Empowered by the internet, society now expects companies to also keep their employees safe at work, limit their environmental impacts as well as design more efficient products and operations that reduce waste.

Manufacturing karma

Today’s industry leaders are rising to this challenge. Companies such as 3M, General Mills, General Electric Co., John Deere, Intel and Unilever understand that they must not only create a profit for shareholders; they must contribute positive value to society.

Many companies are making real investments in professional environmental managers and safety leaders who are developing programs, tracking performance, setting ambitious goals and tracking and reporting performance gains in environmental, health and safety and sustainability (EHS&S) management.

Also emerging is the notion that companies should do business as though the world were watching — because it is. Doing business in the age of transparency means that savvy consumers, socially responsible investors and activists now expect companies to publicly share their commitments and communicate how well they are performing against those goals.

Equity among employees

While those external perspectives are influencing corporate behavior, perhaps the most important stakeholders are their employees. Today’s leadership companies are taking unprecedented strides toward creating work environments that not only prevent workplace injuries, but also train their workforce to live a healthier lifestyle.

The good news is that what’s good for employees is also good for business.

Creating a strong safety culture lowers the overall risk profile for the company, leading to a reduction in lost productivity, regulatory fines and workers’ compensation claims. And when employees know that their company is doing its best to keep them safe and healthy, they tend to be more engaged, more productive and more committed to the business’s success.

Retaining millennials

This is particularly true among millennials, who represent a growing segment of the workforce and are already re-enforcing the business case for strong EHS&S values, thanks to their preference to work for companies that demonstrate a social benefit.

These values are gaining traction in the business community. Large consumer brands are now asking their suppliers and subcontractors to share the details about their own products and internal environmental, health and safety efforts. This means that smaller companies and less brand recognized companies will be increasingly expected to demonstrate their alignment with these emerging cultural norms.

So whether this shift in business is being driven by consumers, business customers or Wall Street, society expects companies take ownership — and to show us exactly what they are doing to reduce their environmental footprint, ensure employees come home safe from work and help to protect our planet for future generations.