A key factor in obtaining and maintaining ISO 14001 certification is your environmental policy. What are the factors you need to consider while crafting your policy? How do you ensure that top management understands it? Is it adequate for your organization? The answers to these questions will vary by company, depending on size and environmental impact but the following guidelines will help you define your environmental policy.
Why do I need an Environmental Policy?
The Environmental Management System (EMS) has mandatory requirements for your organization to have an environmental policy. Once your environmental policy is defined by senior management, it will provide key benefits to your organization, such as:
- staying legal
- provide information to employees about their role in environmental impact
- lower liability by reducing incidents
- provide improved monitoring tools
- increase efficiency in processes
- lower costs by conserving materials and energy
What should I include in my Environmental Policy?
Clause 5.2 of the ISO 14001 standard leaves some room for interpretation but does provide guidance on what your environmental policy should contain and what purpose it serves at your organization. How detailed do you need to be and what items are “must have’s” in your policy?
Your policy needs to be crafted for your organization. Avoid copy and paste. While you may want to review other organization’s EMS policy, you need to create yours specific to your needs. It stands to reason that the greater your environmental impact, the more detailed and focused your policy should be. Identify key impact areas and highlight them. If your organization produces large amounts of emissions, your policy should not focus on water-table impacts.
Include a commitment to continuous improvement. A key reason to implement a system such as ISO 14001 is to improve. Rather than just identifying your current way of doing things, including a commitment to continuous improvement in your environmental policy. Don’t get hung up on the details of how it will happen; rather, state the commitment to do it.
Identify objectives and targets. This will be a more detail section with application to specific departments and processes in your organization. Seek input from key individuals in each department and use that to create a working, useful approach. This is where it is easy to go astray. Don’t create unreachable expectations or goals, but include reasonable, actionable steps to improving your environmental impact.
Know and comply with relevant environmental legislation. While each organization is unique, there is very likely others who are facing similar environmental impacts as you. Seek them out and learn. Find and attend events appropriate to your organization and subscribe to industry news. These are all ways you can stay abreast of the changing legislative landscape and adjust your policy accordingly.
Prevent pollution. While this may seem extremely basic, it is important to include a commitment and actionable ways to reducing pollution. Exact details may not be required in the policy, but it should be something you can easily refer to during an audit.
How do I implement my Environmental Policy?
Something like an environmental policy is easy to be put on a shelf and forgotten about. While this may be tempting, don’t let it happen! You’ve started your journey on improvement, and you wouldn’t want to stop now.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Each employee needs to understand what the environmental policy is, how their actions create environmental impact and what they can do to reduce that impact. Find a way to tie practical examples to negative environmental impact so that it is easier for your employees to remember.
Documented and audited. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Identify the key performance indicators (KPI’s) for each department in your organization and measure them. Provide relevant and timely feedback to each department on movement, whether positive or negative.
Remember that your environmental policy should be as unique as your organization. While ISO 14001 provides the guidelines and framework for your EMS policy, it is up to you to make that policy as simple and meaningful as possible. Craft your environmental policy with care and use it as a badge of honor: your commitment to reducing your organization’s environmental impact.