Small acorns to great oak trees

Project Acorn is moving towards the end of its lifetime, but this will by no means be the end of the life for the Acorn approach. Matthias Gelber, director of environmental management systems at White Young Green Environmental Ltd, reports.

Phased EMS implementation with the use of performance evaluation and the possibility of staged recognition is here to stay. From April onwards, the assets of the Acorn Trust will be handed over to the IEMA and the current interim Acorn Trust board will operate under the umbrella of the IEMA.

BS 8555, guidance standard on phased implementation of EMS (with the use of performance evaluation), is likely to be published by the end of March. This is largely based on the tried and tested method developed through Project Acorn. An approach that has been highly successful in delivering ISO 14001 certifications within small companies. Out of the 14 fast track users that started testing the approach at the beginning of project, all but one have successfully gained certification to ISO 14001. The only 'drop out' was an aviation supplier that left the project after September 11th when their business was taken over by a larger organisation.

Comments from participants identify that the staged approach has helped them towards ISO 14001 certification. Terry McManus, Tekdata Ltd, says, "If it hadn't been for the staged approach of Project Acorn, we would never have moved closer towards ISO 14001 - we have been thinking about it for the last five years, but we never got going as it looked such a daunting task."

The Acorn approach

Currently more than 100 sites are engaged in the use of the Acorn approach to EMS implementation. In addition, various regional initiatives where Acorn will be used as a tool for EMS development are either starting or being planned. The MERBEN project, run by Groundwork Wirral, intends to engage 100 local companies in the Acorn approach.

Mark Turner, director of the MERBEN initiative sees a logical fit: "We think this is the ideal way to engage the many small companies in Merseyside. We want to increase their competitiveness with measurable environmental performance improvement and by that improving their access to local and wider supply chains." Benefits deriving from the implementation approach went above and beyond environmental gains into operational savings and efficiency improvements as reflected in the comment from SWS, a small waste company based in the North East. Vicky Law, project manager, SWS, says, "We are very pleased with the work undertaken with the Acorn approach. As well as helping us to improve our environmental performance, the EMS has enabled us to formalise and improve other aspects of our operation."

Business benefits and savings

Substantial savings were gained by some of the Acorn participants due to increased resource efficiency and operational changes. The project has focussed the minds of participants on such opportunities. It provided a strong focus on monitoring and the use of performance indicators driven by the significant aspects, stakeholder needs and environmental performance criteria as outlined in ISO 14031.

A good example is Stanbridge Precision, an automotive parts supplier from Luton recommended to Project Acorn by its mentor, Vauxhall Motors. Environmental performance indicators based on the cost per manufactured part were developed for the following environmental issues: electricity, waste, water, chemicals, cutting oil, gas oil, paper/packaging, Climate Change Levy and absorbent granules.

When these costs were added together, they provided a measure of the total environmental costs of the business. This could then be associated with the manufacturing of a particular product. In this way, the environmental costs of the manufacturing process can now be compared product-against-product, as well as year-against-year for overall production efficiency.

In the first year of EMS implementation, overall environmental costs were reduced from average 0.8 pence per part to up to a minimum of 0.67 pence over one month, presenting a significant reduction in the cost per part. This amounted to around £175,500 savings.

Communication of the performance indicators back to senior management allowed management commitment to be maintained, as well as stimulating wider enthusiasm amongst the workforce. Measurement of indicators in this way also allowed for the effectiveness of a recent scheme to replace a trichlorethylene wash with an isoparaffin wash to be assessed using environmental performance indicators.

Supply chain application

Work is under way on the strategic application of Acorn/BS 8555 as a supply chain tool. Severn Trent Water is conducting the most advanced supply chain pilot application of the Acorn method.

The company has involved a diverse range of suppliers and contractors ranging from large strategically important manufacturers to smaller service providers. Project progress, along with individual supplier success is fed back to the board of Severn Trent Water, an approach that has gained appropriate attention throughout the supply chain.

Severn Trent have placed an emphasis on supplier partnership, avoiding a 'must do' approach, with a project aim of gaining joint benefits and minimising business risks.

Suppliers have been selected based on a simple matrix that identifies risks and opportunities. Expectations from Severn Trent Water with regard to progress of suppliers are aligned with the scale of environmental significance that was attributed to the various suppliers.

The project has gained an internal award within Severn Trent. Gill Wilson, who champions the initiative within the procurement department of Severn Trent Water comments: "The benefits of involving our suppliers and contractors have been significant. STW are committed to working closely with suppliers, contractors and consultants to ensure that we manage environmental risk and promote awareness of legal obligations and business commitments. Companies taking part in the scheme will not only be able to satisfy our environmental criteria but will also meet the standards being set by other clients' organisations.

"Training suppliers, contractors and consultants together has benefited everyone - it's encouraging to see the more experienced companies helping out the smaller, less experienced ones."

A detailed technical article on BS 8555 and the outcomes and implications of a UKAS Feasibility Study into the development of accreditation to Acorn/BS8555 will be provided in the EMS supplement in the May edition of IEM.



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