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In Defense of Environmental Education

Taking Environmental Education to the Next Level Has a Major Impact on Changing Employee Behavior.

By Joseph P. McGuire and Billy Snead

When one reflects on the amount of information that was retained from educational or training events in which he or she has participated, generally not a great deal is remembered. However, there are perhaps a few in which new information was provided and retained. The environmental education program developed and implemented by Oldcastle Materials Group Midwest Division (OMG Midwest) falls into the latter category.

Having spent more than a combined 50 years in the construction industry in environmental and safety management positions, we have seen a great number of training programs rolled out. Frequently these programs sound or feel good but produce average results. According to the U.S. Department Of Health and Human Sciences, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, “program managers are often reluctant to evaluate their programs,” and when attempts to evaluate them are performed they usually take the form of what one author (Rae) calls “reactionnaires” or “general feedback forms including a “Happy Sheet” relying on questions such as “How good did you feel the trainer was?” or “How enjoyable was the training course?” Kirkpatrick suggests in an online article these types of surveys “do not constitute proper validation or evaluation of training.”

To say a program is innovative indicates it is new, inventive, groundbreaking, original or a more unique way of doing something. Based on the following, the environmental staff at OMG Midwest believes that this environmental education program meets any or all of those definitions or terms:

1. This program was innovative in that it went beyond typical environmental training. Taking time to educate rather than just train employees cost more than traditional training but has proven to have been a good investment.

2. This program was in-depth and focused on all field employees as well as managers.

3. Measureable and observable behavioral outcomes would support this to be an innovative environmental program. These include:

  • Results from surveys given to participants indicate learning took place.
  • Survey results also support the premise the information was retained.
  • An Outcome Hierarchy Model for evaluation was used to determine if the program had value and attained the goals established by the company.
  • It has been noted by employees, when talking about environmental projects they have done or are working on they refer to those doing it as we. Working together      to accomplish tasks indicates teamwork and ownership.
  • A reduction in the number of Notices of Violation (NOVs) by 90 percent from 2009 to 2010, even though more inspections were conducted by regulatory agencies at plants and projects.
  • Comments from both management personnel and field employees indicate environmental improvements have taken place in the past two years. In addition, new environmental best practices have been developed.
  • Environmental staff has seen an increase in the number of phone calls, prior to beginning an activity, asking if it might impact the environment.
  • In an effort to ensure the program is sustained, several innovative or inventive processes were developed as a result of this program. These include:
  1. Environmental Tool Box Talks written and sent to all plant and project managers every two weeks during the construction season. These have been useful to sustain focus on environmental issues.
  2. A program of environmental education for newly hired employees was developed and is provided to them during the orientation period. By doing this, newly hired employees are made to understand the emphasis the company places on environmental matters.
  3. An environmental compliance assistance program, following a model of audit-educate-audit, was put in place to help field managers continue to meet environmental requirements.

Examples of comments which have been received are as follows:

“The training has helped…”
-Plant Manager

“I have worked in construction for many years…We employees are thinking more green now and how we can improve more”
-Dump Truck Driver

“I believe any training on environmental issues is extremely important…I would like to see more….the Environmental Tool Box Talks are a good tool. Overall I believe we are going in the right direction….”
-Plant Manager

Again, based on these terms and employee comments we believe this to be not only an innovative program, but perhaps the one of the more powerful environmental education program currently used in the construction industries today.

Traditional environmental training, conducted by those in the aggregate production or other construction industries, generally focuses on rules, regulations and the consequences of failing to comply with them. This type of environmental training keeps companies in compliance and meets training requirements. The environmental educational program conducted by OMG Midwest took environmental awareness to the next level by providing employees with the reasons why the company responds in certain ways when dealing with environmental matters.

It was determined employee involvement could be an important, but previously overlooked, element of the company’s environmental compliance process and that developing an educational program designed to provide environmental awareness to all OMG Midwest employees, from top to bottom, would be an effective method of engaging all employees.

During the curriculum development process, documents including the company’s environmental policy and initiatives were reviewed to ensure the program and message was consistent with corporate goals. It was because of these documents that the content of this environmental education program took a different path from the one normally taken by traditional environmental training programs. In order for employees to become part of the compliance process and work to attain company environmental goals, they would need to understand corporate environmental initiatives.

It might be argued that one need only tell employees what to do and that should be sufficient to get the task done. But when it comes to environmental matters this may not be the case. As part of this environmental education program it was decided to provide employees with answers or reasons for them to perform their duties in an environmentally responsible manner. This serves to not only assist in the compliance area, but to help protect the environment in which they live and work. Involving employees and acknowledging the importance of their role will encourage them to become active participants in the program. If employees feel they are a vital part of the process they will take ownership of the program which, in turn, increases the probability of its success.

As the program curriculum was being developed it became critical to provide more than a simple review of environmental rules. Because training requirements are included in many environmental rules and permits, some review would be necessary but a great deal of additional corporate and environmental information would be included to take this program to the next level. It was hoped this program would raise employee awareness of environmental matters and they would go away with a better understanding of the importance of protecting our environment and making sound decisions about environmental issues at work.

Due to the nature of the material being presented and the “makeup” of the classes, it was determined a teacher centered approach would be the best way to present the material. Late in 2009, the following sessions were developed for OMG Midwest’s environmental program.

Session 1:
Why Environmental Training?
The presentation provided employees with an answer to why more extensive environmental training or education was needed.

Session 2:
CRH/Oldcastle Materials Group Environmental Philosophy**
The second session focused on CRH/OMG’s corporate environmental philosophy, environmental policy, and OMG Midwest’s environmental mandate.
**Note: CRH is the parent company of Oldcastle Materials

Session 3:
Where Do We Begin?
Using examples of U.S. EPA’s enforcement actions against aggregate processing and ready mix concrete plants, the company stressed the importance of being compliant in order to avoid regulatory agency involvement.

Session 4:
Air Quality Overview

During this session, an effort was made to tie corporate environmental initiatives to the work employees perform. In addition employees were provided with examples of actions they could take, both at work and at home, to help reduce air quality problems.

Session 5:
Permitting Requirements
In the fifth session, employees reviewed the permits needed to operate aggregate processing plants and other environmental areas to which they are exposed while performing their duties.

Session 6:
Storm Water Rules:
Because Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) require training of employees on the permits, rules and preventions plans, more time was taken to review those elements during this session.

Session 7:
Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rules/Plan
The final session dealt with the Federal petroleum product storage rules.

During late winter and early spring of 2010, all 1,064 active, field employees and mangers were required to attend one of 29 educational sessions scheduled in the five states (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming) that made up the OMG Midwest Group. To ensure the information or message delivered to all employees was consistent the same instructors were used in all sessions.

In order to conduct at least a cursory evaluation on the effectiveness of this environmental education program, a pre- and post-survey or Likert-like rating scale was given to all participants. In addition, all managers and supervisors were given a second survey to assess their level of awareness regarding environmental matters related to their positions.

By late summer of 2010, preliminary data generated by the surveys and feedback indicated this to have been a successful undertaking. Feedback from senior and middle management personnel and many field employees indicated this educational experience was well received and benefited those who participated. They referred to this program as “excellent” and indicated that “they learned a lot.”

In addition, results from site inspections conducted after the program was completed, found general housekeeping to be improved, documentation more organized, and employees appeared to be more involved and proud of what they were doing. Perhaps one of the more significant indicators that change had occurred came from an increase in the number of questions asked by managers and employees prior to doing something that might have a potential environmental impact.

As indicated earlier, a 10 item Likert-like survey was provided to all participants both before they took part in an environmental education session and again immediately following it. Employees were asked to rate each item on a scale from 1 (Disagree) to 7 (Agree). The responses from all 1,064 employees were combined into one group so that the data could be assessed, conclusions drawn and recommendations suggested. The same was done for the responses from the surveys given to all managers and supervisors.

While in-depth statistical analysis has not yet been performed on the data generated by the surveys, a preliminary review indicates an increase in employee awareness about environmental issues and how they relate to the work they do. Based on the data this environmental education program could be termed a success.

Similarly, the data generated from the surveys given to managers and supervisors appears to support the premise that learning occurred in that subgroup. These individuals are the front line and identified in the company’s environmental policy as being responsible for compliance with all environmental activities. So it is imperative for them to be aware of corporate environmental initiatives or goals, understand the company’s environmental policies, and learn their role in relation to them.

In summation, the environmental education program implemented by OMG Midwest in 2010 appears to have been successful in terms of providing new information and increasing environmental awareness to all of its employees. The data provided from survey results, comments from employees at all levels and preliminary site inspection reports provide evidence to support its success. However, program sustainability and retained learning are true measures of long term success. To that end, a refresher environmental education program was developed and provided as part of the company’s annual employee meetings in the spring of 2011.

Note: The following graphs are provided to show that learning took place as measured by the differences between the responses to the pre- and post-survey. In all graphs which follow, the black bars (identified as should be) reflect an ideal response or the highest score on an item.



The OMG Midwest environmental education program developed for 2011 was an abbreviated version of what was done in 2010. Because the environmental program in 2010 was groundbreaking and introduced employees to new environmental topics, it seemed important to reinforce what they had learned previously. Therefore, an overview or shortened versions of the seven sessions from 2010 were presented to employees and management personnel.

As with the 2010 program, this refresher program was well received by employees and they were pleased to see before and after pictures of their projects and plant improvements. This process helped them take ownership of the environmental program and practices that are a part of the tasks they perform while at work.

In an effort to continue measuring the value or effectiveness of this environmental education program two actions were taken. First, under the premise, a good measure of a program’s effectiveness is retained learning, the same two 10 item, pre-education surveys were given to employees and supervisors prior to beginning the 2011 session. Again, in-depth statistical analysis has yet to be preformed, but preliminary data indicate that both groups retained a great deal of what they learned in 2010. The results may indicate in some areas they learned, on their own, even more than was presented during the classroom experience.

Secondly, using an , the environmental education program was critically evaluated in an attempt to collect credible data to use in making judgments about the program’s effectiveness and its value to the company.

An outcome hierarchy is composed of five stages that focus on identifying company needs or the reasons why an educational program was undertaken and whether it accomplished what it intended. The five stages are:

  • Needs: Activities in this stage identify or describe priority issues or problems to which the educational session must respond.
  • Activities: Describes activities the program will use to engage participants.
  • Immediate Outcomes: Responses to the activities by the participants are described.
  • Intermediate Outcomes: Describes changes in individual and group knowledge, skills, attitudes, practices or behaviors.
  • Ultimate Outcomes: Describes the impact of the overall program and attainment of identified goals.

At each stage of the evaluation process, questions were asked, performance indicators were identified, performance information was gathered and judgments about program success were made based on the data collected. From all of these, recommendations to higher level management are then made.

The needs of increasing employee involvement in the compliance process, raising employees’ level of awareness in dealing with environmental matters, and helping them understand environmental rules, best practices and their roles in the process, were identified as the reasons to conduct this environmental education program.

When the evaluation process described above was applied to each of these “needs” it was determined the outcomes at each stage were met, thus indicating this environmental education program to be successful.

The data generated by both the results of the survey and the outcome hierarchy evaluation support the position that the OMG Midwest’s environmental program was effective, has value and will help meet corporate environmental goals and initiatives.

If environmental information provided in 2010 was retained in 2011, the blue bars will be closer to the black bars than is the red bars.­­


OMG Midwest management made, and followed through on a commitment, to conduct a new and unique environmental education program to achieve company goals. In an effort to build on the environmental success achieved so far, it was imperative that managers at all levels work to sustain the momentum that was generated to this point in time.

To aid them in that process, the environmental staff is doing the following:

  1. Conducting an ongoing program of internal environmental audits at plants, projects and construction sites. These inspections will follow    a model of “audit-educate-audit.”
  2. Writing a series of Environmental Tool Box Talks designed to provide plant managers with topics to discuss with their employees. Feedback indicates these have been useful in keeping environmental topics and issues fresh in everyone’s mind.
  3. Continue to provide environmental education to managers and employees in the field as needed or requested by plant/project managers.

It appears by these actions and focusing on various environmental topics the level of awareness remains high and potential problems are being corrected.

It would seem the innovative environmental education and awareness program provided to OMG Midwest employees in 2010 and 2011 has changed behavior of some employees and made a great many others more knowledgeable about environmental issues and how they impact their lives both at work and at home.

Employees of OMG Midwest are now more aware of what is expected of them when encountering environmental matters, have gained an appreciation of the company’s environmental initiatives, and have a better understanding of how they can contribute to achieving them. Before participating in the program, employees were aware of the CRH/OMG Environmental Policy, but now appear to have a deeper comprehension of their role. They are beginning to take ownership of the company’s environmental program.

It seems evident that taking environmental education to this level had a major impact on changing employee behavior. OMG Midwest has conducted environmental training with all managers in the past, but by taking it to the next level (involving all employees) even better outcomes have been observed. The significant, positive changes which have occurred throughout this division of the company over the past two years would indicate this unique environmental education program to be successful.

Joe McGuire, Ph.D., is an Environmental Advisor for Oldcastle Materials’ OMG Midwest Division. He earned his Ph.D. in Education from Iowa State University, and Masters in Education from NW Missouri State. He has worked on the environmental side of the industry for 28 years, and has authored two booklets on the Planning and Zoning Process. In addition, he has published 14 industry related articles.

Billy Snead, CSP, is EHS Director – Central West Division for Oldcastle Materials. He has a BS in Occupational Safety & Health and has worked in the construction industry for 25 years.