Companies are increasingly investigating environmental management certification - either because their customers demand it or because it promises to offer opportunities for improvement. But what are the real benefits of IS014001 certification? The authors draw from their experience in the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center to detail benefits as well as implementation pointers.
Many firms began environmental management certification efforts in the mid-1990s due to increased global competition, customer awareness, and the potential benefits both in terms of bottom-line performance and operational efficiency. ISO 14001 certification represents a merger of two recent trends in the field of operations management that have shifted management attention from outcome to processes. The two trends are to have the critical processes for delivering quality products properly documented and widely understood and to have a sound environmental policy adhering to international standards.
Within the family of ISO 14000 certification standards, ISO 14001 specifies the structure of an environmental management information system - commonly called an environmental management system or EMS - which builds on and adds to existing environmental efforts such as regulatory compliance, training, records keeping, emergency planning, and preparedness. EMS integrates environmental considerations into and throughout all of an organization's activities, products, and services based on established business principles, allowing operations managers to address and continually improve environmental concerns based on the "plan, do, check, review" philosophy.
Many large corporations such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Honda, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, and Xerox are requiring their suppliers to obtain 14001 registration and driving considerable interest in environmental management systems.
However, most facility operations managers have unanswered concerns regarding the proven benefits of an EMS at the facility level. These concerns seem to stem in part from the comprehensive nature of an EMS (compared to the compliance-based, reactive, piecemeal approach to environmental management most companies have taken) as well as managers' relative inexperience with implementing and maintaining an EMS.
Operational benefits of an EMS
The development and use of crossfunctional teams consisting of operations managers is one example of how ISO 14001 promotes greater employee involvement in a facility's environmental efforts. In a fully functioning EMS, employees are knowledgeable about the EMS, why the system is in place, and what their role is in supporting environmental performance.
This was observed most markedly during a three-day ISO 14001 registration audit at an electrical motor manufacturing facility. The auditors devoted one of three days to speaking with employees in all departments. The auditors asked employees about the environmental policy, environmental objectives, and targets in their work area, such as what they did on a daily basis to meet their objectives, why it was important to meet them, what kind of emergencies might happen in their area, and what they would do if these happened. All employees knew the answers to auditor questions. Never before in nearly five years of experience have we seen this breadth and depth of environmental knowledge and awareness in employees at a facility.
The benefits of this kind of employee awareness are many. One manager indicated that greater employee involvement allowed him to focus less on tactical, day-to-day environmental issues and more on strategic environmental issues such as continual improvement of goals and awareness of new environmental compliance regulations. Knowing what new regulations are coming down the pike, for example, helps appropriate planning and budgeting, staying in compliance, and avoidance of monetary fines and plant shutdowns imposed by regulatory agencies. …