Environmental Subject Matter Experts and Professionals

Successful strategies for environmental compliance are often built around an organization designed to identify regulatory requirements, determine applicability and facilitate implementation. Companies that incorporate regulatory subject matter experts (SMEs) roles into their compliance organization create an environment that promotes integration of regulatory compliance into the relevant business units as required. The role of environmental professionals and SMEs can provide for consistency in regulatory evaluations, applicability determinations and valuable regulatory expertise to organization elements and business units. Incorporating the SME roles into environmental compliance strategies allows for other organizational elements within the company to maintain a focus on their primary mission while relying on the environmental professionals and SMEs to provide regulatory expertise and effective implementation strategies. The challenge often presented by regulatory compliance is finding a synergetic balance between the corporate or organizational mission and implementing regulatory requirements. This is where the concept of integrating environmental SMEs into the organization can significantly mitigate many of the difficulties in achieving the desired balance.

Of course, the number of SMEs and environmental professionals employed by a company will be dictated by the size of the company, regulatory complexities and available resources. However, regardless of the size of the company, the concept of the SME fulfilling the role of regulatory expert and the established point-of-contact for environmental compliance remains the same. Figures 4.4 and 4.5 provide two conceptual examples of the organizational integration of SMEs into various sized organizations.

Figure 4.4 shows a simplified example of how a larger sized company with a more diverse organization might integrate environmental professionals and SMEs

Integration of environmental SMEs into large organization

FIGURE 4.4 Integration of environmental SMEs into large organization.

Integration of environmental SME into small company

FIGURE 4.5 Integration of environmental SME into small company.

into the organization. Large companies typically have the resources to employ larger numbers of employees and often have the ability to create an environmental compliance group or division staffed by multiple environmental professionals. Highly regulated operations can benefit from having multiple environmental professionals with subject matter expertise on regulations that specifically apply to the company. In this example, each SME is responsible for a specific regulatory area such as waste- water, air quality or hazardous waste. Figure 4.5 depicts a smaller company with fewer employees that may not have the resources to employ multiple environmental professionals to support regulatory compliance. In this case, environmental compliance may be the responsibility of a single individual who is responsible for all areas of environmental regulations. Again, the number of environmental professionals employed by a company will be dependent on various factors, and there are certainly other organizational approaches that can be considered for environmental compliance. The point to be made here is that incorporating environmental SMEs into the organizational structure is an imperative element for any strategy aimed at obtaining a sustainable compliance program.

What Defines an Environmental Subject Matter Expert?

Webster defines the term ‘expert’ as one having, involving or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience (Merriam-Webster n.d.). In the environmental compliance realm, a subject matter expert is a person that has genuine expert knowledge regarding what it takes to successfully identify, understand and implement environmental regulations. Environmental SMEs exhibit high levels of expertise related to a specific subject area such as hazardous waste or to a collection of areas within the environmental field. The three primary components that contribute to an SME’s expertise are:

  • • Education
  • • Experience
  • • Training

An SME’s expertise may be attributable to any combination of these three elements as each of them has a definite importance in establishing expertise. Education can include undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees and even include technical training at the trade school level. Higher levels of education in the environmental field of study oftentimes can equate to a higher level of expertise, particularly in areas that are very specialized and involve ongoing and progressive research such as pollution abatement technology, chemical toxicology and environmental case law.

Experience in the environmental field is also extremely important in establishing expertise. The common adage that is often applied to the environmental field is that ‘your degree gets you the job and then the real education starts.’ This is often the case when working in environmental compliance. Although degree programs in the environmental field have evolved substantially over the last two decades, it is impossible to provide a curriculum that can adequately address the infinite number of compliance situations and regulatory applications that are presented in business and industry today. As with education, a person’s experience can contribute greatly to their level of expertise. As an example, there are a lot of regulatory SMEs currently working in environmental compliance for private companies who got their start working for regulatory agencies. SMEs with this type of experience in their background can be invaluable to compliance organizations because they not only possess an in-depth knowledge of the regulations, but they also have a genuine understanding of how regulatory agencies assess regulatory compliance. Likewise, a person who has worked in compliance in private industry for many years has most likely been involved in numerous compliance scenarios and acquired a great deal of regulatory experience.

Training plays two important roles in regard to environmental SMEs. First, there is a need for training to cover a level of specificity that cannot reasonably be addressed by a college degree curriculum. Examples include air permitting for specific applications, closing underground storage tanks, storm water management and environmental compliance auditing, to name but a few. Second, there is a need for SMEs to maintain their level of expertise and competence in a field that is typified by constantly changing regulations, new methods for achieving compliance, modified legal interpretations and new technologies.

Again, there is no single combination of education, experience and training that is the standard for defining what constitutes being recognized as an SME. The necessary levels of education, experience and training are really circumstantially dependent, and companies must consider the level of knowledge necessary to accomplish environmental compliance for their specific situation. Companies typically approach this by stipulating the required levels of education, experience and training for specific job positions and are commonly emphasized in positions that include an SME role.

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