ESG, Faces of EHS, Safety Culture

Faces of EHS: Amanda Engstrom on Equity and Representation

Amanda Engstrom would compare their career to a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Following graduation from college with a degree in Environmental Studies and one year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, they initially focused on environmental site assessments and industrial hygiene (IH) services at an environmental and construction consultation company. Working as a consultant allowed them to sample various industries and locations while interacting with a wide variety of clients.

Amanda found after almost six years that they wanted to focus their energy within a specific sector and began a new chapter in the retail automotive world. They are quickly approaching five years with their current employer, Advance Auto Parts, where they work as an EHS program manager. They recently made a role change from focusing primarily on environmental and IH matters to adding additional programmatic elements across the EHS department. Advance Auto Parts, Inc. is a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider that serves both professional installer and do-it-yourself customers throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in addition to locations in Mexico and various Caribbean islands.

For our latest Faces of EHS article, we sat down with Amanda to discuss how they got their start in the industry, the impact of a top-down approach to safety culture, and the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in EHS.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

In college, I knew I wanted to do something to actively help people and the environment. I just hadn’t landed on exactly what that something was. After serving in AmeriCorps, I came home looking for job opportunities in the environmental field. The market was not the best in 2011 in my part of the country and I signed up at a temp agency for a concrete material testing job. During that position, I cross trained in soil density testing and rebar inspection until there was an opening in the company’s environmental department. Once I transferred, I was primarily focused on environmental site assessments such as Phase I and Phase II. As time progressed, I took on more industrial hygiene duties. This is when I really began to thrive. Conducting asbestos, mold, lead, and VOC assessments made me feel like I was making an impact on human health. Each project I monitored and site I inspected gave me more confidence to push my knowledge base and pursue my passion for EHS.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

2020 and the ensuing two years threw us all for a bit of a loop. There were changes in workspaces, work titles, and co-workers as the world changed. In this environment, I found myself tested. I had always considered myself to be a very adaptable person having worked in so many different settings from steam tunnels to the home office. What I quickly realized is that even within that changing environment I always had a solid work plan to anchor me. I was unwavering in my commitment to a list of projects and that inflexibility caused me a great deal of heartburn as I needed to shift on short notice. My work style became possessive when it came to certain projects rather than dedicated, and I was not open to the teaching moments I should have been.

Once I was confronted with this from an outside perspective I began to reevaluate. The big lesson for me is that I needed more lessons. I needed to be more open to guidance from my leadership team and push myself into uncomfortable territories. I also developed a high respect for mentor relationships in the process. Being dedicated and passionate about my work is not something that will change but I’ve learned that I can let projects go to other parties without feeling like I’ve lost my footing.

Q: What are your thoughts on safety culture? How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

The biggest impact to a solid safety culture that I have witnessed is a top-down approach. We tend to focus on the heavy hitters. We pour in the highest amounts of time, training, and resources to those areas which have the highest risk. This absolutely makes sense from an operational perspective. From a value standpoint though it puts a heavy burden on those being trained to spread awareness while also staying on top of risk reduction. If awareness is driven from upper management, it allows the rest of the organization to focus on performing job duties with safety baked in. Having EHS be part of the discussion in the conference room absolutely translates down to the assembly or store floor. You create an atmosphere where safety is the standard, not the exception.

Honest communication is extremely important in this effort. There are several different motivators for working safely. Family, personal health, and job security all play a factor at differing levels of importance. It would be easy to miss opportunities for improvement by assuming that everyone has the same outlook. The only way to gather critical feedback and improve the safety culture is to keep that dialogue flowing. Something like a near miss can be turned into a conversation starter or learning opportunity. Starting a safety conversation rather than a safety speech can help extend an EHS message beyond the workplace.

Q: What will be the impact of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles on the EHS industry?

While ESG is quite often viewed as a business strategy, its larger goal of long-term ecological preservation is a much bigger return on investment. When we take steps to be conscious of our environmental and societal responsibilities, we also directly impact public health. Tracing the life cycle of a product, for example, results in fewer chemical spills and improper disposal. Employers are able to develop safe product handling strategies that fall in line with these life cycle goals. This in turn lowers exposure risk.

Creating and following an EHS management system also bolsters ESG practices. A solid EHS program serves as the base on which ESG is built. Solidifying safety and environmental compliance practices from a regulatory aspect then allows you to seek out those goals that push a program from compliant to leading. Plan, Do, Check, Act is the mantra of the safety world, which blends perfectly into ESG improvement. 

If we circle back around to the financial aspect of ESG, it really becomes a self-supporting system. Investors see companies that value ESG as stable and constantly improving. With added investment comes additional funds to support operations. These operations include EHS programs which then lead right back into the support of the ESG strategy.

Q: In terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), what does LGBTQ+ representation look like in EHS, and why is it important?

Representation in general has taken several big steps in the past couple of decades but there is still some work to do. Some workplaces are more accepting than others with varying comfort levels. When everyone is able to bring their full authentic self to the workplace without worry it is spectacularly beneficial. The talent and knowledge brought to the table should not be limited by bias. There are several great LGBTQ+ charities and organizations that assist in this effort, including Out&Equal ( and the Human Rights Campaign (

Q: How will new safety technologies influence the work being done by EHS professionals?

There are two big benefits that sit at the forefront of my mind when I consider emerging technologies. The first is ease of assessment and testing. Ergonomics is a perfect area of example. In years past, the impact of movements during the course of work would be calculated based on visual observation and measurement of things such as weight and lift height. With newer wearable devices, we can track movement and provide auditory feedback when motions fall outside of safe zones.

The second is an improvement in training strategies. The use of augmented reality can provide a safe and easily assessable training environment. Active participation is an extremely valuable part of training. Gamification makes typically dull subjects stand out and improves knowledge retention. A larger audience can be reached far more easily through these methods than with hands-on training. Hands on training is not obsolete by any means but interactive training can be a fantastic supplement.

I am a big supporter of EHS equity and providing all individuals with the tools they need to be safe and successful in their job function. Those tools won’t always be the same from person to person. I believe that as technology improves so will our ability to provide more individualized resources instead of designing to the extremes.

Q: What are you most proud of?

This past year, I welcomed two outstanding achievements, my wonderful daughter, and my Certified Industrial Hygienist credential. Working through failed testing attempts and the challenges of pregnancy to finally achieve my goal was humbling. I sat for my final exam attempt while my daughter kicked a rhythm on my kidneys. I tend to always look to the horizon for the next big challenge as I feel the need to constantly prove myself. I have no doubt that it won’t be long before I start another goal quest. For now, I will take the time to feel proud and rest. Well, as much as you can with a newborn. 

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Be teachable. No matter how long you have been in the industry or how many refresher trainings you sit through there will always be something new to learn. Many of my best work experiences, and toughest, have come from teachable moments. A love of learning and variety drew me to this field in the first place. Someone advising on a different approach or providing a learning opportunity is an investment in me and a sign of their confidence not a dig at my intelligence.

Be respectful. Express kindness and gratitude at every level of business. How you treat the CEO should translate to all other co-workers, leaders, and customers. When you are respectful of the individual, then progress in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion will easily follow.

Be your own brand. When looking at your strengths and interests, develop a marketing strategy for yourself. Approach this with authenticity and do not be afraid to rebrand as you grow and change. I have gone through several rebranding periods in my life, and I have no doubt there will be more to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.