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How to Manage Environmental Risk in a Complex Organization: Tips from DIA

DIA[Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles based on interviews from experts in the field who will be speaking at the Environmental Leader 2016 Conference in June.]

Environmental management becomes more challenging as organizations grow in complexity, but Denver International Airport – the first US airport to achieve ISO14001 certification – has found that by using its own “comprehensive environmental management system,” it can address issues such as energy, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, waste diversion and environmental planning, in an organized and systematic manner which helps them manage the biggest risks while still being able to keep track of the smaller ones. 

“The system allows us to be sure that we have considered all of the environmental impacts of our airport and ensure we have policies and procedures to mitigate all risks,” says Scott Morrissey, the airport’s acting senior director for sustainability. Operating an airport the size of DIA – the fifth busiest in the country – has great potential for environmental impacts; the management system allows them to ensure compliance and, beyond that, to work toward continuous improvements, Morrissey says.

The management system itself is a series of documents which are housed on the airport intranet site. All employees are trained in reference to the documents that most impact their specific jobs. The documents consider all the significant environmental risks and outline steps to address them. So when events that impact the environment occur, “We’re not in the position of it being two in the morning and we’re scrambling around to see who to call. We already have the plans in place and it’s just a matter of implementing those plans,” Morrissey says.

Morrissey shared with Environmental Leader a few specifics on how the environmental management system works.

Use aspect impact analysis: As part of DIA’s ISO 14001 certification, the airport conducts an aspect impact analysis every two years. They look at every activity the airport engages in, working with experts to identify which have the most impact. Then, they ensure that through the documents, there are plans in place to address all of the impacts. “The airport has a real risk of impact from spills,” says Morrissey. “We have jet fuel, deicing fluid, a variety of different chemicals at our site.” A spill handbook lays out all the materials with a potential for spills, the places they could occur, and the response to each one.

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