Common challenges with ISO 14001

Certifying your business to ISO 14001 is an important commitment to protecting the environment and minimising the risk of pollution. Environmental Management Standards give you a framework to create a valid efficient system, win new business, and even reduce operating costs as you cut back on energy and resource consumption.

However, there is a difference between simply complying with the standard’s requirements, and developing an ongoing process of change as you work towards consistency and continual improvement.

We talk with Lisa Aspinall, BSI’s Trainer and Client Manager for environmental standards, about the common issues that arise during the audit process, and how you can ensure your environmental system will make a tangible and lasting difference to your organization.
From compliance to continual improvement

Lisa recently gave a presentation on Common Issues with ISO 14001 at a workshop for members of the Australian Sustainability Business Group (ASBG). “Some people there were already certified, some were considering it. There was general agreement that these issues had all come up for them as well,” she says.

“The first hurdle for successful certification to ISO 14001, ISO 14064 or NGER verification, is to take the plunge and get started.”

Lisa says she often finds clients are trying to get things absolutely perfect before they call in the auditors. “I often hear them say; ‘It’s not ready’. The truth is, it never will be, because you should always be looking for opportunity for improvement.”

“If you want to get the most value from your audit, don’t be afraid to use the Preliminary or Gap Assessment as a tool to assist you toward certification. It’s the first thing your auditor carries out, and you may otherwise end up spending too much time on things that don’t add value to the process.”
A non-conformance is simply an opportunity to do better

Lisa often sees companies develop KPIs around non-conformance, and this can be a mistake.“If you monitor performance by resolution time or the number of issues raised, this creates the wrong culture and non-conformances won’t get reported.”

To meet the requirements of the standard, organisations need to manage corrective actions right through to evaluating how effective that action was. That won’t happen if there’s a culture of closing off issues quickly to meet deadlines.

TIP: Think about how you set expectations for the management of non-conformance.
Apply relevant legislation to all parts of your business

Having a list of legislative acts is not enough. You need to understand the applicability of the legislation and how it impacts at every level in the organisation – including training, site design, disposal processes, protection of local species.
TIP: Make sure you identify and analyse how specific Acts apply to your sites, systems and people. 
Reach for the stars with your environmental objectives

Lisa sees many examples of environmental targets that are simply ‘business as usual.’
“For example; ‘we will train all staff in environmental management’. That’s already a requirement of the standard. I encourage my clients to raise the bar, and go for the blue-sky initiatives. Things like converting to more environmental friendly chemicals, or reducing waste or electricity usage by 20 per cent.”

She cautions against setting too many objectives though. “Make sure they’re set at a divisional level and allocate responsibility to a team or individual.”

TIP: Make sure your environmental objectives and targets focus on significant improvements.
Don’t wait for the internal audit to review conformance

Do you only monitor your system during your internal audit, once or twice a year? Issues can happen at any time, and they need to be identified, reviewed and implemented on an ongoing basis.

TIP: Set up a good inspection process and ensure any member of staff can raise a non-conformance at any time.
Involve your Senior Management Team

Consistency and continual improvement will only develop when an EMS culture is embedded at every level of the organisation – and that means management need to play a role in the certification process. Otherwise, you may achieve compliance but your business outcomes may be limited. For example, if you want consistency between different sites and teams, it needs to be advocated at a management level.
TIP: Make sure management attend the meetings, and openly demonstrate their commitment to raising the bar, capturing and fostering innovation, and continual improvement in your environmental management systems.   

Better for business, better for our future

The initial reasons for getting your environmental systems in order might be to win new business – such as when a tender for government work requires evidence of sustainable process and practice.

“It’s a common supply chain issue,” she says. “A construction site contractor will come to us saying they need EMS, QMS and SMS to get the work, for example.”

There are increasing requirements for waste handling procedures, and product stewardship is increasingly looking at the whole lifecycle. But taking a long-term approach to sustainable business practice provides benefits beyond business growth and a lower environmental footprint. It can also make a significant impact on your bottom line.

“You’ll develop better efficiencies, reduce energy and utility consumption, reduce the costs of clean ups, and save with streamlined risk management,” says Lisa.

Add to that the value a qualified auditor can bring to the business, with an external perspective on different ways of handling processes, and it’s a cost-effective way to develop a sustainable workplace culture that’s built to last.