I’m here in Bangladesh on a two-week trip, collecting stories and documenting our successes and activities in launching the EHS+ Center at North South University here in Dhaka this past year. Looking back over the past twelve months, I am truly struck by all we’ve achieved. Since our first public training in December 2014, we’ve delivered over 280 hours of training on environment, health and safety management; we’ve trained over 300 professionals; and we’ve heard from dozens of people about the concrete impacts our trainings have had on their factories and their own professional development.
The road has not been easy. The EHS+ Network is an ambitious, ingenious concept. It is also incredibly challenging. We are creating local training institutes that are at once affordable and state-of the art; that are viable businesses, yet completely impact-driven. We strive to deliver trainings that are grounded in local needs, yet meet rigorous quality standards, so that our Centers are consistent across the region.
In Bangladesh, our first Center established outside China, we inherited the lessons learned in China and were tasked with proving the EHS+ Center concept in an entirely different country and industry context. The state of the manufacturing sector in Bangladesh is similar to where China was twenty years ago – the EHS movement remains for the most part reactive and compliance-driven, and progress is reactive, spurred by tragedies like the Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse. The EHS+ Network’s approach is focused on management systems, a concept that remains foreign to the vast majority of factories in Bangladesh.
But we refuse to be held back by these challenges. The path to success to Bangladesh is long and winding, with twists and turns that are not always in obvious sight. Over the past year, despite facing rampant political turmoil and bureaucratic barriers as a foreign entity in Bangladesh, we have grown the EHS+ Center from one to five full-time staff; we have broken into the training market in Bangladesh, slowly but surely, and are seeing a steady stream of business. Our brand is increasingly well-recognized within the industry, made possible by our relentless engagement of key stakeholders and participation in high-profile industry events. We are listening and learning – we’ve convened forums for brands, industry groups, factory owners, and even line workers themselves to understand their various needs and perspectives. We are talking with partner organizations who are managing complementary initiatives and identifying synergies and areas for collaboration.
And most importantly, we are already seeing concrete improvements in the factories we serve. Factories have reported investing in more energy-efficient motors, installing energy-efficient lighting, repairing corrosion and dampness on factory walls, introducing waste separation systems, and introducing measures to handle and store hazardous chemicals properly. Trainees report increased confidence speaking the language of their technical colleagues and supervisors, and engaging line workers.
One trainee told us of submitting a proposal for using more energy-efficient motors: “A turbo motor will use half of the energy of the clutch motor. So we proposed it to management with a cost-benefit analysis and are waiting to get permission to implement a pilot. This could cut our electricity costs significantly.“
Cutting energy. Reducing pollution, Improving safety. These trainees are champions for energy efficiency now, and helping them achieve their goals is part of the work of the EHS+ Center. We’ve laid the necessary foundation for success, and I’m looking forward to the work that we will all do in 2016 to bring about even more opportunities for “going turbo” on environment, health and safety improvements in Bangladesh.