Bright, Quick, & Flexible

Environmental Management System
Kevin McAuliffe
June 26, 2007

Several months ago I wrote about the advantages of performing an environmental audit on your company. Let’s move one step further along the path of environmental sustainability and discuss developing and implementing an environmental management system. The audit article (March 2007 Archives) covered the basic issues of researching the environmental impacts of a company and establishing a measuring system for each impact. This article will look at writing an environmental policy and developing an environmental management system (EMS).

The environmental policy is the cornerstone of any EMS. In relatively concise, easy-to-understand language it conveys the company’s aims and principles regarding its environmental impacts. In my opinion it has to be written (not just signed) by the president of the company. Though many important initiatives can come from inside a company and rise up to the top, the development of an environmental policy needs to come from the very top. Without this leadership it is difficult to expect a strong environmental spirit to percolate down through a company.

The environmental policy should be realistic, achievable and relevant to the company’s business. It should include the company’s policy toward its current environmental impacts as well as be a guide when new business initiatives are considered or conditions change. As the environmental policy will be the most visible part of the EMS it needs to be written in a style that is understandable to all company stakeholders including employees, suppliers, customers and the community.

The most popular EMS in Japan follows the ISO14000 standards. The standard is generic and flexible enough to cover virtually any company’s requirements. Much like the ISO9000 series for quality issues, the ISO14000 series focuses on the processes not any particular product or service. Therefore, small offices on up to huge corporations can establish their own EMS adhering to the ISO14001 standard.

The EMS system adhering to the ISO14001 standard is fairly straightforward and available on the web and in numerous books. If a company chooses to outsource the process there are many consultants and companies specializing in helping companies to develop and implement an EMS to the ISO14001 standard. However, if you have already gone through the audit process mentioned in the previous article using in-house resources you have a group ready-made team to implement their own EMS adhering to the ISO14001 standard.

There is one thing you can’t do internally and that is to receive your ISO14001 certification. Many of the companies doing the consulting work also perform audits and certification of the ISO14001 standard. However, it is also possible to just implement an EMS using the ISO14001 standard without going to the effort and expense of being certified. Though this may save the company money in audit and certification costs it means the company cannot benefit by promoting itself as a certified ISO14001 company.

One more thing to keep in mind about the ISO14001 standard is that it is awarded on a location not a corporate basis. Therefore, when looking at the large numbers of companies in Japan that have received ISO14001 certification take a closer look at the big names to see which locations are certified. This can be misleading because in some cases it is the head office that is certified and not the factories or branch offices. But in any event the standard is well known and regarded in Japan and a useful public relations tool.

The last consideration and perhaps the most important is to understand the long-term implications of adopting an EMS for your company. Much like when companies first started building their internet home pages there was euphoria and lots of involvement at the beginning but as the months went by the idea of regular updates quickly became a thing of the past. This is because management just hadn’t fully thought through the costs –both in out-of-pocket expenses and staff time. This is also true of implementing an EMS. There is lots of excitement at the beginning, but it is an ongoing process of “Plan, Do, Check and Act” that can quickly fall off the priority list if not managed properly. In the next article I will look at maintaining focus and excitement after implementing an EMS.

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Mr. Kevin McAuliffe is the President of Newport Ltd. in Tokyo. He is leading the charge and making other executives think about how to really make their company environmentally friendly. AINEO thanks him for his Insights contribution and looks forward to making ourselves more green. More information on Newport Ltd and Newport’s work here