ISO 14001 Success Across Thales UK

by Chris Hope, Russell Hobbs and Michael Evans
October 2nd 2003, saw the completion of Thales' ambitious programme of ISO 14001 implementation across 26 operating companies in the UK, in only 18 months. The programme followed a 21-staged route map, incorporated a number of key strategies and provided considerable cost-savings across the group. The success of this programme had been highly dependent on forming key partnerships between operating companies, certification bodies, training providers, and consultants.

Thales opted for a facilitated approach to implementation, where a supporting culture was developed around one of Thales’ key values, “Sharing Knowledge”. This approach was considered to provide greater EMS ownership to the operating companies. The corporate team provided key resources aimed at achieving certification, including: seminars; taught training courses; workshops; a UK road show; and an EMS Toolkit. It was envisaged early that the toolkit, would allow companies to focus their energies on identifying and controlling environmental impacts, instead of struggling with the structure and arrangement of various EMS components.

Therefore in 2000, Mott MacDonald was employed to undertake a preliminary environmental risk screening across the group. This exercise extended to 157 sites and involved a combination of desktop studies, telephone conversations and site visits. Landmark data was also acquired for each site, providing relevant geological and hydrological information.

The results confirmed the need for greater environmental control at company level. After some consideration, it was decided that the best route would be to adopt a programme of environmental management system implementation.

The question remained how best to manage the process of developing individual systems at the numerous commercially and operationally diverse Thales companies. The outcome was that senior management devised a multi-stage approach to the problem.

Corporate strategy

It was recognised from the onset that a strong steer from group level would be required. This was initiated by establishing a corporate team – which included a newly recruited EMS specialist – to manage implementation. Following this, key individuals were identified across the group, including financial and legal representatives at corporate level, while at company level, specific environmental co-ordinator roles were developed.

The team devised a programme of events aimed at introducing the concept of EMS. This included a launch event designed to bring environmental representatives together from across the group, develop tools to assist with EMS design and implementation and timetable training activities to increase the representatives’ knowledge base. A road show was also organised, and team members travelled around the UK with a view to increasing buy-in from directors. Challenging timescales were set, including the target of having all companies certified to ISO 14001 by September 2003.

Once the EMS team had estimated the resources that would be required, funding was sought from the group board. This was achieved by presenting the drivers for EMS (including the financial implications of environmental neglect, as well as the political and marketing benefits of certification) along with a route map for achieving group-wide implementation.

Training plan

The vital role of training in ensuring that EMS implementation was both meaningful and successful was recognised early on. A programme was developed that included workshops, seminars and courses designed to lead key staff (typically the 50 or so environmental co-ordinators) through the process. The programme was phased to compliment the route map, allowing co-ordinators to receive relevant training at appropriate points during implementation. Various methods of training were used, including guest speakers, facilitated discussions, lecture-style presentations and workshops. Some of the courses (Foundation in Environmental Management and Internal Environmental Auditing) were devised to an IEMA-accredited standard, enabling the co-ordinators to achieve a recognised qualification. These courses subsequently reduced environmental risk across the group by raising competencies.

Training days were designed to provide information relating to each stage of the process, inform the companies of the group’s ambitions and requirements and provide a forum for debate and discussion. By restricting training to small, manageable modules, it was found that delegates were more likely to contribute and be engaged, providing confidence to go off and tackle their own EMS responsibilities.

EMS Toolkit

At the heart of the programme was the EMS Toolkit, developed in partnership with Mott MacDonald to provide a practical guide for environmental co-ordinators regarding the design, implementation and management of an EMS. Also included are a series of procedures (obtained from best-practice examples across the group) and template forms, which can be used by co-ordinators to construct their own system. A register of environmental legislation was also developed, providing guidance on legal compliance. It was envisaged that the toolkit would allow companies to focus their energies on identifying and controlling environmental impacts, instead of struggling with the structure and arrangement of EMS components. The EMS toolkit was made available to the group via CD-ROM and the group intranet. This resulted in a faster implementation time, reduced costs and a reduced need for an external consultant. This proved so successful, that other parts of the company have since utilised the toolkit.

Relationship with Certification Bodies

The majority of Thales companies were certified to ISO 9001 and already had relationships with certification bodies. It was therefore decided to opt for ISO 14001 as the EMS, since it can be integrated with ISO 9001 quality systems, creating a more streamlined approach to EMS implementation. As part of the strategy for improving relationships with certification bodies, it was decided to invite Lloyds, BSI and SGS to review and comment on the Toolkit. This was beneficial in ensuring that auditors understood the methodologies in use.

Empowerment and Ownership

The final part of Thales’ strategy was to enthuse and empower the co-ordinators to develop their own company-level EMS implementation plans. It had always been intended to allow companies to take ownership of their respective EMS projects, as compared to providing direct control from corporate. This was considered the most challenging part of the process, as it required a shift in responsibility, leading to a greater reliance on companies to take the initiative. Although providing companies with ownership of their EMS, it was still considered important to provide ongoing guidance to ensure that company plans were implemented, that certification was achieved and the systems are maintained and continually improved. Therefore, continuous group support from the corporate team was provided throughout the implementation process, which acted to maintain enthusiasm and commitment across the group.

Cost & Benefits

It is too soon to appreciate the full extent of cost-savings and benefits, resulting from cross-group implementation of ISO 14001 within recently certified companies. However cost savings and benefits are already clearly evident in those Thales companies already certified. The benefits of implementing ISO 14001 across the group has been significant cost savings and improved operational control. The cost of implementation at Thales Optics in North Wales was estimated to be £40,000. However, overheads have been reduced by approximately £500,000/year.

EMS implementation costs at Thales Air Defence in Northern Ireland was around £40,000, which included three manufacturing and assembly sites. Improved waste and energy management has resulted in over £40,000 being saved in operating costs. Cost savings through EMS implementation have also been achieved in Thales companies whose operations are light assembly or office-based and were originally perceived to have low environmental impact.

A strong driver for EMS implementation has been customer requirements, especially in the financial sector. The total cost of certification to ISO 14001 for Thales e-Transactions was estimated to be 180 man-days. The measures put in place yielded impressive results. Prior to implementation the company had been landfilling all plastics, cardboard, toner cartridges and solvent container wastes, Over 95% of these wastes are now recycled, saving the company £30,000/year. In addition, environmental risks have been reduced through improved knowledge of the drainage system, new cabinets for hazardous materials and providing spillage containment kits.

Together with the savings across the group there have been a number of benefits, which are difficult to put a monetary figure to. These include a reduction in environmental risk through compliance with legislation. Evidence suggests there is increased confidence from regulators that implementation of ISO 14001 has improved process control in the areas of waste management and in the management of installations under the Pollution Prevention Control regime. Significant improvements in areas, where Thales companies have previously been weak, such as planned preventative maintenance, have been of particular value.


The group approach for managing environmental risk and implementing EMS has proved successful. The key to this success has included forming partnerships between operating companies, certification bodies, training providers and consultants. A group approach to environmental management has enabled effective ISO 14001 implementation, resulting in benefits including reductions in cost and standardised environmental management practices, preventing individual companies re-inventing the wheel.

The process of implementing ISO 14001 has raised the level of environmental awareness and put the issues on board agendas. The co-ordinators have been given the empowerment to continuously improve environmental management on their sites. Many of the companies have implemented EMS, which have led to significant savings, balancing implementation costs.

As a relatively new company, an important spin off has been the strong unifying effect which company-wide ISO 14001 certification has delivered and a strong environmental network has developed. This has provided a foundation to launch future initiatives such as product stewardship, which will again be supported by toolkit and training elements.

It is envisaged that with continuous support from the Environmental team and third party auditing, the standard of environmental management will continuously improve and become integrated into everyday business activities, creating a self-sustaining environmental management system. This is dependent on strengthening operating company cultures through continuous training, providing challenging targets and maintaining motivation by regular networking events.


Michael Evans – UK Environmental, Health & Safety Manager

Russell Hobbs – Group Environmental Co-ordinator

Christopher Hope – Environmental, Health & Safety Intern

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