Jack of all trades

Steve Stones, director of consultancy Pro Enviro, looks at the business and environmental advantages of integrating management systems

Firstly, the environmental agenda has never had more prominence than it has today, with more and more of the general public becoming aware of the issues surrounding climate change and global warming. Industry has also started to feel the financial consequences of the government’s plans to manage emissions through taxation; the introduction of the Climate Change Levy has had a disproportionate effect on energy-intensive industrial sectors with relatively low employee numbers which did not benefit from the reduced National Insurance costs that came with the introduction of the levy. As the UK’s largest employer, the government gained most from that part of the legislation!

Secondly, the non-stop march of global competition places even more pressure on the UK manufacturing sector, which is continually challenged by the supply chain to reduce costs and prices to remain competitive. In many cases, UK manufacturers are trying to remain competitive against overseas competition that do not face the same environmental regulations and associated costs as they do.

Harmonised approach

Finally, the international standards bodies have harmonised the approach to environmental management systems and quality management systems. The latest ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 standards contain many common elements and have been widely promoted as such.

The devil is in the detail

At first glance it may seem that there is little to connect these factors, and at least two of them can be seen as highly positive in terms of the prominence of environmental issues and the management of environmental impacts in the UK. However, one effect of these circumstances is that while organisations appreciate that the environment is a major issue, there is a need to reduce costs to remain competitive. But given the commonality of approach between ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, one easy solution is to combine the roles of quality and environmental management within one individual system.

Since quality management has a longer history than environmental management, it has inevitably been the quality manager who has taken on the responsibility for implementing environmental management systems rather than the other way round. One consequence of this is that although many companies have an awareness of environmental issues, they lack the internal expertise to deal with issues effectively, and progress on reducing environmental impacts is slowed down. Without expert knowledge, many organisations are not able to gain the benefits they expect from environmental projects and management systems and treat them in exactly the same way as they do quality improvements. Although many of the concepts are similar, the devil is in the detail – and the environmental detail is easily lost.

Growth in consulting

While there has been an effective de-skilling of the role of the environmental manager within small and medium sized organisations in the UK, there has been a continued growth in environmental consultancy. This growth has created a large number of specialists whose skills are in demand by the larger organisation, but who are largely unknown to the SMEs that make up over 80% of the UK economy.

Salaries for environmental professionals have seen dramatic growth in recent years, largely as a result of a shortage of specialist skills, and the substantial growth in job vacancies featured in many publications confirms the growing demand for environmental expertise in the UK.

It comes as no surprise that organisations seeking to recruit environmentally trained staff are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain good quality candidates. However, given what has already happened in the majority of the manufacturing sector, how long can this last and will there be a fall-off in the availability of specialists in the future? Should this happen, the influence of the professional environmental manager will be further reduced.

The demand for environmentalists in industry will not fall in the coming years given the rapid pace of change driven by new legislation and increasing monitoring requirements for emissions, waste and the way in which land is redeveloped. The issue will be whether smaller organisations will be in a position to afford the help they need.

Integrating management systems

As international standards have come closer together in the approach they take, one advantage is that companies can take this commonality and integrate their systems to help reduce the burden that multiple management systems can place on an organisation. Couple this with the growth in low cost intranets and online systems, and it becomes clear that significant benefits can be gained from the process of integration.

Many companies now have multiple management systems in place. This places a high administrative burden on staff and is time consuming, as well as reducing the time available to dedicate to achieving business goals. Integrating your management systems to make running them less time consuming and less expensive can be achieved with a little foresight and planning.

A structured approach

As long as a structured approach is taken to the implementation of an overall integrated management system, benefits can be gained. The approach must ensure the correct management of all key aspects of the existing systems, so as to enable the company to function smoothly and achieve its aims.

Implementation of an integrated system brings with it a number of benefits:

  • reduction in duplication (and therefore the cost of staff time spent running the system);
  • a consistent streamlined system that is easier for employees to understand and work within;
  • the opportunity to balance conflicting objectives;
  • a reduction in the time spent carrying out internal auditing; and
  • increased the time available to allow the company to focus on its business goals.
  • These benefits are only achievable if the people tasked with running and implementing the systems have sufficient knowledge to enable them to do so or have access to that knowledge. The increasing pressures on UK companies are making this more and more difficult, as the need to manage the environment is being traded off against the need to cut costs. Unless true attention is given to the role of the environmental manager or sufficient support provided to the individual responsible, we will continue to fail in meeting the growing need for improvement across all aspects of the economic community.

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