(This article originally appeared in the January 1996 issue of Export Today magazine
and was updated in May 2001.)
By the end of 1999, over 340,000 businesses world-wide had been registered to the ISO 9000 quality system standards. While the number of companies using ISO 9000 continues to grow, use of the ISO 14000 environmental management standards could have an even greater impact on businesses globally. The ISO 14000 series of standards was developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 207 for guidance in environmental management systems and tools. As of January 2001, almost 24,000 organizations worldwide had already become registered to ISO 14001, a specification standard for environmental management systems (EMS). The momentum building with ISO 14001 makes it clear that environmental management is becoming the new business priority.
Similarities Between ISO 9001 and ISO 14001
Companies that have already implemented quality systems which are comprehensive enough to meet the ISO 9001 standard have a clear advantage in implementing an EMS. There are many similarities between these ISO 9000 standards and ISO 14001.
All management systems, whether focused on quality, safety, or the environment, have certain core elements. These include:
Defined organization and responsibilities
Defined and documented standard practices
Control of critical operations
Document control (ensuring up-to-date documents are available where needed)
Corrective action system
Management review for continual improvement
In the case of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, there are similar (although not identical) requirements for all of these core elements.
Differences Between ISO 9001 and ISO 14001
Although quality and environmental systems are based on the same management system framework, there are some critical differences. In addition to the core elements identified above, all management systems also have some elements which are unique to their particular focus area. For example, a quality system will include evaluation of suppliers and review of customer contracts. An environmental system will include methods of evaluating environmental impacts and systems for responding to emergencies.
In addition to these specific unique clauses, there is a key underlying difference between a quality system and an environmental system. In a quality system, the major system requirements are defined by customers. Although other stakeholder needs may be considered, customers are the only ones directly affected by the quality of the products and services. This means that the goals of a quality system are generally quite clear -- to meet or exceed customer requirements. Differing requirements from various customers are the only complexities which may complicate the system.
The situation for environmental systems is not so straightforward. Customers may still be interested in a company's environmental impacts, but there are many additional stakeholders to consider as well. Regulatory bodies, local communities, and environmental activist groups all have an interest in a business' environmental performance -- and all have a potential impact on the business if they're displeased with that performance. Additional system requirements may also come from international treaties, industry-specific programs, and codes of practice. This all adds up to a very complex and constantly changing set of requirements from a wide variety of stakeholders.
Among all of these external requirements, don't forget the underlying internal requirements for quality and environmental systems -- to have a successful business! Somehow, businesses have to meet these varied external needs, possibly including both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 registration, and still maintain a competitive and profitable business.
Integrating Systems for Business Success
The answer is to develop and maintain a comprehensive business management system, which addresses quality and environmental requirements (as well as others). This single integrated management system must be based firmly in the needs and values of the business itself. Then each new requirement that emerges can be carefully considered and integrated into the existing systems framework. Rather than implementing separate systems for managing quality and environmental, a company has a single business management system which encompasses these areas and more. The overall goals and processes of the business don't change with each new initiative.
Companies that are registered to ISO 9001 already have a head start. ISO 9001 requires many of the core system elements which are common to any management system. The key is to make sure that these systems satisfy internal business needs as well as the external requirements which are audited by the registrar. Systems which are non-value adding should be closely examined and improved so that they are beneficial to the business.
The first step in implementing an environmental system is to conduct a gap analysis to determine which system elements are in place and which elements need to be improved or developed. Use ISO 14001 as a guideline or model of a comprehensive EMS. Examine the company's existing environmental systems, as well as quality systems which could easily be expanded to include environmental elements. Based on the results of the gap analysis, determine the business' priorities for improving existing systems and developing new systems.
There may be some systems which exist in the quality system but are not currently applied to environmental systems. Typically, these systems can simply be expanded to include environmental elements. Document control is a good example. Prior to implementing ISO 9000, many companies had poor control of critical documents. In order to get registered to ISO 9001, a system is required to ensure that important quality-related documents are up-to-date and available where they are needed. This same system can be used to ensure that environmental documents are available and current.
Begin by examining the existing document control system and assessing whether it will work effectively for environmental documents. Changes or improvements may be needed in the basic system. This is also a good time to evaluate the system's overall effectiveness. Is it simply defined and easy to use? Does it add to or detract from efficient business practices? Make any improvements that are needed and expand the system to include critical environmental documents.
The degree of integration of the actual system may vary based on the unique needs and culture of the business. Some businesses may decide to completely integrate their document control system, creating a single list or database of critical business documents, whether related to quality or environmental, and applying identical controls. Other businesses may use separate databases or lists for environmental but utilize the same general control procedures. Either way, the result is much more effective than creating a whole new system for employees to learn and use.
Another example where ISO 9001 compliant systems can simply be expanded is internal auditing. Once again, the degree of integration could vary widely from one organization to another. A company could choose to use different auditors for EMS and quality auditing and conduct completely separate audits (using the same audit procedures). Alternatively, the same people could audit both systems (assuming the auditors are appropriately qualified) but audits could still be conducted separately. Finally, an organization could integrate the systems completely by conducting joint quality and EMS audits. Each organization should choose a system that will work most effectively within its own unique environment.
Critical EMS Elements
As noted earlier, complete system integration is not possible since each type of management system includes some unique elements. In an EMS, the most critical elements are those found in the Planning section of ISO 14001: environmental aspects, legal and other requirements, objectives and targets, and environmental management program. This sequence of planning activities, along with the environmental policy, forms the core framework for the EMS.
ISO 14001 requires an organization to identify its environmental aspects -- those elements of its activities, products, or services which can interact with the environment -- which it can control and influence. Further, the organization must have a method of determining which of those aspects has or could have a significant impact on the environment. "Significant" is left up to each organization to define for its own use. Satisfying this clause requires a thorough process for evaluating all of the varied elements of the business. It's easy to make some quick assumptions, but the most significant impacts may not be those that first come to mind. A chemical plant may already have excellent controls over its air emissions, water outflows, and waste management but could have a large fleet of vehicles for transporting its product which have never before been considered in an environmental sense. This process encourages companies to take a broad view of their environmental management systems.
The standard also requires that a business identify all of the regulatory and other requirements which it must meet. "Other requirements" could include industry-specific programs or codes of practice, international agreements, and other voluntary programs to which the organization has chosen to comply. Examples include Responsible Care for the chemical industry and chemical distributors, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Charter for Sustainable Development, and the Public Environmental Reporting Initiative (PERI). This means that the organization must treat these voluntary initiatives it has chosen just as it would legal or regulatory requirements.
Based on the evaluation of significant impacts and identification of requirements, the organization must set specific environmental objectives and targets. These will be based on the organization's environmental policy and should be consistent with its business, financial, and operational policies. In an integrated business system, the environmental objectives and targets fit within the overall business goals; they don't describe a separate stand-alone system.
Finally, the organization must have a plan, or management program, to help it to meet each stated objective and target. The program must include defined responsibilities and timing. For example, a business could have an objective to reduce its energy usage, supported by a specific target to reduce energy consumption by 10% over the previous year. The program for achieving this target could include detailed plans for improving operating efficiencies in the plant, working with the local utility company to reduce energy use during peak hours, and replacing a piece of old equipment with a newer, more energy efficient one. In this way, the program(s) support the objectives and targets which support the overall policy, creating a framework for improving the environmental system.
Although these planning elements are not included in this kind of detail in ISO 9001, there are some similar requirements to establish a quality policy and objectives and to use quality planning to define how the quality requirements will be met. Again, these system elements should be integrated to the degree that makes sense for a particular business. There may be a single overall business policy established which includes elements of both quality and environmental management. Larger or more complex businesses may prefer to maintain individual quality and environmental policies, but these should still be linked to an overall business policy and/or business mission. Similarly, an organization can define a basic process for setting objectives and targets and developing plans to meet them. That process can then be used for individual quality and environmental objectives.
The exact format of these systems isn't critical. The key is to build a solid business system framework which encompasses all aspects of the company. In this way, the overall business philosophy and direction are clearly defined. Quality, environmental, and other aspects can be effectively managed as integral parts of the overall business. The management systems are then focused on the needs of the business itself, rather than on the ISO standards. After all, ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 registrations won't mean much if the company can't make a profit and stay in business.
© 2001, Suzan L. Jackson