Best practice guide to implementing and maintaining an ISO14001 compliant environmental management system, by Clive Johnson, quality and environmental manager at NB Real Estate

Commercial property consultant NB Real Estate (NB) has for many years taken an active interest in the environment and has been committed to improving its environmental performance and credentials.

The firm has had a QA system certified to ISO9001 since 1994, and in 1999 decided to apply for certification to the international environmental standard ISO14001. Last month, the NB Real Estate came fifth in the ‘Sunday Times Best 100 Mid Sized Companies’ for helping to protect the environment. Yet, there were a number of drivers for implementing and maintaining an ISO14001 compliant Environmental Management System (EMS).

Clive Johnson

Different strokes

Existing clients want to work with companies that are able to demonstrate a commitment to the environment. Indeed, many of NB’s contracts with major clients require us to have at least an EMS in place.

Potential clients increasingly require new bids to include details of environmental commitment. Having an EMS certified to ISO14001 demonstrates this, putting NB at an advantage over companies without certification.

Climate change, global warming, freak weather and CO2 emissions are regularly in the news, and as a result the general public are more aware of the environmental impacts of the companies they deal with.

NB wish to be seen as being environmentally aware, and having ISO14001 certification provides a suitable framework for us to demonstrate our credentials.

Need for environmental manager

In order to implement the NB EMS and achieve ISO14001 certification the company appointed a environmental manager with, as a minimum, ISO14001 auditor training, and reports directly to NB’s senior management team.

A number of procedures were introduced, documenting the control mechanisms for the EMS, along with a register of NB’s environmental aspects and impacts and an associated action plan to demonstrate on-going improvement.

Achieving accreditation

In May 2000, NB’s London offices were audited by SGS UK Ltd, and achieved ISO14001 certification at their first attempt. In the 15 external audits since then, NB are proud to report that they have received zero non-compliances. Indeed, SGS auditors have consistently praised NB for going above and beyond the requirements of ISO14001.

In December 2007, NB’s Manchester and Edinburgh offices were audited by SGS UK Ltd, and these offices also achieved certification at their first attempt. As a result, all of NB’s occupied offices now fall within the scope of the ISO14001 certification.

ISO14001 and the NB EMS structure

Organisationally, there are three levels to the NB EMS. At the highest level is the environmental director whose role is the interface and liaison between the environmental manager and the NB board.

This is followed by the environmental manager who is responsible for the day-to-day running and improvement of the EMS. Finally, each NB office (and each floor at the head office) has an environmental representative, a local ‘champion’ who can respond quickly to incidents and provide local advice and represent the environmental manager at the remote sites.

The EMS director, manager and representatives meet at least quarterly, to review performance and identify improvement opportunities.

In terms of process control, NB has a set of environmental documentation, including the procedures required by ISO14001. These are audited regularly by internal and external auditors.

Involving staff

NB staff are aware of the environmental impact they have, be it working at a desk in the office or travelling to client sites. They want to do their bit for the environment.

NB is also aware of the financial benefits of an EMS. Saving energy and reducing travelling and resource consumption not only has an environmental benefit, but also reduces fuel and power and business costs.

ISO14001 helps to raise awareness of our legal responsibilities and obligations. This is turn enables us to minimise the risk of prosecution and the resulting bad publicity.

New joiners must attend an EMS induction session, where they are given an overview of ISO14001, and encouraged to minimise their environmental impact, for example, by reducing paper consumption, recycling waste and turning off PC and monitors when not in use.

EMS awareness sessions are run throughout the year and include all NB offices. These act as reminders for all staff of the importance of ISO14001 and adhering to the requirements of the EMS.

Half-yearly environmental update bulletins are published by the EMS manager, to bring staff up to date with requirements and achievements.

Finally, NB runs ad-hoc environmental events. For example, in April 2008 NB plans to show Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth throughout the company. We also plan to have a “mobile phone amnesty day”, where staff can bring in unwanted personal mobile phones, which can then be used to raise money for charity whilst assuring safe disposal of devices.

Continual improvement

Merely meeting the minimum requirements of ISO14001 isn’t enough in NB. As well as the ISO14001 audits by SGS on our EMS, NB conducts regular internal audits. These include checks on energy management and waste recycling. Results are published on the company intranet, allowing all staff to see how we are performing and to encourage improvement.

As required by ISO14001, NB maintains an aspect and impact register, and an environmental action plan to monitor and manage our key environmental impacts and risks. This plan is a key tool used to measure performance and improvements over time.

The firm recognises that we need to work closely with our supply chain to “close the loop” in the delivery of our services. To that effect, we require our key suppliers to complete an environmental questionnaire, so that we can establish their commitment to the environment and drive them forward in terms of their performance and on-going improvement.