How Big Oil Changed Our Thinking About Clean Energy Safety

George Steeley
George Steeley

Somehow, it makes perfect sense that the oil and gas industry inspired our clean energy safety culture.

After all, we took a page right out of the Big Oil playbook when we created Carbon Lighthouse, with a novel approach to energy efficiency in commercial buildings that taps the Efficiency Reserves — much like oil reserves — to convert a building’s wasted energy into guaranteed revenue.

Today, we draw on Big Oil’s strong safety culture, rooted in over a century of experience with hazardous operations, by tapping the dedication to safety that our engineering EVP Matt Ganser developed during his early years in the oil and gas industry.

Matt knows that safety isn’t just for engineers because he earned a unique perspective on how field and office work interact to influence Big Oil’s safety culture.

As a young startup, Carbon Lighthouse had many competing priorities, and while the necessary compliance pieces — the procedures, the equipment, the know-how — came soon enough, it took time to build the behavioral piece, which includes the attitudes, beliefs and norms of our culture.

Now as we grow beyond 100 employees and pass the 600-building mark, we owe it to our employees and investors alike to move aggressively beyond mere compliance to active leadership.

All accidents are preventable.

On any given day, a teammate may find herself climbing through a hatch to work on a building rooftop, checking the fan belt on an air handling unit, re-energizing an electrical system — or simply climbing a ladder — and it is that person’s partner and teammates who are responsible for remaining vigilant in maintaining a safe work environment. 

This means empowering each member of our team to be firm and direct with our partners, clients and their facility staff, contractors, team members, and any others who question our safety protocols, distract the person performing work or try to cross a working boundary.

We empower our teams with unconditional Stop Work Authority to say “No” when given a task they feel is unsafe or when seeing unsafe behavior in others.

Because all accidents are preventable, here are just a few of the key actions we take to reinforce and grow our safety culture:

  1. Track safety metrics
  2. Encourage co-workers to share their concerns and ideas at engineering and all-hands meetings
  3. Formalize general and field-specific safety training sessions
  4. Conduct CPR and first aid training
  5. Adhere to our life and safety core values
  6. Hold job safety talks at the start of field work
  7. Wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all situations
  8. Ensure our clients and contractors practice safety during our onsite field work 
  9. Qualify our partners’ Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) programs and evaluate their compliance before work begins*
  10. Continuously develop our strategies to drive safety just as we do to drive profitability

Safer companies are more profitable companies.

We are also working to overcome a common misconception that safety and profit are at odds with each other.

In one study over a period of 13 years, a “safe company index” returned 333 percent in contrast to that same time period in which the S&P 500 returned just 105 percent.

Beyond our motivation to protect our co-workers, research indicates that as companies better align their values to safety, their teams become more engaged with the knowledge that ‘my company cares about me.’

In turn, greater engagement fosters a stronger sense of personal efficacy and commitment. “Not surprisingly,” as researchers writing for Harvard Business Review highlighted, “trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance.”

Transparency is the hallmark of a world-class culture.

Building awareness of how our actions affect others is key to building safety into our culture. But whenever we do have incidents or recordables, rather than asking what a teammate did wrong, we must ask, ‘what did the company do to put this person in that situation?’

We believe that in order to join the ranks of world-class enterprises, we must bring the same intensity to driving safety as we do to driving profitability — and we are working to improve by bringing strategy to bear in growing our safety culture:

  • Grow safety leadership from the top
  • Lead by example to bring better context and empathy to sharing
  • Develop a concrete understanding of how our actions impact safety
  • Propagate safety considerations as a factor across all roles and teams
  • Create more pathways for sharing our safety concerns
  • Expand training efforts to reinforce consistent field practices and comfort with intervention

It’s no secret we feel a strong sense of urgency around our core mission to stop climate change. But that same commitment and caring cannot get in the way of our commitment and caring for the life and safety of our teammates.

* We cannot claim responsibility for ensuring that partners comply with their own EHS protocols.

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