Why bother with an EMS?

Managing your environmental footprint is a step in the right direction but, by taking the next step to certification, companies are able to fully realise the benefits of implementing an environmental management system.

Catherine Golds, head of global certification company, NQA explains why going the extra mile to achieve ISO 14001 is worth it.

"Why bother to go for certification if we are going to manage our environmental impact anyway?" This is a question that often comes into the decision making process when companies are considering putting environmental systems in place.

Businesses may implement initiatives of their own or even get a consultant in for advice on the best way to improve processes, but when it comes to achieving long-term results and adding credibility to the initiative, the benefits of going green come with certification.

The certification process should be seen as an investment by an organisation as achieving environmental standards that will yield long term results far beyond merely managing environmental impact.

Adding credibility to your EMS
Impartiality is one of the fundamental principles of certification, which increases stakeholder confidence, externally as well as within the company.

Obtaining certification from an impartial body adds credibility to the company's undertaking. All certification decisions are based solely on objective evidence of conformity and are not influenced by other interests, which may be seen to be the case if a company self certifies its processes.

This is important as quite apart from the Kyoto Protocol, European Directives and Government legislation, employees and consumers of products and services are increasingly demanding that a company should produce products and deliver service in an environmentally friendly way and independent certification puts any doubt to rest.

Internally, achieving a standard puts to rest the question of whether the company's EMS is working - a third party will certify that procedures are in place, are being adhered to and that results are both measurable and a good reflection of the process.

Mann Construction is a company that provides civil engineering, groundwork services and reinforced structures to major contractors in the construction industry.

Since Mann achieved ISO 14001, 97% of project staff have been environmentally inducted which has motivated and further committed staff to the process.

Compass, the international catering business reported a significant improvement in employee job satisfaction from achievement of the standard as well as a greater sense of teamwork and inclusion. The learning experience also led many to adopt changes to how they handle environmental issues at home.

Competitive advantage
It goes without saying that certified companies have a competitive advantage over other companies that claim to have environmental processes in place.

With the ever-increasing demand for environmental consideration, more and more companies are beginning to scrutinise their supply chain. If two companies are tendering for the same contract - one company certified to an environmental standard and the other claiming to be so, it is more than likely that the job will go to the company that is able to provide independent evidence of its green credentials.

Repeat business is one of the highest-ranking benefits of certification for Mann Construction. During the tendering stage of business, more often than not, the company is asked to provide its environmental policy, certificate of registration, and any good practice and environmental plans for the job.

The fact that its sites are regularly inspected by not only an environmental management representative but also by the site managers and that the company is audited annually goes a long way to helping them maintain such a high environmental standard.

Mann has also received requests from numerous clients for assistance in helping them achieve external environmental audits over the last year, which has helped them understand how other companies comply with their EMS.

Access to broader knowledge resources
When a company undergoes the assessment and verification process of an audit they have access to highly qualified and experienced assessors who have a detailed knowledge of ISO 14001 and an exceptionally thorough understanding of environmental processes.

Assessors have far wider experience in the field and are able to use their knowledge to the advantage of the company looking to tighten up their environmental processes. They also look at EMS day in and day out, auditing organisations of different sizes and complexities and may be able to identify opportunities for improvement that have been beneficial in other companies.

Auditors work closely with both management and employees at the company being inspected to develop a thorough understanding of the business in order to deliver a value added assessment of the Environmental Management System.

The assessors are up to date with modern procedures, processes and new initiatives and technologies in the environmental field that lead to cost savings.

Keeping up with the law
By having access to these assessors companies are kept abreast of changing regulations as they will identify through the assessment if a company has not captured legislation that affects their business.

Mann now conforms to environmental legislation and guidance on matters such as waste management, oil storage, ecology, archaeology and avoidance of pollution. Mann can be sure that the processes they have implemented have been scrutinised to ensure they have captured all regulations that are relevant to them.

Longevity
With the credit crunch upon us and fears of a recession it is all too easy for management to decide it is time to cut corners and abandon new processes. But a certified EMS is far less likely to be abandoned than a more casual system that has been put in place.

In order for a company to maintain its ISO 14001 certification the EMS has to be audited annually which encourages companies to continue the processes and ensure implementation of the systems that have been put in place.

The annual goal provides an incentive to keep going. Often if a company has put in its own EMS it may default or staff may loose interest in the system, and there is no point in making substantial and sometimes costly changes to procedures if the long term benefits and cost savings are not realised.

In order to achieve and sustain ISO 14001 Mann Construction had to develop a means of auditing and checking its sites regularly.

It developed an environmental site inspection checklist and environmental audit check list along with a dedicated environmental site file, which includes everything from a formal site environmental risk assessment to a demolition and construction waste register.

Smaller companies
The path towards ISO 14001 can be a lengthy one but smaller organisations need not be worried about this or the cost of implementing an EMS, as there is an option, designed to make it easy for them. BS 8555 is an incremental, six-step approach to ISO 14001, which is just as beneficial for small companies as ISO 14001 is for larger ones.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service took this route. Its two key objectives were to reduce and streamline waste and to reduce consumption of energy and other utilities.

Merseyside Fire & Rescue looked at all its operating procedures, focusing on prevention of pollution, compliance with legislation and continual improvement of environmental performance, asking 'is this the best way of doing things?' This produced real efficiency savings.

For example, prior to the review there were five councils collecting waste from the service's 26 fire stations. When the contract was put out to tender and awarded to one company there was an immediate cost saving of £5,000 a year.

Use of natural resources was also reduced and the service has saved over £30,000 in domestic water consumption charges over the last three years through leak reduction and water minimisation schemes.

CO² emissions were measured by placing air extractors in garages and modifying appliance exhausts with Continuous Regenerative Traps (CRTs, devices designed to extract the largest particles) this helped contribute to an annual 500 tonne saving in carbon emissions, achieved over a three-year period.

The service also decided to move to sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro power. It attracts a zero rate on CO² emissions, so the additional cost can be offset against the climate change levy.

Mike Hall, the Service's environmental coordinator believes they made real progress by taking this route, and once they had achieved phase 5 of BS 8555 they had the confidence that they could achieve ISO 140001.

Braham Electrical in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland, has attained Phase 3 of the Acorn scheme with NQA. The electrical contractor employing 82 staff found that it needed to have environmental controls in place to win new business and has seen the benefit that registration to the scheme gives them.

As Stephen McQuaid, managing director, pointed out "Having the Acorn registration has allowed us to tender for, and go on to win several jobs, particularly with local schools and hospitals that we would not have been able to contend for otherwise.

It was a learning process, but one that has benefits to the company, and assures our clients, as well as ourselves, that we are complying with Government requirements."

The Acorn Inspection Scheme, developed by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation service (UKAS) who are licensed by the government.

It is a flexible scheme with five phases and is particularly suitable for SMEs. An organisation does not have to complete all of the phases, but can choose to go only as far as the level with best suits its needs, with registration being awarded to that phase.

Another benefit is that it can be tackled incrementally at a pace to suit the organisation, with the option to progress to and gain registration to ISO 14001 if desired.

No matter the size, a certified EMS will contribute to the bottom line from day one and bring other benefits including credibility, longevity and access to invaluable knowledge resources as well as open the door to new business opportunities.

Catherine Golds is Head of NQA, the leading certification body. She has held positions at the Ministry of Defence and the Environment Agency and regularly speaks and writes on quality, environmental and health and safety issues.

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