts. Given that the federal government is one of the world's largest consumers, this will have a significant impact. (Our government currently spends more than a half trillion dollars on goods and services annually.)

Safety practices and products have been in common use for many decades. Environmentally focused products and practices only recently have begun to reach the mainstream level. As this trend continues to forge ahead, the dual roles of safety and environmentalism will intersect more and more.

Businesses are meeting the demand for more environmentally responsible products; as with safety, this begins with education. Every month, more and more safety products have environmental consciousness built into their design. All lines, from safety signs to hearing and respiratory protection, and even safety locks, are now available as eco-safety products. Even a casual observer at the National Safety Congress in San Diego would have noticed this theme.

Safety products will continue to evolve into safer designs that will treat our environment better in the long term. Environmentalism and safety need not be mutually exclusive terms, but interdependent ones. Together they will create a better, safer, more productive workplace.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Tom Prinzing is Chief Ecopreneur of Zing Enterprises, LLC, an all-green company that is located in Oswego, Ill. He can be reached at [email protected] or Prinzing has spent more than three decades in the safety industry in various positions at Prinzing Enterprises and the Brady Corp. prior to founding Zing Enterprises.

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