Avoid Environmental Embarrassments
By Suzan L. Jackson and Glen Mondani, Excel Partnership Inc.
After Years of Operation, a Power Plant in the Northeast was Surrounded by Homes. In an Idyllic
setting, trees lined the plant`s waterway. Birds and other natural life thrived. But it was time for new construction, and the trees were cut down; birdsong ceased. All perfectly legal, but unsurprisingly – in retrospect – the community went crazy. The publicity was bad. The power company got a huge black eye.
How is this relevant to ISO 14001, the international standard for environmental management systems? The short answer is that the power company`s conformance with ISO 14001 would have helped prevent this debacle. This voluntary international standard, which establishes auditable requirements for an organization`s environmental management system (EMS), directs companies to consider communicating with communities (and other external interested parties) on the environmental aspects and impacts of its operations. Table 1 lists the entire ISO 14000 “family” of standards associated with managing a company`s environmental affairs, including ISO 14001.
With ISO 14001 in place, management, of necessity, would have considered the impact of cutting the trees on the community. The company would have had a chance to anticipate the impact as well as an opportunity to develop a plan to head off community protests. While explaining the necessity for the new construction, for example, management could have offered to replace the trees with varieties chosen by the community.
An obvious objection might be: “We don`t need ISO 14000 for that. We always think about the environmental impact of what we do and work things out with the community.”
It`s a relevant objection. Most well-run power companies would have anticipated this problem (although the plant on which this example is based did not). In fact, most well-managed companies will already be doing much of what ISO 14001 requires, especially in highly regulated industries.
ISO 14001 brings a power company`s existing activities and systems together to form the basis for an integrated system that can improve and streamline business processes, rather than adding to the growing complexity of programs. ISO 14001 can actually help companies to consolidate all existing demands – from communities, employees, stockholders and regulators – under a single, cohesive management system, with bottom-line benefits.
Rather than competing with existing programs and requirements, ISO 14001 describes a straightforward approach to managing them. The standard follows a logical business process of establishing policy, planning, implementing and operating systems, checking and measuring progress and reviewing systems so that they can continually improve. For power companies, integrated, systematic environmental management will result in reduced waste, optimized fuel usage and increased safety.
In addition to the internal improvement benefits possible from using ISO 14001, there are growing indications that the international EMS standard may yield external benefits as well:
-Regulatory relief. Many EPA and state voluntary programs have begun to recognize the value of an EMS in ensuring environmental compliance and improvement. These programs provide various levels of regulatory relief in exchange for ISO 14001 registration plus assurance of sound environmental performance.
-Marketing/public relations. The power industry is acutely aware of the importance of good community relations and ISO 14001 can help to support a strong public commitment to environmental improvement.
-Competitive advantage. With deregulation, and increased competition, companies with ISO 14001 will have a competitive edge when making service proposals to community groups.
-Preferred status for insurance and banking. Many insurance and financial companies are beginning to look at ISO 14001 as an indication of reduced risk, potentially resulting in better insurance rates or increased access to capital.
What to Do
The best approach for most companies is to begin by simply using the ISO 14001 standard to evaluate and improve current systems. Later, if third-party registration seems either necessary or desirable, companies will have their systems in good shape and will simply need to have them audited. Company management should begin with these steps:
-Get more information. Obtain copies of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 (the EMS guidance standard). Seek out ISO 14001 information and expertise within the company, from books and articles, and from well-regarded experts.
-Conduct a gap assessment. Compare current systems against the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. Use internal or external resources who fully understand the flexibility and interpretation of the standard and are familiar with the types of systems the company already has in place, such as ISO 9001/2.
-Plan to improve. Based on the results of the gap assessment, determine what elements of current systems will need improvement in order to meet the requirements of ISO 14001. At the same time, consider how existing systems can be streamlined or integrated.
-Watch for registration drivers. While using ISO 14001 to improve existing programs, keep an eye on the types of potential drivers for registration mentioned above. Talk with local regulatory agencies, look into EPA and state voluntary programs, watch competitors and keep an open dialogue with the local community. p
Authors–Suzan L. Jackson is business manager of environmental services for Excel Partnership Inc., of Sandy Hook, Conn. She is the author of The ISO 14001 Implementation Guide: Creating an Integrated Management System.
Glen Mondani, senior environmental consultant for Excel, was formerly a site environmental manager for Florida Power and Light Co.
ISO 14000 Q&A
Q. What is ISO 14000?
A. ISO 14000 is a series of voluntary international standards covering environmental management tools and systems developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Best known for producing the ISO 9000 series of quality management system standards, ISO is a Swiss based, worldwide organization of national standards bodies from 111 countries.
Q. What is ISO 14001?
A. ISO 14001 is the standard a company will use to establish its own environmental management system. It both provides an overall framework for environmental management and integrates that framework with overall business management activity. It recognizes that all management systems must provide a defined and organized approach to relevant activities while also meeting bottom-line business needs.
Q. What is an ISO 14001 based environmental management system?
A. ISO 14001 contains common elements required in all effective management systems: clearly defined policy and objectives, clear-cut responsibilities, documented systems, ongoing training, records, document control, control of critical processes, internal audits, a correction mechanism, management reviews and continual improvement.
Q. Does ISO 14001 establish environmental performance requirements?
A. No. The standard was written to apply to organizations of all types and sizes in diverse geographical, cultural, social and economic situations. It seeks to balance socio-economic and business needs with support of environmental protection and prevention of pollution.
Q. How does ISO 14000 describe an Environmental Management System (EMS)?
A. The auditable environmental management system specified in ISO 14001 is a model of brevity, clarity and reason. Its lucidity will be particularly striking for those familiar with the somewhat rambling organization of ISO 9001, the specification for the quality management series.
Q. What is registration? Accreditation?
A. Registration occurs when an organization hires an official, independent third-party auditing body, called a registrar, to assess its system to ensure that it meets the requirements of a particular standard. Registrars are typically approved or accredited by some national accreditation body. In the United States, two authoritative organizations, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB) have joined together to create the National Accreditation Program (NAP).
Q. Does ISO 14001 require third party registration?
A. ISO 14001 does not require third party registration, but it is written to accommodate the process. The standard`s requirements can be met either through self-declaration or assessed and registered by an accredited third party registrar, or merely used as an internal benchmark.