Q&A Blog – How ISO 14001 Environmental Management is Changing with Kathy Clements

As part of Assent’s mission to champion the consultancy industry, Jess from Assent Risk Management has been interviewing experts from all sectors of the consulting profession. In this interview, Jess talks with Kathy Clements about ISO 14001 Environmental Management and how implementation is changing. They discuss why organisations should care about managing their environmental impacts, the laws that currently affect UK organisations in relation to environmental management and why ISO 14001 is good for organisations.  

Why should organisations care about managing their environmental impacts?

Organisations generally have a higher environmental impact than individuals do. So we’re all aware of the little things we’re doing as individuals, plastic straws have now gone in the UK and there’s a whole host of other things coming out soon and we’re all being a little bit more conscious of those things. It can be difficult as a business because you do what you do, day in, and day out, and that’s how [things] are done. But obviously, there are things you can catch and say, ‘oh, actually, do I really need to be doing that?’, ‘Could I be doing this better?’, ‘Could our process be smoother?’, ‘Could we use less water, less electricity?’, et cetera. And the idea of all these environmental awareness initiatives is to point out that it’s not just the negative impact an organisation has, but you can have incredible positive impacts, not only in what you do in the environment but also socially. So having a big corporation, for example, say, actually, we are CO2 nil, is fantastic, because if you can do it, then maybe we can find ways to help the smaller businesses do it.

So it’s a whole host of things, obviously, there’s a cost saving. Sometimes if you’re doing things more efficiently, especially at the moment with the electricity, gas and water prices, but socially and publicly. Also, of course, avoiding lawsuits if you haven’t got your permits and things.

The idea of all these environmental awareness initiatives is to point out that it’s not just the negative impact an organisation has, but you can have incredible positive impacts, not only in what you do in the environment but also socially.

So what laws currently affect UK organisations in relation to ISO 14001 and Environmental Management?

There are a few big ones. The biggest one I notice in the organisations I work with is what we call the WEEE [Regulations. It’s [about] Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling. There are a lot of things inside electronic equipment that is not nice and so when you are finished with, for example, my laptop, we send it off to a recycling scheme who take all those bits out and recycle as much as they can and all the harmful stuff they deal with properly so it doesn’t end up getting into the environment. There are huge initiatives at the moment about getting companies to donate old laptops for schools. So they’re refurbished and they’re given to kids at schools that perhaps their families can’t provide them with laptops. And therefore you’re doing a double good there. You’ve got the environmental good and you’ve got the social good to help people out. So that’s a big law at the moment. 

ESOS has been […] around for a while. That’s the Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme, which applies to companies over a certain size or a certain turnover. And it’s kind of like you do your tax returns, you have to submit an assessment of all your emissions and your energy usage and how that’s affecting the company and how then it will affect the environment.

The SECR, Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting is an interesting one. That’s another energy reporting one and it’s to do with energy consumption and the greenhouse gas emissions that come with that. You submit it through companies house, [as part of a company’s Directors’ Report]. 

Euro Six Engines, is a reduction in nitrous oxide or nitrogen oxide, and they are so much more efficient. So big cities like London tend to say, well, if you have anything less than a most recent engine, you have to pay a tax or you pay a charge. And new engines can only be built to the specification of Euro Six. And when Euro Seven comes out, they’ll only be allowed to be built to Euro Seven. And along with that comes the ULEZ, the Ultra Low Emission Zones and the congestion charge to reduce the emissions.

And they are all things that, sometimes, companies will be aware of if they’re working in cities. However, if you don’t work in cities very often, like, for example, our company, our consultants, tend to go by train to the cities wherever we can, because it’s easier, also, if you don’t live in a city, you generally don’t want to drive. So the emissions are there to help control the charges are there to help control those emissions and try and reduce people coming in.

So the idea of [ISO] 14001 is it’s a gentle introduction to these things. We make little improvements and we look at what we can do now and what we can do in a year and what we can do in a few years. So [ISO] 14001 really does help bring you in gently, so it shows you look at all these things you can do, but let’s not panic and try and do them more straight away. And of course, having a consultant to guide you is essential.

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How is the ISO 14001 landscape changing?

The main thing people are aware of at the moment is we’ve just had the COP 26, Conference of Parties, and that’s the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The 27th is next month, 6th to the 18 November, and it’s in Sharm Shayk this year in Egypt. That will bring the huge industries of the United Arab Emirates into it. So that’s going to be really fascinating. And that always brings out a whole host of things, agreements, countries getting involved and thinking of things that they wouldn’t necessarily commit to. And that’s the thing, it’s the commitments, it’s saying, we will do this by this time. They’re largely air pollution and water usage and water pollution missions. But the main change I think our companies would notice here in the UK, really would be the awareness that these conferences bring and the change in technology. So, obviously, there are two angles to that. There are things like laptops being more efficient and using less energy and having less harmful things in them, but there’s technology that helps us be more environmentally friendly. So there’s lots more now about how we can make bioplastics. So they are made from wheat, etc, but they are just as good and as strong but they’re biodegradable. And that’s only possible because we’ve got machines that can make that now and can make those chemicals up out of nice things, not nasty things. So I think the main change in our landscape is awareness. 

Why is ISO 14001 Environmental Management a good option for organisations?

I think it’s quite a gentle approach to environmental management. It’s saying, look, these are a set of requirements. We need you to be trying to meet these requirements and everything, but let’s not do it all in one massive go. So you have some objectives and I love the objectives as you can set them as far in advance or as close as you like, and as long as it is efficient and it works for your company. And [ISO] 14001 is designed to slot in with what you already do. All the ISO’s are now so they’re all on this Annex SL, which is designed to be a [common] structure that is logical for how most companies work. So when you bring in ISO 14001, particularly if you’ve got a consultant like me on board, we say, okay, ‘what are you doing now and how can we plot this into what you’re already doing?’ Rather than disrupting everything by trying to make people do things differently than how they’ve already done them.

If people suddenly have to make a change, it can be really startling to them and they can kind of almost reject it if you come in too harsh with it, so it’s bringing things in gradually. Also, it’s internationally recognised, so it’s not just you, we’re not just one little island trying to do this one little thing. Because it’s an international standard, you can say, what are they doing in Europe? What are they doing over in Australia? What are they doing in America? What can we take from this? And although all those areas have slightly different ways of doing it, it can really help us on our little island and go, okay, well, that might be an idea. And especially the risk-based approach that comes with ISO’s now with 2015 upwards, it really becomes thinking and a mindset of, how do I want my business to, A, operate, and B, be seen in the world? I’m doing this thing. What do I need to put out there and how do I need to think to make this work?

ISO 14001 is designed to slot in with what you already do

What can service-based organisations with minimal impacts do to improve their environment? 

Very small companies can really struggle to find savings, because if you’re a small company, you’re generally trying to make every saving you can anyway, to keep things rolling. But obviously, there are the little things like the lighting, and do you really need to have your heating on overnight in an empty office? Can you not turn it on an hour before people get there? Have it on a timer? And those things are all great, but they’re not necessarily going to work for everyone. 

So, the real thing, I think, is your suppliers. So are they using environmentally efficient methods themselves? Have you ordered a box of paper and it’s turned up in a box with a tonne of packaging with it? Does it really need that? It’s a box of paper, just deliver it. Are they bringing all your parcels at the same time or are they bringing one in the afternoon and one the next day? What’s the point of that? Can you speak to them and say, can we combine this? Can we reduce these inefficiencies in your processes? 

But I think the main thing recently is data mining and the way that servers are used by companies. So we’re all going cloud-based, which is wonderful. Please do go cloud-based, if you can, because, it’s someone else running one server with all of us on, rather than all of us running individual servers, which is so much better. But there was a thing recently about, okay, they’re using these servers, are they burning them at a high rate when they shouldn’t be? Should they be reducing the power usage overnight when, let’s say, the whole of the UK generally has come to a stop for the evening and therefore it doesn’t need to process so much? Are they getting their energy from efficient places? Check the news, has that company been dumping stuff in rivers and been fined for it and they’ve just sort of put it on the quiet? Do these checks and see what you can find there.

But obviously, it’s each little thing. You don’t have to change the world in one sitting, that’s not going to happen. Find those little things and do the little things that make you go, yes, this is good, I like this, I’m happy with this.

Thank you Kathy for taking the time to talk about ISO 14001 and environmental management. Contact us for more information on how ISO 14001 can help your organisation. 

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Jessica Inglis
Jessica Inglis
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