Wide Benefits in Clean Industry; Peter Mann, from Business Link Birmingham, Looks at How Environmental Standards Can Benefit Both Company and Community

Article excerpt

Industry impacts on the environment. Use of energy, fuel, materials and the release of emissions, effluent and solid waste are all by-products of business activity.

The UN Earth Summit on environment and development held in 1992 called on the world's nations to endorse a strategy for sustainable development.

"Agenda 21" proposed strategies for individual countries to promote "environmental management" in many of the key strategy elements.

Environmental management thus became part of the world's vocabulary and essentially related to reducing the impact made by use of resources and discharge of wastes.

This altruistic approach towards sustainable development and environmental management was not the only "push".

Voluntary codes of practice within industry groups developed and legislation added to the need for industry to address environmental issues seriously.

In 1992, the British Standards Institute published the world's first Environmental Management Standard, BS 7750, adopting a structure based on the quality systems standard, BS 5750.

The standard involved requirements for the "development, implementation and maintenance of environmental management systems to ensure compliance with stated environmental policy and objectives."

But BS 7750 was not recognised internationally, and there became a need for a worldwide standard.

However, it did provide the basis and lead for the now internationally-adopted standard ISO 14001: Environmental Management Systems.

Having the dual status of a British Standard, ISO14001 was issued in 1996, and like its predecessor shares the common "quality management" principles outlined in ISO 9000.

However, unlike its predecessor, it is not so prescriptive and is less onerous, specifying the requirements of an effective management system, elements of which may be separate or integrated into other management systems.

The standard is based on a "Continuous Improvement" approach based on five stages, of: commitment/policy, planning, implementation, measurement/evaluation and review/improvement.

Following an "initial environmental review", it allows for a company to initiate action on areas of obvious benefit, such as legal obligations, limiting liabilities or improving efficient use of energy or materials.

This should determine any current policies, practices and procedures, job roles, and responses to any past incidents associated with the company's activities.

In particular, the review should address and identify both the applicable legislation affecting the company and the environmental effect of its activities.

Some quantification of these effects is also desirable.

The review will enable the company to develop a policy outlining their commitment, not only to seek compliance to relevant legislation but also to improve environmental performance in the main by reducing its adverse environmental impact.

Other commitments can also be addressed such as training, liaison with stakeholders and encouraging suppliers to take up environmental management.

To demonstrate fulfilment of a company's policy, a management environmental programme should be planned, based on objectives and targets relating to legislation, significant impacts and other stated commitments.

The "environmental programme" should address all the objectives, but not necessarily all at once.

The continuous improvement theme of the standard does not require all objectives to be addressed at the same time, but via a staged approach, based on priorities and company needs.

An effectively documented environmental management system (EMS), integrated with the overall business management process, will underpin the environmental action plan.

The EMS should be the responsibility of a senior person in the company, and should address control of documentation, operational and organisational aspects of the company, accountability and responsibility. …