Make sure you keep hold of your ISO 14001

Dave Jenkins
Monday, June 30, 2014

Just when you thought developing, implementing and executing a watertight environmental management system that conforms to all ISO 14001 standards and works for your business was one of the biggest challenges your company has ever faced... Along comes the audit.

A true test of your company’s environmental management mettle, the audit – especially the very first – will rigorously analyse everything you’ve put in place and worked towards. In theory, if you have implemented a solid system that is bespoke to you – and you and your staff have lived that system ever since – then the audit should be a relatively stress-free experience. In reality, printers can potentially fall at this critical hurdle.

“It’s not uncommon,” confirms Clare Taylor, environmental consultant for the print industry. “There’s the focus on achieving it, then that focus drops. Achieving the standard is only the beginning of the journey, not the end of it. You have to continue doing internal audits to make sure you’re doing what you said you’d do, that it’s working and that it’s the right thing to do. And keep following it up all the time if you find things going wrong.”

Her final point is crucial: ISO 14001 is not an environmental standard, but rather an environmental management standard. Auditors are not looking for absolute perfection. They are looking for evidence that you have identified opportunities for improvement and that you have a systematic approach to address that. 

Constant maintenance and analysis of data and how it relates to activity and productivity is crucial to having such a reactive systematic programme. 

“If you don’t collect the data you won’t see what goes on,” says Paul Pettitt, who, as safety, health and environment manager at Pureprint, is responsible for the company’s environmental management system (EMS). “Electricity bills, all your hazardous waste, your purchase orders... It’s all available; you need to latch onto it and record it. You need to do a little bit every month or when the audit comes you can get caught with your trousers down!”

Pettitt says this ever-developing internal analysis has myriad benefits and isn’t just used for logging the company’s ongoing ISO 14001 continual improvement commitments. It’s also referred to when the company tweaks or changes any processes, or invests in new technology. It’s no coincidence that these have also frequently been areas where companies have failed at the audit stage. 

“One common failure is not considering the impact of new processes or products,” confirms Clare Hann, product technical manager at BSI, a business standards group that awards and audits ISO standards. By constantly referring to the system and analysing every element of data available to you, not only will you avoid this particular trap, but also be aware of the financial implications of new changes and technological investments. 

Managing the management system

Naturally, like all well executed environmental systems and policies, if proper attention is paid to all aspects of company activity there are some real benefits to be made, way beyond ISO 14001. And making sure the right person is paying attention will help to avoid another audit pitfall. 

“I’ve seen companies fall down because of lack of resources or poor delegation,” says BPIF’s membership director Dale Wallis. “It’s often a secondary job for someone, such as the secretary or the HR manager – people who might not have the best experience in environmental issues – so they’re only doing a basic job.”

Your improvement programmes need to be run by people who understand what the compliance requirements are and can be highly disciplined in detailed monitoring or measuring. Taylor reveals that often the right people responsible for this role are found in production as they’re used to tracking everything.

Fittingly, Pureprint’s Pettitt comes from a production background, as does the man responsible for Mastercolour’s EMS, Russell Beeson. As the company’s production director, he is in fact a fully trained Lloyds ISO auditor. But Mastercolour director Mark Lewis is quick to establish that the entire workforce play a critical role in maintaining a successful EMS. And that, through informal environmental meetings, his employees have helped identify further crucial opportunities for continual improvement.

“Our staff have been truly fantastic,” he states. “We found this engagement worked for us straight away. Our people suggested new recycling streams, gave us fresh ideas and as soon as they saw those ideas go into practice they were encouraged to suggest more ideas.” 

This reinforces the advice of sustainability consultant Thomas Bergmark who agrees that your EMS should be embedded in every operation and highlights the broader business benefits. 

“It shouldn’t be a standalone process,” he says. “Share the responsibility from day one. For this to work in the best way it has to be integrated into every function and the way you do business. Approaching it from a business angle rather than a certification angle is very important; you’ll gain cost reductions because you’ll be more efficient across different areas, the workplace will be in better order and you’ll have better working conditions. It’s about the mindset; for companies that only have the certificates because their customers demanded it, there is still a journey.”

Mike Lewis admits that Mastercolour’s initial journey was in fact client-led but that the company quickly realised the wider benefits and developed further accreditations off its own back. And while there’s no denying the huge amount of additional work it takes to implement an EMAS system, once it’s in place, an integrated system of logging targets and evidence of continual improvement can be established.

“Our annual targets and objectives for ISO 14001 and EMAS are synchronised,” he states. “That’s a really important point to stress.” 

Combined objectives

It’s not just EMAS objectives that can be streamlined into one larger integrated system. Other ISO standards – such as the 9001 quality management system and the 12647 colour management system – can be included to create combined improvement objectives. By addressing them and updating each management system holistically, there’s potential for added efficiency. 

“Companies can fall down at audit because they’ve over-complicated the processes and procedures, creating masses of paperwork,” agrees Wallis. “You don’t have to regurgitate everything you’re doing. For example, if you’re doing your health and safety audit, you might as well do your environmental one at the same time. With revision processes, when you revise one policy, revise all of them; keep them all in-line. If you update your ISO 9001 standard to say you are doing XYZ, that has an impact on the environment or health and safety. Log those changes at the same time. No duplicate documents, no time wasting.”

Pureprint marketing director Richard Owers admits that integrated systems may seem daunting at first but “once you’re familiar with management system processes, gelling them together is a big step forward”. The result of this integration has led to a monthly review of 29 different environmental impact points, proving there is always potential for continual improvement.

“There’s always something new,” he states. “Just one particular example we’ve found is data management and mailing processes. We’ve realised that managing and refining customers’ mailing data is hugely environmentally beneficial. We were requested to print and send a report to 147,000 people. A cleansing audit on the data showed nearly 15,000 records that were incorrect. 15,000 copies would have be printed and mailed unnecessarily. This is just one new area where we can help clients, help the environment and help the business. No matter how far you are along your journey there’s always room for good thinking and continual improvement.”

As the very first printing company to achieve the ISO 14001 standard in 1993, Pureprint’s example is salient. Yes, developing, implementing and executing a watertight environmental management system is indeed a challenge, but a much bigger challenge is ensuring that system remains watertight and works for you, your clients and the environment. And, of course, the auditors.  

Top tips

Conduct your own internal audits Demonstrate that your system covers any process, activity, product or service that you have detailed under your scope and road test it personally. Don’t just wait for the certifiers to come and point out what’s right and what’s wrong.

Make sure you’ve got all your documents available Surveillance audits don’t look at every part of the system. Auditors will let you know what they’re going to be looking at prior to their arrival, so make sure you have that evidence available.

Keep it all online Avoid retrieving or organising masses of paperwork by keep it all online and allowing the auditors full access to it on arrival. 

Keep up to date with legislation Not keeping up to date with legislation will result in failing your audit. NetRegs used to be the go-to source for legal updates but you can now get them directly from the Environment Agency.

Create your own audit checklists Blanket ISO 14001 audit checklists can be found online, but creating your own checklists that address your own individual objectives will ensure you don’t miss anything. For example, Mastercolour has one for each factory, each with 16 audit points.

Set financial objectives Nothing brings home the message better than the bottom line. Pureprint suggests attaching financial measurement to each objective so they don’t sit outside of the day-to-day management of the business.


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