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The ISO 14001 Environmental Management System:
Helping Businesses Become More Environmentally Responsible
By Ralph Vasquez and Robert L. Westly, P.G.
As the first decade of the 21st century unfolds, businesses nationwide are making concerted efforts to be environmentally responsible, proactively going beyond standard due diligence assessment and environmental law compliance. Organizations spanning a vast range of business and industry are implementing an environmental management system (EMS) to plan and perform activities that improve their environmental performance.
Whether it be manufacturing and industrial operations, electronic suppliers, automotive companies, military bases, defense contractors, waste management companies, landfills, or municipalities, organizations are preparing rather than simply reacting to environmental problems or notices of violation from their local environmental regulators. They are using ISO 14001 or similar business management systems to gain control of their interaction with the environment.
Yet, ISO 14001 is by no means a household term. While the general scope and purpose of ISO 14001 is becoming better understood among the general business community, organizations may be unsure of where to start or what steps to take to implement an ISO 14001 EMS. Often organizations focus on becoming “certified” to ISO 14001 without understanding what it means, relative to their desire to implement an effective EMS, or understanding the advantages that ISO 14001 certification can yield for the environment and for their business bottom lines.
What is ISO 14001?
Developed during the early 1990s and published in its original version in 1996, ISO 14001 is the EMS specification standard in a family of international voluntary guidance standards developed and maintained by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. These are called the ISO 14000 family of environmental management systems standards and are numbered beginning with ISO 14001, titled “Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use.” ISO 14001 recently was revised by ISO to include a stronger focus on demonstrating environmental compliance. The new standard is properly referred to as ISO 14001-2004.
Other ISO 14000 standards provide guidance regarding the auditing process, environmental assessment of sites and organizations (EASO), environmental labels and declarations (Types I, II, III), life cycle assessment (LCA), environmental performance evaluation (EPE), and other supporting documents.
As a specification standard, ISO 14001 can be used as an audit tool to specify the elements that must be in present for an EMS to be complete, and evaluate whether an organization has an effective EMS in place.
ISO 14001 helps businesses to develop and implement their own unique environmental management systems. Each organization sets its own policies, determines its own objectives and targets, and defines its own procedures. The goal of an EMS is to then help meet the organization¹s policy and objectives. ISO 14001 directs what elements need to be in place. However, each organization decides exactly how to define and implement those elements.
In essence, the ISO 14001 standard is applicable to any organization that wishes to:
1. Implement and maintain an effective environmental management system (EMS);
2. Be assured of its EMS conformance with its own stated environmental policy and objectives;
3. Ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations; and
4. Demonstrate conformance to an internationally accepted EMS system, whether by third-party certification or self declaration.
Benefits Of An ISO 14001 EMS
SCS Engineers conducted a survey of several companies, regarding benefits it observed from implementing its own ISO 14001 EMSs. The organizations ranged from local to national firms in electronics, national defense, process equipment manufacturing, and the metal refining industries.
The following benefits were described: cost savings, increased customer base, improved environmental training, reduced insurance premiums, positive community relations, environmental awards, increased recycling and reuse, reduced non-compliance fines, and establishing a competitive edge. These benefits and others can apply to all organizations that develop and implement an ISO 14001 EMS.
Developing An Effective EMS
An EMS is basically a business management system of connected elements that define how an organization assesses its environmental aspects and manages its environmental impacts. These elements include policies, procedures, goals and objectives, organizational structure, and defined processes. In order to be effective, all of these various elements must work together cohesively and be a part of the overall business management system. Most organizations already have some of these elements in place, but often they are not joined in a cohesive system.
ISO 14001 states that a comprehensive EMS must include the following elements or activities:
•An established environmental policy that can be communicated effectively.
•Environmental objectives and implementation plans for meeting those objectives.
•Evaluation of environmental aspects and impacts.
•Identification of regulatory requirements and evaluation of compliance with those requirements.
•Well-defined roles and responsibilities.
•Standards for any necessary training.
•Documentation of processes that affect environmental impacts.
•Control parameters that affect environmental impacts.
•Evaluation of which suppliers’ goods and services affect environmental impacts.
•Action plans for emergency situations.
•Monitoring and measurement of critical environmental parameters.
•Specific guidelines on how to initiate corrective actions when problems occur.
•Ongoing maintenance of environmental records.
•Auditing procedures for the EMS to ensure it is effective, suitable, and adequate for the organization.
The best approach for most companies is to begin by comparing the organization¹s current environmental activities against the requirements of ISO 14001, otherwise called a “gap” analysis. This allows the organization to discover areas of environmental activity that need to be improved or implemented based on the components of ISO 14001. The organization can then work to address these areas and bring their environmental activities up to the level required by ISO 14001.
Initially, this will allow for self-declared conformance to ISO 14001. Later, if third-party registration seems either necessary or desirable, systems will be functioning at optimum levels and simply will need to be audited by an accredited registrar to accomplish certification. Following are a few recommended steps to begin the process:
1. Get more information. Obtain copies of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 (the EMS guidance standard) from ISO or the American National Standards Institute. Seek out ISO 14001 information and expertise within your own company and from well-regarded experts.
2. Conduct a gap analysis. Compare your 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 you already have in place.
4. Conduct an internal audit prior to the certification audit. This may entail putting together a project matrix and a GNATT chart, which outlines “how to” steps for approaching the official certification audit. It may be helpful to seek guidance in development of any necessary documents from an environmental consultant who is well versed in the ISO 14001 standard as well as EMS development and implementation.
As the business community continues to gravitate toward practices that are more environmentally responsible, ISO 14001 certification eventually will shift from a touted and prestigious achievement of select businesses, to a standard form of diligence. Therefore, it will prove beneficial to take a closer look at how your business operates now to determine what may need to be implemented for the future.
Vasquez is a senior regulatory compliance specialist and head of the Storm Water Compliance Group at environmental consulting firm Environmental Business Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of SCS Engineers. Bob Westly is EMS Services Director for SCS Engineers. He can be contacted at [email protected]