Going Beyond ISO 14001 to Improve Environmental Management System Performance
In today’s business climate, almost all organizations consider the impact their operations have on the environment, and the impact their environmental actions have on operations. Many business leaders are elevating environmental management to one of their key business considerations, alongside risk management, safety performance and financial performance. For many businesses, environmental management starts with standards compliance, specifically complying with ISO 14001, an international standard that sets out the criteria for an environmental management system (EMS). At DuPont, we provide an additional perspective to developing an effective EMS. We believe that while ISO 14001 provides a good foundation from which to build an EMS, it is critical to include elements that will help an organization go beyond compliance to driving performance.
The ISO 14001 standard maps out a framework that an organization can follow to develop an effective environmental management system, but does not provide specific requirements for environmental performance. Organizations need to set their own targets and performance measures. What ISO 14001 does is provide assurance to company management and employees — and also to external stakeholders — that the business is measuring environmental impact, ostensibly with an eye toward improving it.
ISO 14001 provides a solid foundation for organizations and business leaders to better understand their environmental performance; however, the standard will not drive environmental excellence on its own. In fact, we’ve seen a tendency for organizations to adopt a box-ticking approach to environmental management once they have achieved compliance with ISO 14001. Complying with a standard does not equate to good environmental performance and many companies still experience difficulty in achieving the environmental and business performance — and results — within their reach.
At DuPont, we view ISO 14001 as a useful tool that enables the development of good policies and procedures, but we know it’s the execution of the processes — the way an organization works on a daily basis — that is the key to driving performance. Organizations can buy an ISO-certified EMS, but not every company can perform well environmentally, which can be attributed to execution. The optimal EMS will not just comply with ISO 14001 and have the right policies in place; it also will include the key cultural and behavioral elements that are critical to driving performance and sustainability. That includes not just the performance of the EMS itself but the overall environmental performance of the business.
To accomplish this, we overlay key cultural and behavioral elements onto the standard EMS template. Some of the elements of a standard EMS template are as follows:
–Planning – Environmental Aspects; Legal & Other Requirements; Objectives, Targets & Programs
–Implementation and Operation
–Measuring and Monitoring
–Corrective and Preventive Action
In addition to these elements, we looks at the “soft” elements that are critical to execution and success, such as:
–Visible, demonstrated commitment
–Clear, meaningful policies and principles
–High standards of performance
–Challenging goals, objectives, and plans
Appropriate Organizational Structure
–Supportive staff functions and capability
–Line management accountability
–Integrated organization structure
–Performance measurement and motivation
Focused Processes and Actions
–Effective communication processes
–Training and development
–Rich content, proven best practices
–Effective audits and re-evaluation
Digging deeper into the area of strong leadership provides a better look at how an environmental management system can be improved. ISO 14001 defines leadership commitment in terms of what actions need to occur. For instance, the standard requires organizations to develop an environmental policy, provide resources to maintain and improve the management system, audit its functioning and conduct management reviews. These requirements, while valuable, generally won’t deliver improved environmental performance without the overt engagement of leadership throughout the process. Assessing and auditing leadership commitment along with the other EMS elements is important to gauge the company’s environmental and EMS performance. Leadership commitment can be measured by examining the way business leaders behave – their proactive communication of desired results and their direct participation in environmental management activities. It also is assessed by holding leaders directly accountable for the environmental performance of their business units. When the ISO standard directs an organization to put a policy in place, important questions to ask include, “How do you ensure employees understand the policy?” and “What are your expectations as a leader about how your organization should behave?”
In addition to leadership commitment, organizations that are successful, both in environmental performance and financial performance, are able to motivate employees. To improve environmental performance, an organization should set challenging objectives and motivate its employees to consistently meet or exceed them. This type of motivation must go further than communicating the requirements of an EMS and environmental policy. It must engage employees in ways that help them better understand how their personal actions can impact environmental performance. And they need to understand the consequences of failing to support environmental policies and procedures. Motivation and awareness are key elements of an optimal EMS. As with the rest of the EMS, performance of each business unit in this element should be assessed and audited on a regular basis. Performance in this area should be measured, not just by the proper implementation of progressive motivation schemes and awareness programs, but also by checking that the behaviors of management and staff across the organization demonstrate that environmental performance is of critical importance.
Ultimately, the biggest factor that determines whether or not an EMS generates results is the way it is used. ISO 14001 provides organizations with a strong foundation to develop an environmental management system, but it only puts the building blocks in place. It is the responsibility of the organization to develop an EMS that works for them and to ensure optimal execution. A written policy is just that: a piece of paper prescribing that something be done.
This is the first column from DuPont Sustainable Solutions on environmental management. See future articles on topics such as:
- Corporate Environmental Planning: Optimizing Returns on Environmental Investments
- Integrating Environmental and Safety Management through the SHE Organization
- Embedding Improved Environmental Performance in the Capital Project Process
Bruce George is global solutions architect, Environmental Practice, for DuPont Sustainable Solutions. DuPont helps clients learn how to realize the full potential of their EMS by utilizing the ISO framework in conjunction with the critical behavior-based attributes that move the needle on performance.
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