The new ISO 14001: why communicating with stakeholders is key
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 at the first two steps ─ leadership and strategic context ─ he and Mike Shaw, head of Ramboll Environ’s UK health and safety practice, will be examining the remaining three 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: interested party analysis and communication.
Organisations can benefit greatly from opening up communications channels with their stakeholders. Engagement can help shape thinking from an early stage, inform business decisions and ensure activity meets wider customer and industry requirements and expectations.
Environmental management systems (EMS), however, are traditionally known for being inward-looking. The previous ISO 14001:2004 standard that helped shape them placed little emphasis on understanding stakeholders and as a result systems often lacked the outward and receptive approach that can help take advantage of wider lifecycle opportunities.
The latest ISO 14001 standard is much more focussed on business gains through environmental improvements and a major change in this revision is the importance placed on understanding and responding to the needs and expectations of stakeholders.
In order to stay ahead of customer expectations and to start reaping the rewards of this new approach quickly, an organisation may wish to tackle the ISO 14001 stakeholder requirement as soon as possible. Furthermore, organisations should consider the new ISO 45001: 2016 (occupational health and safety) in their approach, as this standard will also have a similar requirement.
Identifying interested parties
Stakeholders are known in ISO 14001:2015 as ‘interested parties’ and can be defined as a person or organisation that can either affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by an organisation’s decision or activity. External stakeholders might be a singular neighbour or a group, such as community associations, regulators, suppliers or customers, while internal stakeholder can include employees, trade unions or the senior management team.
It’s important to note that stakeholders may also fall outside the scope of the EMS but within the wider corporate environment.
There are five dimensions to consider when identifying stakeholders, these include:
- by responsibility; people to whom the organisation has, or in the future may have responsibilities
- by influence; people who are, or in the future may be able to influence the ability of the organisation to meet its goals
- by proximity; people to whom the organisation interacts most
- by dependency; people dependent on the organisation, such as employees, customers, suppliers
- by representation; people that through, regulatory structures or culture/ tradition, are entrusted to represent other individuals.
Under the new standard, interested parties don’t need to be specifically named – broad groups can be identified. However, there may be additional value in listing them all to create a clearer picture of the overall stakeholder landscape.
Requirements consist of what the stakeholder’s needs are and what they expect. Only relevant stakeholders and relevant requirements need to be considered.
Although an organisation can meet this requirement in a number of ways, it can be argued that a cross-functional workshop approach is best as it allows different functions of the organisation to get involved and share their knowledge and ideas in an efficient and effective. This can be done through brainstorming or using a more recognised methodology, such as AccountAbility’s stakeholder mapping tool, to capture details in a structured way and – crucially – recognise and plug any gaps.
Once stakeholders and their requirements have been identified, the next step is to consider compliance obligations which include legal obligations, but also the needs and expectations of their stakeholders which an organisation can choose to adopt. This formal process of adopting requirements allows an organisation to focus and then coordinate what is important, rather than decide, tacitly or otherwise to meet requirements in an ad hoc fashion.
ISO 14001:2015 recognises the importance of communicating with stakeholders, particularly in relation to compliance obligations. Communications relating to environmental issues should be based on information generated from the EMS, which will require robust monitoring and measurement to ensure that it can be relied on. In turn these processes should be part of the audit programme so that the organisation can be confident that what it communicates is required and reliable.
Keeping the wheels turning
Identifying stakeholders and their requirements should not be a one off occurrence. Real value comes from repeating the exercise and progressing from a desktop approach to direct dialogue. As organisations start to understand their stakeholders more and engage with them on environmental issues, decision-making will become better informed and the wider business will benefit from ISO 14001 compliance.
Greg Roberts and Mike Shaw, Ramboll Environ
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