ISO 14001:2015 is an International Environmental Management Standard (EMS) and is, perhaps, the most widely recognised environmental accreditation of its kind. It demonstrates an organisation’s dedication to controlling the environmental impact of its activities.
An ISO 14001 system should actively control the way organisations understand and manage their footprint to ensure sustainability, prevent pollution and protect the environment. An environmental management system looks to make continual improvements, helping reduce costs by working to conserve the energy and input materials required by your company processes. Having a structured system such as ISO14001 environmental management can help companies focus and organise their environmental impacts.
So, how has the Covid19 pandemic affected this? Whilst many companies were busier than ever on premises (for example, those manufacturing and distributing cleaning materials) many also had to swiftly adapt to almost entirely remote working solutions. For those who continued to operate ‘on the ground’ there are some obvious risk factors in terms of environmental waste that needed careful and continued monitoring due to additional measures put in place during the Covid19 pandemic, for example, increased use of disinfectants and the use and subsequent disposal of PPE.
Many other companies, ended up with the vast majority of their employees working from home. As restrictions ease and company’s re-open for face-to-face business, you may be considering keeping flexible and remote working practices in place for the foreseeable future. A great deal of environmental management is about the environment that you actually work in, so, can an ISO14001 management system still be successfully maintained in a remote or semi-remote manner? Can you still meet your company objectives, whilst aiming for continual improvement in this area?
Firstly, on a general note, an ISO14001 system (ditto your Quality and H&S systems) is not supposed to be a rigid never changing set of policies, it is supposed to allow pro-active adaptation in line with overall company objectives and regulatory obligations. By structuring and formalising the process of environmental management, you will indeed be in a better place to be able to adapt and develop successfully. Generally speaking, having common goals and aims, also helps in a crisis – it helps people have a clear collective focus, even if they are working online from disparate locations. Your ISO14001 system can be one such workplace focus and moving forwards having such systems in place can ensure that you and your workforce are as ready as you can be in the event of future pandemics or similar crisis scenarios.
We can also look at one of the obvious pro’s of home working – a reduction in travel – as an opportunity for improvement within our EMS . Not only can this significantly reduce your carbon footprint but there are also huge savings to be made both in time and money. As part of your EMS you can formally recognise and calculate reduction in travel due to WFH solutions, both in terms of carbon reduction and in terms of travel time and cost. Formalising your WFH policies can become an integral part of your ISO14001 improvement drive. You can also use this opportunity to re-address travel policies overall, perhaps by tightening the criteria for travelling (do you really need to go in person or can this be done via Teams/Zoom) and the methods used to travel. Flexible working solutions can also go to help maintain a happy and productive workforce by officially recognising the importance of a healthy work/life balance.
The last year has however shown us that working from home has not been ‘all good’ for the environment. Over the last year there has been a significant increase in municipal waste and use of domestic utilities. There has also been an increase in the amount of rubbish in the countryside – from discarded coffee cups to full on fly tipping. So how can having an ISO14001 system for your business have an impact on these ‘personal’ activities?
You certainly cannot rigidly control how your staff conduct themselves in terms of their personal environmental wastage, but by providing regular Environmental Awareness Training as part of your ISO14001 implementation and/or maintenance, you can increase employee awareness of their personal impact on the environment. By looking at the collective impact that your organisation has, you could also introduce them to energy/waste saving strategies that could potentially be translated for use within a household setting. For example, you probably don’t have your home lights on a motion sensor (as is the case with a lot of office premises) but by increasing awareness of environmental impacts generally, you could simply get into the mindset of always switching lights/electronic items off.
Remember, even if you have decided to keep your employees working in a predominantly remote manner, make sure you also plan for those who do need to attend the work premises (even if only from time to time – eg. consider the impact or risk of increased use of PPE/disinfectants in your workplace). Again, by formally recognising these risks we can look to put in controls and monitor impacts, not just in the short-term but as a long-term strategy. Although some policies have been rapidly put in place for the immediate impact of Covid19, it is highly likely that measures will be in place for this and other emerging diseases for the foreseeable future, so ensuring that your environmental management plans are sustainable is important.
Having looked at some of the why’s we move onto the ‘how’s’…How can you ensure that you can manage and maintain your ISO14001 systems remotely, including comprehensive internal audits? Fortunately, today’s world brings many ‘virtual’ possibilities in terms of ISO management. From tools such as MS Teams or Zoom and live streaming and photographic evidencing, to adoption of cloud-based ISO management Systems the majority of work becomes ‘doable’ remotely. A virtual audit is therefore basically the same as an on-site audit, but the auditor engages via the use of Technology rather than in person. There will be times when it is necessary or preferable to visit in person, but having the means to remotely manage this will go to future proofing your business moving forwards.
The Titan System is one such cloud-based system that makes remote auditing and ISO management easier, faster and paperless. Whilst the move to such ISO management system software has been advancing for several years the pandemic has certainly speeded this up. It is often now seen as essential, rather than ‘nice to have’, and means important information and documentation can be shared safely and remotely. Additionally, being able to be ‘paperless’ in this area further reduces environmental waste. Adopting The Titan System (or similar) can indeed form one of your objectives to drive improvement within your ISO14001 system.