The new ISO 14001: how to examine a strategic context
By Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ
The new ISO 14001 standard, published in September, is the first update in a decade. As well as offering easier integration between ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and the new OHSAS 18001 replacement, ISO 45001, published next year, it brings with it additional requirements, grouped around five key areas: leadership, strategic context, interested party analysis and communication, risks and opportunities and lifecycle perspective. These changes are designed to increase corporate resilience and competitive advantage and, as such, early transition to the new standard is advocated.
Ramboll Environ Manager Greg Roberts is the UK Expert on the ISO Technical Committee overseeing the development of guidance to ISO 14001. Following an initial overview of the changes and an in-depth look last month at leadership, he and Mike Shaw, head of Ramboll Environ’s UK health and safety practice, will be examining the remaining four pillars in more detail over the next few months to give senior management teams and health, safety and environmental practitioners a better understanding of these new requirements. This month: strategic context.
Many environmental management systems (EMS) sit on the periphery of their organisations. Decisions can be made without an appreciation of the ‘big picture’ and as a consequence these EMS are always at risk of failing to add value to the organisation. The revised ISO 14001 standard confronts this challenge and requires organisations to understand both their internal and external context, something which is also common in ISO 45001 and ISO 9001. This is good news for businesses as a single approach to understanding a company’s strategic context can be taken with the results then applied to each of these management systems. It does, however, mean that getting the context analysis right at the outset is crucial.
An EMS can often be the exclusive role of a select few who have the responsibility of feeding in knowledge from across their business – in itself no easy task. But as a result, some wider issues that are not within their direct remit can be overlooked, not only with an impact on the EMS itself but with the potential to affect the business overall. Whether they pose a threat or provide an opportunity, or both, the key point is that they all need to be considered in advance and fed into the EMS accordingly.
Defining your intended outcome
With the revised ISO 14001 standard now in place, organisations need to identify the external and internal issues that are relevant to their purpose and directly address those that will affect their ability to achieve the intended outcomes of their EMS.
The revised standard outlines minimum intended outcomes, including achieving environmental objectives, fulfilling compliance obligations and enhancing environmental performance but goes further than its predecessor by encouraging organisations to include additional measures, such as adopting wider sustainability principles. This will not only add value to the environment but the organisation itself as it should help assure the long term viability of the organisation, something which is also supported by the revised standard flipping the question, ‘what’s your impact on the environment?’ to also consider the impact of the environment on the business, for example climate change and resource scarcity.
Putting it into practice
Although ISO 14001:2015 itself doesn’t explain how to determine this context, ISO 14004 does suggest that organisations should undertake a review of context to help with the decision making process. This review may take the form of interviews, questionnaires, surveys, research or workshops, but regardless of the format it is imperative that all corporate departments are able to feed into the process. Not only will this approach ensure wider engagement and more comprehensive feedback, but having support from across the business will be critical when undertaking activities to meet the standard’s other requirements.
Workshops are a great way to share and generate ideas with those who are experts in their respective areas and they allow thinking to evolve as the session moves forward – but they also need clear direction.
A PESTLE analysis can help give structure to this conversation. This acronym can be used to identify internal and external considerations needed for strategic context and is a useful way of achieving cross-departmental buy-in.
The key strands for discussion are:
- Political – Who is or could be in government? What are their policies? What about internal politics, organisational structure and style?
- Economic – Is there growth or recession? How about inflation levels? Are interest and exchange rates rising, falling or stable? What capital is available?
- Social – What are the changing demographics and trends? What are the main concerns of society?
- Technological – What new technology or materials are emerging? What is the cost of renewables? What are the levels of internal R&D expenditure?
- Legal – What are the changes in international, European, national and local policy? What is the internal structure to manage legal compliance?
- Environment – How is the environment changing due to, say, the impact of climate change, local air quality and the availability of space?
Considering these areas one by one will provide the context needed to properly gauge the impact of risk factors on the business as a whole. Equally importantly, they will provide a starting point for putting in place appropriate environmental (and other) plans to counter or capitalise on them.
Getting the most from your PESTLE workshop
Greg Roberts is sustainability consultant and Mike Shaw is UK health and safety consultant leader for Ramboll Environ
- Beforehand, find out who has experience of using PESTLE and review the results from any earlier analysis.
- Do not get too bogged down in collecting vast amounts of detailed information – the workshop should not be seen as a project in itself. Understanding will improve over time.
- Encourage participants to ask: ‘So what?’ Only those issues that can affect the intended outcomes of the EMS deserve a lengthy discussion.
- Do not worry too much about placing the issues under the right PESTLE theme because some will cross over two or more – just ensure the issue is captured.
- Close the session with agreement of next steps and future actions – the workshop is a starting point for future improvements, not an end in itself.
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