The ABC's of Mentoring

Businesses working to succeed in the marketplace, while striving to be good environmental stewards, face a variety of challenges. Companies seeking, at a minimum, to meet local, state, and federal environmental guidelines may find that the pathways to compliance are not always well marked. Other companies, looking to exceed mandated standards and maximize the economic benefits of more efficient, less wasteful production processes, may have dozens of questions about where to begin.

The fact is, pursuing environmental excellence can require significant resources that some companies -- especially smaller ones -- simply may not have. Environmental mentoring programs can help bridge this resource gap and pave the way for numerous small and medium-sized companies to become environmental leaders.

What is Environmental Mentoring?

Environmental mentoring is the use of expertise to help another entity improve its environmental management and performance. The basic goal of environmental mentoring is to provide help that enables the "mentee" to achieve and maintain compliance (legal requirements) or go beyond legal compliance and established best management practices.

Such help can range from being highly technical to simply increasing awareness of different options. The role of the mentor is to facilitate learning through instructing, coaching, modeling, and advising.

Why Mentor?

Mentoring provides a non-threatening, low risk, low cost, and effective means to introduce and engage small companies to concepts and strategies for achieving better environmental and economical results. Mentors, with technical and managerial expertise can help mentee companies save money through effective environmental management. Mentors often help mentee companies:

  • Map inputs and outputs into the business needed for assessing environmental aspects of the company.
  • Create systems for compliance reporting and managing other environmental management documentation.
  • Make compliance schedules and strategies.
  • Develop strategies for creating performance plans.
  • Explore ways to integrate training into employees' schedules.
  • Initiate strategies for organizing a small safety and environmental team to help identify pollution prevention opportunities.

Benefits Of Mentoring . . . For the Mentee

Mentoring by an experienced professional provides the opportunity to gain access to expertise for free and catalyze environmental improvement. Mentoring can help demystify technical issues while transferring insights into how to manage environmental issues, purchase control technology, make process changes, use consultants effectively, manage paperwork for reporting, and so on.
Mentoring also provides a source for a mentee to turn to for advice and suggestions. Furthermore, operational changes that a mentee might implement as a result of mentoring, can frequently save the company money. For companies that are mentored by their customers, the experience represents a chance to build stronger relations with that customer and ensure inclusion in the supply chain.

Benefits Of Mentoring . . . For the Mentor

The benefits to the mentor depend, in part, on who the mentor is. For companies that act as mentors to companies outside their supply or customer chains, benefits can include:

  • Recognition as a corporate environmental leader by the public and regulators.
  • Improved community trust by demonstrating that the company's commitment to environmental excellence extends beyond the facility walls.
  • Improved employee satisfaction if they are involved in mentoring.
  • Increased knowledge about environmental management systems.

As Jeffery Adrian, a mentor and Environmental Director of the John Roberts Company in Minnesota, has observed that involving staff in mentoring small business both enabled his staff to discover important changes for their own facilities while also helping to invigorate their companies' own EH&S program.

For governments, the benefits of mentoring include providing low cost, low risk, and effective ways to ensure compliance and improved environmental performance. Mentoring can help build trust between government and regulated entities. Some local and state governments have also used mentoring as a way to both maintain and lure companies to their jurisdictions. Government personnel can also gain a greater understanding of the issues which small business face in managing their environmental issues through mentoring. This process, in return, can help inform policy, rulemaking, and enforcement decisions.

Mentoring Snap Shots


3M & Akzo Nobel - The American Furniture Manufacturing Association

3M and Akzo Nobel entered into a mentoring relationship with the trade association o f one of its principal customers, The American Furniture Manufactures Association (AFMA). The AFMA has over 350 member companies with over 1,000 local facilities, 60% of which are small businesses. The AFMA wanted information on the environmental compliance requirements specific to their industry. 3M and Akzo Nobel developed a plain-English, 1,000 page environmental compliance guidebook that could be used, not just by the facilities environmental manager, but by the person on the shop floor. While some members were initially skeptical of the value of the guidebook, it has been tremendously popular with AFMA members. The guidebook is now available on the Internet and as a CD-ROM that has been distributed to all AFMA members. It has also become the basis for a series of environmental management training seminars on topics such as environmental auditing which are given to AFMA members around the country.

Santa Clara County Pollution Prevention Program - Proto Engineering

The Santa Clara County Pollution Prevention Program (SCCPPP) in California is a county government-sponsored peer mentoring program that facilitates the exchange of pollution prevention expertise. The program brings together companies in the metal finishing and printed circuit board industries to discuss ways to reduce pollution. The SCCPPP organizes workshops on technical subjects using experts from local companies. The workshops use business language and are designed to help small and medium-sized companies improve process efficiency, reduce chemical purchases, save money, and ease the regulatory burden. For Proto Engineering (a printed circuit manufacturer), the direct benefits from their participation in SCCPPP's peer-to-peer mentoring program has been reduction hazardous waste generation and wastewater discharges, that save $97,000 annually and enable nearly doubled production.

The John Roberts Company

A commercial printing company in Minneapolis with 300+ employees, the John Roberts Company is a recognized environmental leader in the Printing industry. As such, the United States Environmental Protection Agency selected the John Roberts Company (JRC) for participating in the agency's Environmental Leadership Pilot Project in 1995. As part of this program, the JRC was asked to mentor smaller printers.

From Spring 1995 to Fall 1996, environmental staff from JRC mentored four small printing companies Bromley Printing, Dorholt Printing, Hoppe Printing and Reindl Printing to help them develop their own Environmental Management Systems (EMS). The programs mentoring activities included: site visits, hands-on practical guidance, assistance in developing an environmental management plan and technical support over the phone.

JRC developed a variety of technical and administrative tools for their mentees, such as:

  • a tab system for organizing documents in a compliance document file drawer,
  • combined training notification and record of training forms,
  • materials for all basic required employee training, and
  • a model Reporting Schedule to facilitate timely reporting for state and federal licensing requirements.

As a result of the mentoring program, Bromley Printing established an effective environmental management system (EMS), Dorholt Printing addressed its licensing and annual reporting issues, Hoppe Printing was able to gain a competitive advantages available through its EMS, and Reindl Printing was able to refined its documentation and compliance plans.

As the mentor, JRC benefited as well. The company's participation in a mentoring relationship resulted in new ideas for the mentor's own operation. According to Jeff Adrian, Environmental Director of JRC, "We do not have all of the good ideas. By working with other printers, we see new opportunities which we had not previously realized, because we were too close to the operations in our own facility."

The mentoring process also reinvigorated the company's own environmental efforts. The on-going discussions between the mentor and mentee have helped John Roberts employees sharpen their own skills in environmental management. Furthermore, the mentoring program provided opportunities for effective networking.

In addition to these benefits, JRC was able to "give something back to the community." This is an important value of the company's culture, which the company believes includes more than just monetary donations. Mentoring has now become an additional way in which the company contributes to its community. Today JRC continues to mentor other printers and has provided counseling to smaller printers across many parts of the country.

The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association

Although not focused on environmental performance, the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association (VPPPA's) Mentoring Program is one of the most established mentoring initiatives the in U.S.. The program was launched in 1994 to expand the use mentoring to promote worker safety and health programs offered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Programs.

Companies that have established a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) share their safety and health expertise with facilities that are interested in and/or pursuing application to OSHA's VPP. Mentors work with an applicant site to assure that its application is properly documented, well organized, and contains all the proper elements. The mentor may perform benchmarking on safety and health programs as requested.

Surveys conducted by the VPPPA show that nearly 90% of mentor program participants credit the program for easing their VPP application process. The most effective mentoring techniques have been one-on-one relationships, telephone consultations, needs assessment surveys, and self-guided study materials. Small workshops have been slightly more effective than large ones. Web site programs and videos have not been effective (but the web site programs have not been completed).

VPPPA has recently begun pursuing "cluster" mentoring programs, in which several companies of similar size and focus are teamed with a matching mentor company. Efforts are made to match companies of similar size, but comfortable relationships have developed between programs of differing sizes. Mentees generally prefer to be matched with a company in a similar business and geographic area. Hourly employees appear to be as involved in the mentoring program as management. Graduates of the program now mentor other companies.