Building credibility through certification

ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems

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About ISO 14001: 2015

ISO 14001 is an internationally agreed standard that sets out the requirements for an Environmental Management System (EMS). It helps organisations improve their environmental performance through more efficient use of resources and reduction of waste, gaining a competitive advantage and the trust of stakeholders. [Reference]

The need

As part of its global sustainability strategy, an IT and telecoms service company with offices around the world had identified ISO 14001 as a key component. Requests around certification were increasing from customers, and it was becoming more commonplace in general discussions on compliance, reputation management, and opportunity.

Though ISO certification was a relatively new concept, the company took the bold move of aiming for certification at five international locations, starting with the UK.

Insight: There are two further ISO standards designed to help you implement an EMS that you can turn to: ISO 14004: 2016 – General guidelines on implementation, and ISO 14005:2019 – Guidelines for a flexible approach to phased implementation.

The project

ISO 14001:2015 has a series of clauses that form the standard, which reflect the ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ (PDCA) approach for continual improvement. The clauses are shown mapped against each stage below.

Taking the standard as the starting point, work began identifying the context of the organisation, the stakeholders and the best format for the environmental management system. Environmental aspects and impacts, and their frequency and likelihood, were established – forming the backbone of the system.

It also afforded an opportunity to identify and engage with key people whose input and influence on the system would be relevant, such as those in the building management, communications, legal, audit, and HR teams. Through a steering group these stakeholders helped to build the first set of environmental objectives, and were given responsibility for setting and reporting on the targets.

For example, data on energy consumption was already being collected on a spreadsheet, and policies and processes existed in different areas of the business. Onboarding training was in place, and a good intranet and public website was in evidence. A well-established audit and risk team were already operational, and controls through online approval systems such as business travel were already operational. While these may have seemed disconnected in isolation, each element contributed to the EMS.

Communication throughout the project was key, ensuring that an understanding of the end goal was clear, and that individual contributions were recognised. Considerations when engaging with the business on the project included: a) explaining that an environmental management system is an ongoing project, b) that existing processes and policies can contribute to the system, and that c) it was worth the time and energy to be involved, and to articulate some of the benefits of certification.

Measuring progress

As the project was a new area for the company, a gap analysis with the certification body in advance of the first audit was undertaken. This proved helpful in understanding how the EMS was progressing, but also as a first experience with an external auditor.

Insight: the terms set out in the standard are the ones that should be used in the environmental management system. Clause 3 explains the terminology, and a good understanding of this is expected by the auditor.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ format for the EMS, the focus is on making sure that the approach chosen reflects the business, and that the different clauses are supported in the business operations and practices. As the first and second audits took place, supporting documents were updated and aligned to the requirements of the standard. It’s important to capture these steps in the overall plan, and to measure progress with the project team.

As noted above, the goal of certification is not just certification — it’s a commitment to ongoing environmental performance improvements. Targets that are set must be measured. You need to keep ahead of legislation changes. Communication is essential. The EMS should be monitored, updated and audited. Simply put, the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach needs to be part of ‘how we do things around here’.

Benefits

Following the creation and implementation of the EMS, the UK site was successfully certified, followed shortly by the additional four international sites. And in 2020 a further site was added. Since the project began, energy intensity has been reduced by 33%, while operational emissions intensity has halved, and 84% of employees undertook environmental awareness training. An additional benefit was the ability to use environmental data collected in the EMS to calculate the company’s first carbon footprint assessment.

Insight: Make your targets public, internally or externally. Be clear about the goals and how people can contribute. Show progress against them throughout the year. If you are using an online EMS, integrate the targets data into your online systems.

To find out more about implementing ISO 14001:2015, get in touch on +44 20 8187 7040 or email hello@grain-sustainability.com.