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Conformance to the ISO 14001 standard has become synonymous with “good environmental management” in contracts worldwide. The recognition of the standard has been achieved as an increasing number of organisations rely on its structure to systematise their actions, and trust in its name to promise the delivery of legally-compliant services. The updates published in 2015 introduced new requirements for the certified masses – this blog looks at two rather intangible new key terms that are difficult to evidence but are essential to success: “integration” and “lifecycles”.

Integration is a cornerstone of management systems, as without buy-in from both company leaders & management boards together with other employees, the system would be viewed as an “add-on”. Multiple stakeholders and champions will ensure its longevity and effectiveness. Integration’s inclusion has come at a great time, as millennials increase their numbers in the global workforce, and with this – a raised expectation of employers to be conscious of their business activities. However, proving that your organisation has ‘integrated’ ISO 14001 across the business and within its culture is a difficult task. There are 3 locations where integration is mentioned: leadership, performance, and management review. Clear guidance from this standard is to ensure that the EMS is not a stand-alone system.

Control and influence of the EMS in a lifecycle perspective is an interesting area as it is much more obvious how to evidence it in a company that makes products, in comparison to a company that delivers a service. Useful angles for these companies to take, are:

  • look at supplier spending power as ‘influential leverage’;
  • engage sales teams to ensure what is promised is delivered, and
  • work with the internal supply chain team to align the procurement and environmental policies and procedures.

Many other opportunities exist with the new updated standard. Integration and lifecycle are the two that I feel are critical to ensuring that an organisation achieves its goals when adopting a certified ISO 14001 system.

DO

  • DO conduct a gap analysis of where you are and where you need to be.
  • DO schedule a ‘sense check’ visit with your external auditing body once about 75% of the developmental phase is complete.
  • DO engage as early as possible with influencers in the organisation. Escalation for slow progress through the correct avenues will be critical to keeping to your timeline.
  • DO take the transition opportunity to streamline and reduce previously burdensome processes. This may include central document storage and access, to ensure that companies across a global system are able to support each other.
  • DO refer out to processes within your organisation that already exist. E.g. management review groups whose remit for discussion could be expanded slightly; or reporting frameworks like GRI that already establish a structured process for communicating environmental information to interested parties.

DON’T!

  • DON’T duplicate. To ensure consistency in application, especially with global multi-site certificates, its important to standardise approaches. However, along the way, keep a record of processes that are seen as duplication, and be sure to address these duplications once transition is complete.
  • DON’T tick all the boxes. There are only certain clauses which require documented evidence. There is no need in over-doing it with new processes and documented ways of working. By referring out to existing documents and even other departments which specifically own critical areas (e.g. sales teams [for lifecycle considerations in service-based companies]), you are then also able to show the level of business integration that your environmental management system has achieved.

For me, the most important ‘update’ to the system is checks on its integration into a business. As without this, and executive advocacy, the EMS will fail to prove its true value to an organisation implementing it.

The updated ISO 14001 Environmental Management standard was released in September 2015 and represents the biggest step change in the standard since it was first introduced in 1996.

Whilst the previous approach was focussed on operational issues and was predominantly back-ward looking, the new standard is centred around an understanding of key risks and opportunities, including a forward view of these at all levels within the business.

Emphasising the context of the business, a life-cycle approach to considering impacts is advocated involving customers and the supply chain. Importantly, the standard requires full engagement of the senior level within the business, particularly for integration within the core business, accountability for the effectiveness of the system, and a demonstration that the management system influences the decision-making process.

For some, the changes have led to nothing more than tweaking the existing system, but for the majority of businesses, a fundamental shift will be required to accommodate this evolution – and for a significant minority, accreditation to the standard will be stopped.

It is important to remember that the focus of the environmental system is to demonstrate that the whole business understands its impact on the environment and, from top to bottom, is working to manage and reduce those impacts.

There is no requirement for procedures to be written, but instead for incorporation of environmental criteria into the culture of the business.

As such, systems based upon a significant amount of processes and procedures are going to be more difficult to modify. Alignment with the existing culture is critical and we are often asked to support organisations to streamline their system – removing as much as two thirds of the documentation. Our experience has seen the most time and effort spent to determine relevant suppliers and to engage them together with understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties.

Alignment with the existing culture is critical and we are often asked to support organisations to streamline their system – removing as much as two thirds of the documentation.

The new standard emphasises the importance of true engagement with stakeholders (or ‘interested parties’). Objectives include:

– understanding the strategic impacts affecting the business now and in the future, including defining ‘compliance obligations’, that may go beyond legal requirements
– easing incorporation of the system into the company culture
– keeping stakeholders informed on performance and achieving recognition.

The promotion of environmental excellence has already seen organisations being rewarded through rating agencies such as CDP and able to take market share.

Conclusion

Developing a management system in line with the new ISO14001 standard is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite as a means to best manage the regulatory and stakeholder risks and for organisations to provide a co-ordinated response. By adopting a more strategic approach, the new standard enables environmental management to be better aligned to the business objectives of the organisation, and the remaining processes can achieve synergies with other systems supporting quality, H&S, etc.