The incorporation of the ISO 14001 standard might be a smart approach for the long-term viability of a business – and it can often improve its financial performance too.
Embracing the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management is often considered essential for businesses operating in a highly competitive marketplace, but it can also provide commercial and reputational benefits.
The set of guidelines, drawn up by the International Organisation for Standardisation, are an internationally recognised benchmark which ensures an organisation’s environmental management system (EMS) meets a high standard and is continuously improving.
Certification is an ongoing process, centred on the environmental policy of a business and managed by its staff, before being externally assessed.
The ISO 14001 guidelines were developed primarily to help businesses access a framework for better management control, which can result in a reduction of their environmental impacts. If implemented correctly, additional benefits of ISO 14001 can include:
Kevin Boyle, Senior Safety, Health and Environment Advisor with NatWest Mentor, says: “ISO 14001 is used and recognised worldwide, and if implemented properly, it can help a company improve its environmental performance through a more efficient use of resources.
“It can also gain a company an edge when bidding for contracts, as it instils a sense of trust among stakeholders. This results in ISO 14001-accredited companies often having a competitive advantage in the pre-qualification stage of a tendering process.
“If you’ve adopted ISO 14001 and you’re competing for a contract against businesses that haven’t, there’s a higher probability you’ll get through that first stage, so it’s a definite advantage.”
The ISO 14001 system itself helps organisations identify, monitor, manage and control environmental issues in a holistic manner. And because it follows a standardised, high-level structure it means that all management system standards will have the same principles, and enable integration between systems of different disciplines.
"It requires some time and investment, but the advantages are significant."
Senior Safety, Health and Environment Advisor
The ISO 14001 guidelines are designed to be suitable for organisations of all types and sizes and they go above and beyond the bare minimum legal responsibilities that businesses are expected to meet.
“You build the system to suit the business, and not the other way round” says Kevin. “It’s very much a holistic approach.”
While meeting environmental objectives can have associated costs, which often cause businesses to avoid setting them in the first place, they can bring about cost savings too.
"Businesses hear the word ‘sustainability’ and alarm bells start to ring,” says Kevin. “But if you set the right objectives and you’re managing the business properly there can be significant advantages to setting these targets – avoiding fines as a result of non-compliance, for instance.”
The results of breaching environmental regulations can cost thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds, so it’s important for businesses to take their environmental management strategy seriously, advises Kevin.
“Reputational damage is a concern when environmental responsibilities aren’t met,” he says. “It can take a company years to recover from a serious breach of environmental law. The fines can be hefty, and in some cases, businesses might even have to close.
“Embracing the ISO 14001 standards and using them to build, monitor and improve your EMS can help to avoid this. It requires some time and investment, but the advantages are significant.”
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