Steps Toward an Environmentally Responsible Business

09/30/2004 |

Think your environmental sensitivity quotient is high? Consider the advice of Ralph Vasquez, a senior regulatory compliance specialist and head of the Storm Water Compliance Group at San Diego-based environmental consulting firm Environmental Business Solutions (www.ebsenvironmental.com), a wholly owned subsidiary of SCS Engineers (www.scsengineers.com):

Businesses nationwide are making more concerted efforts to be environmentally responsible by going beyond standard due diligence and compliance to applicable environmental regulations. Such organizations are implementing environmental management systems to become certified under ISO 14001.

Developed in 1992, ISO 14000 is a series of voluntary standards on environmental management tools and systems developed and maintained by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. ISO 14001 is a standard in the ISO 14000 series that provides a specification for a complete and effective Environmental Management System (EMS). As a specification standard, ISO 14001 can be used as an audit tool to evaluate whether an organization has a complete EMS in place; and specify the elements that must be in place for an EMS to be both complete and effective.

ISO 14001 helps organizations develop and implement their own, unique environmental management systems. Each organization sets its own policies, determines its own objectives and targets, and defines its own procedures. The goal of an EMS is to then help meet the organization’s policy and objectives. ISO 14001 directs what elements need to be in place; however, each organization decides exactly how to define and implement those elements.

The best approach for most companies is to begin by simply using the ISO 14001 standard to evaluate and improve current systems. Later, if third-party registration seems either necessary or desirable, systems will be functioning at optimum levels and simply will need to be audited. Following are a few recommended beginning steps ...

  1. Get more information. Obtain copies of ISO 14001 and ISO 14004 (the EMS guidance standard) from ISO or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Seek out ISO 14000 information and expertise within your own company, and from well-regarded experts.
  2. Conduct a gap analysis. Compare your current systems against the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard. Use internal or external resources that fully understand the flexibility and interpretation of the standard and are familiar with the types of systems you already have in place.
  3. Form a plan to improve. Based on your gap analysis, determine what elements of your current systems will need improvement in order to meet the requirements of ISO 14001. At the same time, consider how existing systems can be streamlined or integrated for improved productivity.
  4. Conduct an internal audit prior to the certification audit. This may entail putting together a project matrix and a GNATT chart, which outlines “how-to” steps for approaching the official certification audit. It may be helpful to seek guidance in developing any necessary documents from an environmental consultant who is well-versed in the ISO 14001 standard, as well as EMS development and implementation.


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