ISO14001 provides a vehicle, but where is it going?

The previous post on ISO14001 focused on the revisions to this formal environmental management system standard due later this year.  However, it is important to recognise that while ISO14001 implemented well can make a difference, it is not a panacea for environmental practice.  Reporting is one omission. This is a requirement in the stricter but less well known EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), and can push business to greater lengths by requiring public disclosure. 


Apart from reporting it can be difficult for organisations to differentiate themselves from others or demonstrate how much good they are really doing. This isn't about labels and certificates, it’s about striving to achieve something that will make a real difference.


What’s the destination?

With the planet creaking under the strain of dwindling resources, pollution and climate change, the scale of action required, and transformation needed in most organisations, is huge.  ISO14001 is a way of managing environmental impacts, and it does demand ongoing improvement in performance, strengthened in the new revision.  What it doesn’t do is provide a destination, or the means to get there; it is left to the reader to work this out. This is deliberate to allow for application to any type of organisation whatever its size, output or geography.  The trouble is that many organisations meander, taking small steps, constrained by lack of knowledge, inertia or limited pressure to do more.


Wouldn’t it be better to have a picture of what sustainability looks like so you know where you’re heading? 



Setting social and environmental goals isn’t new but these have tended to be informed by what it is perceived to be possible to achieve rather than what sustainability might look like.   Future Fit for Business is a different approach. It sets out clear principles and a series of goals that encompass people, community, resource use, waste, pollution and climate change. This means that, for any organisation, the picture is clear – to be ‘sustainable’ you need to achieve these environmental and social goals. It might not be easy but it’s certainly possible for many to achieve at least some of them and now - the goals are not of the blue sky variety, although those starting out might disagree!  While the goals set the course, the practicalities of achieving them are left to individual organisations, as is appropriate given that one size does not fit all.  On first look at the goals (still in a draft state), they can be intimidating and not ideally suited to some organisations, but with a little imagination they can be applied to work for most – big or small.  See how we’ve used them here in our own Future Fit report.


The Future Fit environmental goals complement ISO14001 too, which demands a policy and commitments based on impacts. It would have, however, been more progressive if the new version of the standard demanded a vision or ultimate goals be established.  Typically, organisations draft policies that commit to reducing waste, avoiding pollution, 5% reduction in energy use, legal compliance etc, and provide suggestion of incremental change.  Only the more forward thinking enterprises set out their vision early on.  The Future Fit goals can add substance to sustainability and environmental policy statements and provide clear intention against the backdrop of a broader vision for the business.  Of course policies don’t mean a thing unless steps are taken to achieve them.  Bringing goals truly to life also requires integration into broader business aims and context.  This was always implicit but the t he revision to ISO14001 (link to ISO blog), makes this clearer.  

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Oliver, Flikr

Pot of gold?

In reality, reaching goals is a little like reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, things shift before you get there. Goals will need to be reset to reflect the times, knowledge and urgency and flexibility is to be embraced.  There is no doubt in my mind that organisations heading the way of the Future Fit or similar goals will be stronger and more able to adapt to an uncertain future, particularly if they set off now.  This should be reward enough.


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