Balance the risk, reduce the burden

Better risk management, writes Alan E Gower, EMS / H&S business manager at BM Trada Certification, is what having an Environmental Management System (EMS) is all about.

Better risk management is an increasingly common term in business today. It is as applicable to management of financial risks related to obtaining loans, approving suppliers, getting paid by customers as it is to more general business risks such as maintaining product or service quality and achieving market projections and growth forecasts. Equally, better risk management is what having an environmental management system is all about.

Environmental management assists a company to prepare for the future rather than simply react to events once they have happened. It prevents problems going unnoticed and helps identify and eliminate root causes of problems. It highlights opportunities and ensures maximised benefits from improved performance.

Implementing an environmental management system ensures that a co-ordinated and properly structured approach is taken to the management of environmental risk.

So to turn to the issue of the environment itself. One or more issues, such as global warming, carbon dioxide emissions, power station emissions, traffic exhaust pollution, damage to the ozone layer, reducing fish stocks, health effects (e.g. skin cancers, respiratory illnesses) seem to be in the news almost every week. It could be claimed that it is just the media and certain fringe elements continuing to generate attention for their own ends but it appears that more and more people are beginning to take damage to the environment seriously.

“Mapping our storm and foul sewer drainage plan made us realise that our vehicle washing effluent was directly entering a nearby river. A project to develop alternative arrangements led to a diversion to foul sewer with accompanying Consent to Discharge,” claims one furniture manufacturer.

Improved competitiveness

It is now well proven that implementation of an effective environmental management system can bring significant business benefits. Organisations of all sizes and in all sectors from manufacturing to service industries to local authorities, and from SME’s to Plc’s are finding that application of good environmental management principles, such as those contained in the International Standard ISO 14001 enhances business performance and all important public image. Increasingly these organisations are demonstrating that environmental management can strengthen existing practices and become an integral part of day to day business activities.

ISO 14001 provides a logical, common-sense approach to environmental management. It is a systematic tool that enables an organisation in any market sector to focus on their situation, identify the relevant environmental issues and to lessen their impact to their benefit and that of the environment. It is part of a global response to the recognition that we are damaging the environment in which we all live. The cause and effect of the foremost world environmental issues, which are all due to mankind, are generally too vast and too intangible for us to grasp and so the slightly cliché expression ‘think global, act local’ is very relevant.

“Had it not been for the emergency procedures we had in place then the oil spill during tank refilling would have been far more serious. The implications and cost of the potential pollution could have run into tens of thousands of pounds,” says a steel fabrication company.

Environmental management is not just for large organisations, we all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the environment. Some smaller companies are looking to implement an environmental management system in stages so that the early focus is on better controls and practical improvements. However there is no doubt that the discipline introduced by external audits against ISO 14001 from an accredited Certification Body can help ensure that benefits of early gains are not reduced over time and the whole company continues to assist the achievement of initial aspirations. External auditing and awarding of the Certificate of Registration also provides the public recognition of everyone’s endeavours and can open doors to new business.

Supply chains

Major companies are now starting to focus on the environmental performance of key suppliers and subcontractors to encourage improvement. They are looking at ways of managing risks not under their direct control. By minimising the risk of future environmental incidents, which may reflect adversely back on them, they are safeguarding and enhancing their own business image. Increasingly, companies are making achievement of registration to ISO 14001 a prerequisite for continuing business relationships.

“Undoubtedly our registration to ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 have led to new contracts with a client whose construction projects are very much in the public eye and involve sensitive environmental issues regarding wildlife and landscaping schemes,” says a landscape contractor.

There is an acceleration in the number of companies with ISO 9000 registration who want to add on ISO 14001 and/or OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health and Safety) registration. This is particularly so when companies are converting to the new ISO 9001:2000 Standard which lends itself more readily to the development of an integrated management system. Whilst differing in actual structure to the environmental and occupational health and safety Standards, ISO 9001:2000 nevertheless helps to highlight common elements leading to simplification of system requirements and avoidance of duplication. Companies are starting to talk more about their business management system rather than environmental, quality or health and safety management systems.

ISO 14001 registration is not a cure for all environmental problems but it is a worthwhile, if not essential, business initiative that could enable you to better manage your business, gain competitive advantage and minimise its environmental impact and with ever increasing focus on business efficiency, environmental management can help to control and even drive down costs.

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