Thales Group is unified over EMS

Many companies are getting a grip of their environmental responsibilities. Chris Hope, Michael Evans and Russell Hobbs explain how Thales gained ISO 14001.

October 2, 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 the company’s 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. As an organisation, Thales operates in three key business areas – Aerospace, Defence and Information Technology & Services (IT&S) – has a diverse company structure and consequently a mixed level of competencies and environmental awareness across the group. In terms of the environment, Thales recognised the need for a more unified approach to environmental management.

As environmental legislation became more widespread in the UK, Thales recognised the need to account for its potential environmental risks and liabilities across UK operations. The first stage of this process was to accurately identify these risks. This was done in association with Mott MacDonald, who undertook a preliminary environmental risk screening across the group in 2000. This screening 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 of this screening confirmed the need for greater environmental control at company level. After some consideration, it was decided the best route to achieving this target, would be to adopt a programme of EMS implementation.

Having decided to apply the concept of environmental management through EMS the question remained how best to manage the process of developing individual management systems at the numerous Thales companies. Senior management from the Thales Group devised a multi-stage approach to tackle this problem, which incorporated a number of elements, the first being 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 the successful implementation of EMS at the operating company level. Following this, key individuals were identified across the group, which included financial and legal representatives at corporate level, and specific ‘environmental co-ordinators’ at company level.

Secondly, the corporate team devised a programme of events, aimed at introducing the concept of EMS to the various operating companies. 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 knowledge base of environmental representatives.
Once the EMS team had estimated the necessary resources required for this programme, adequate funding was sought from the group board. This was achieved by clearly 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 carefully defined route map for achieving group-wide EMS implementation.

From the onset the corporate team recognised it was vital to provide clear and comprehensive training to all relevant staff to ensure the EMS programme was both meaningful and successful. A training programme was developed that included a carefully structured set of workshops, seminars and courses designed to lead key staff (typically the 50 or so environmental co-ordinators) through the EMS process. The training programme was phased to compliment the 21-staged route map, allowing co-ordinators to receive relevant training at appropriate points during the implementation process.

At the heart of the EMS programme was the toolkit. It was 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 in the toolkit 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 EMS.

The majority of Thales companies were already certified to ISO 9001 and therefore had already developed relationships with certification bodies. It was therefore decided to opt for ISO 14001 as the EMS, since this standard 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 certification auditors understood the methodologies set out within the toolkit.

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

The benefits of implementing ISO 14001 has generally realised significant cost savings and improved operational control. The cost of EMS implementation at Thales Optics in north Wales was estimated to be £30,000. Since implementation, overheads have been reduced by approximately £500,000 per annum. This has been due to reductions in their most significant environmental impacts. For example there has been a £35,000 annual saving in packaging, with the introduction of an innovative new system for packing space satellite glass cover-slips, where a reduction of more than 90 per cent in volume has been saved in the cost of material and airfreight charges. £115,000 has been saved through a programme to reclaim germanium, an expensive material used in the production of night vision lenses. Efficiency savings made in a number of major environmental impacts has reduced cost by £140,000 annually.

Cost savings through EMS implementation has also been achieved in Thales companies whose operations are light assembly or office-based and were originally perceived to have low environmental impact. For example Thales Missile Electronics in Basingstoke implemented objectives concentrating on reducing energy, water and paper usage. Energy saving initiatives will save around £12,000 over the first year. Targets have been set to reduce paper use by 185,000 sheets, minimising the consumption of paper equivalent to a 55-storey building to one of about 49 storeys. It is estimated the reduction in paper will save the company around £1,000 in the first year.

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 to address significant aspects yielded impressive results. Prior to EMS implementation the company had been landfilling all plastics, cardboard, toner cartridges and solvent container wastes and as a result of a several initiatives, over 95 per cent of these wastes are now recycled through improved waste segregation and waste management procedures. The removal of wastes entering landfill in this area alone has saved the company £30,000 per annum with the potential saving of £60,000 based on current production levels. Fitting water conservation systems in toilets and implementing energy efficiency initiatives have also made significant savings. In addition, environmental risks have been reduced through improved knowledge of the drainage system, purchasing new cabinets for hazardous materials and providing spillage containment kits.

Together with the cost savings across the group there has 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 and improved operational control. Evidence from around the group 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. Of particular value has been significant improvements in areas which Thales companies have been previously weak, such as control over contractors and planned preventative maintenance.

The corporate mode for managing environmental risk and implementing environmental management systems certified to ISO 14001 in operating companies 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 implementation of ISO 14001 resulting in numerous benefits including reductions in cost and standardising environmental management practices. Environmental co-ordinators have benefited from an improved knowledge base and have been given the empowerment to continuously improve environmental management on their sites. Many of the companies have implemented environmental management programmes, which have resulted in significant savings – balancing the cost of ISO 14001 implementation.

An important spin off has been the 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.

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