Putting environmental management at the heart of business decision making

Significant changes have been made to the newly revised EN ISO 14001, the international and European environmental management system (EMS) standard.  Its importance cannot be underestimated – over 324,000 organisations of all types and size in 170 countries are certified as meeting its requirements (124,000 in Europe).  The new standard provided an opportunity to make a step-change in environmental performance improvement and make a positive difference on a global scale.

The Big Picture
The revision to EN ISO 14001 needs to be considered in a broad economic and environmental context – particularly as the new standard is likely to remain in use until the mid-2020s.  The economic issues are pretty straightforward: 14001 has to help organisations to cut costs, improve productivity, capitalise on business opportunities, maintain and enhance brand, and reduce risks. 
The environmental context is changing, particularly when considering how the environment can affect an organisation’s ability to create long-term value.  More organisations are seeing the benefits of taking a longer-term view on the way that the environment will shape and influence their future, whether it’s the need to become more resilient to climate change or dealing with issues on resource security.

Leadership and Strategic Direction
The new section on Leadership is important, with three key elements which help to position environmental management more strategically in the organisation.  First is the requirement that environmental management is integrated into core organisational processes.  This is vital to ensuring that environmental management is not a marginal activity, but sits at the heart of the organisation.  Second is the requirement to ensure that environmental policy and environmental objectives are aligned with the strategic direction and context of the organisation.  Finally, there is a new requirement for top management to take accountability for EMS effectiveness.

Risks and Opportunities
At the heart of an EMS is the need to understand potential adverse effects (threats) and potential beneficial effects (opportunities) – both to the environment and the organisation, and to plan action to address these.  A new requirement includes the need to consider a ‘life-cycle perspective’ when identifying environmental aspects, moving the focus from being primarily ‘operational’ to one which takes a broader view of an organisation’s ability to exert influence as well as direct control, and to better understand its supply chain.

Procurement, Design and Compliance
The revised standard is more detailed in its requirements on integrating environment into procurement and design processes – and considering different life-cycle stages.  Similarly, requirements on legal compliance have been enhanced with organisations needing to be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of their compliance status.

Effective communication is central to good environmental management and the new requirements are a significant development.  An important addition is the need to ensure that environmental information that is communicated is reliable, particularly that relating to compliance obligations.  This offers interested parties, including regulators, a higher level of assurance on performance data.

What does it mean for business?
For many, the new standard will be a simple extension of their existing systems; for others, more deep-rooted changes may be required.  The new ISO ‘high level structure’ for management systems incorporated into the revision will make it easier for business to integrate management system standards, including the newly revised ISO 9001.  The way the standard is written is more outcome focussed, allowing organisations to react and adjust processes to the needs of their sector and develop processes as changes occur.  When this is linked directly to the strategic direction of the organisation, this makes ISO 14001 a very powerful tool to improve environmental performance across the whole value chain.

Martin Baxter is Chief Policy Advisor at IEMA. He is an advisor to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Environmental Management Systems, and acts as the UK’s expert on the European Commission’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) Regulatory Committee.  He chairs the British Standards Institution’s Environmental Management Committee and forms part of the UK delegation to ISO.  Martin also chairs the Environmental Management Systems Accreditation Committee for UKAS.

CIRIA's complete portfolio of resources for environmental good practice on site
CIRIA has developed a portfolio of resources, comprising publications, training and toolbox talks, which support the delivery of environmental good practice on site at both different levels and in different situations and the implementation of EN ISO14001.

CIRIA's research takes into account recent legislative and practice developments, to ensure that its outputs continue to provide practical advice about managing construction on site to minimise environmental impacts, and maintain its relevance to all concerned within the construction process.

Further information and resources are available here.