Environmental management is not just for the big boys

Certified environmental management systems are usually seen as the preserve of the corporate giants - those companies which can afford to hire dedicated staff to design and implement them. That need not be the case, according to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.

You could be a small firm looking to improve environmental performance or a medium sized organisation contemplating rolling out an Environmental Management System (EMS) to ISO14001/EMAS.

Perhaps you are a large company who would like to demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations and help their suppliers hit their environmental improvement targets. Whatever your EMS circumstances, Acorn can help.

The IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment) Acorn Scheme offers accredited recognition for organisations evaluating and improving their environmental performance through the phased implementation of an EMS.

Acorn participants implement the requirements set out in the different phases of the British Standard BS8555 (BS8555:2003: Environmental Management Systems. Guide to the phased implementation of an environmental management system including the use of environmental performance evaluation).

Certifying an EMS alone (ISO14001), or even taking the extra step and verifying public environmental performance statements (EMAS), does not automatically lead to the desired environmental or business benefits for customers.

Many suppliers, especially small/medium enterprises (SMEs), feel that the management systems approach inherent in either scheme is too cumbersome, doesn't suit their management style and postpones all the rewards of achievement and recognition until the end of a potentially very long process.

The implementation of ISO14001/EMAS is perceived by many SMEs as onerous in terms of time and money. It isn't surprising that organisations already challenged for resources are unwilling to commit to engaging in what they see as such an uninviting process.

The result is inertia; potential business gains as well as liabilities throughout the supply chain go unnoticed and unmanaged.

Using the clear milestones set out in BS8555, Acorn's proven methodology provides a practical, manageable and pragmatic approach whereby tangible results can be seen early on in the process.

Organisations have flexibility in how they choose to participate in the scheme, with the rate and extent of performance improvement kept firmly in the hand of the individual companies.

The organisation may decide to be inspected after implementing all of the stage profiles in a particular phase before progressing to the next phase. Alternatively, it might decide to implement two or more phases before being inspected, in which case achievement of all of the relevant phases will be inspected during one assessment.

Though the scheme can ultimately lead participants to ISO14001 or EMAS if they wish, there's no commitment to progress through all the phases. Once the rewards are evident, many organisations choose to do so.

A system of independent inspection is central to providing recognition that an organisation has met the requirements of a particular Acorn phase and continues to improve its environmental performance.

Independent inspection is provided by Acorn Inspection Bodies approved by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) who also accredit the ISO14001 certification bodies and EMAS verifiers in the UK. UKAS accredited recognition gives participants and their customers confidence that the environmental and business benefits are real and provides assurance that companies are on-track if they want to progress to ISO14001 or EMAS.

The Acorn Scheme has also received backing from the UK Government. The Government position statement on EMS, published by DEFRA, helps to reinforce the credibility of the scheme by officially acknowledging Acorn alongside ISO 14001 and EMAS. The statement also acknowledges the Acorn scheme's strengths in engaging supply chains and providing customer assurance.

Making a case for the environment in business terms is always at its sharpest in terms of a company's procurement strategy and supply chain management. What used to be expressed as 'getting the best price' has now become 'getting the highest quality for the best price whilst enhancing company environmental performance and limiting its exposure to environmental liability'.

A key feature of Acorn is the opportunity for participants to provide validated performance data to their customers, backed by independently accredited inspection. This opens up many opportunities for larger companies to engage their supply chains in environmental improvement in a meaningful way.

Not only can participants specify a certain Acorn phase for different suppliers to achieve, using environmental risk criteria, but they can also specify key environmental performance data either of the supplier or relating to the product or service.

This makes for a powerful management tool, with the bonus that they don't have to undertake separate supplier audits which helps to keep costs down.

For example, a supplier identified as having a key position in either environmental or business terms may have complex processes and significant waste outputs.

If deemed appropriate, they could be asked to achieve a full management system, using the Acorn scheme to progress through all five phases at a rate agreed with the customer, eventually perhaps going as far as ISO14001.

Meanwhile, another much lower impact supplier might only need to progress to Phase 3 of the scheme in order to garner the benefits, hit their environmental targets and satisfy customers that the requisite level of control and improvement is being achieved.

Organisations who maintain a valid acorn certificate will also be entered on the IEMA Acorn Register. The register contains the contact details of the organisation, its location, the phase level it has achieved and its industry sector (NACE code), providing an opportunity for organisations to promote their environmental credentials and delivering a valuable resource for those customers wanting to source products from suppliers who have demonstrated environmental performance improvement.

The flexible approach that Acorn offers means that everyone can participate and get some form of recognition for what they have achieved. This is why there are large companies engaged in the scheme as well as small ones.

A free downloadable workbook to Phase 1 is available to guide organisations through the initial phase of Acorn. A progress planner can also be downloaded from the website, designed to enable organisations to plan their EMS implementation based on their time and resources.

For further information, please contact Richard Meddings at the IEMA on 01522 540069 or acorn@iema.net. Alternatively, please visit www.iema.net/acorn.

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